Congress Wants to Ban Sex Dolls That Look Like Kids

The bill is called the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots, or CREEPER, Act. Of course.


Anna Duda/

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved a squeamish ban on the importation of sex robots and sex dolls that resemble children, claiming that they "normalize sex between adults and minors." Now the bill—named the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots, or CREEPER, Act (because of course it is)—is moving through the Senate.

The bill claims "there is a correlation between possession of the obscene dolls, and robots, and possession of and participation in child pornography." In an even more macabre passage, the bill says the "dolls and robots not only lead to rape, but they make rape easier by teaching the rapist about how to overcome resistance and subdue the victim." A petition, signed by more than 165,000 people, echoes these fears.

There is not much evidence to support this. In 2007, the Mayo Clinic released an analysis of current literature on pedophilia, with the conclusion that many interventions (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) "do not change the pedophile's basic sexual orientation toward children." A 2012 study of 345 pedophiles found that 37 percent have used child pornography, while 21 percent have acted on their fetish via sexual contact with a minor, with 42 percent of the sample admitting to both. This indicates that some pedophiles (though not the majority) are able to suppress their urges to act on their fetish, though clearly more research must be done on offending and non-offending pedophiles, and what accounts for the differences between them.

In 2016, The Atlantic profiled Shin Takagi, the founder of Trottla, a child sex doll company. Takagi has pedophilic impulses, which he says he doesn't act upon; he created Trottla with the belief that "there's no way to change someone's fetishes" and that he's "helping people express their desires, legally and ethically." Takagi and many of his customers believe child sex dolls are a helpful method of harm reduction.

Takagi's hunch may well be accurate, but there's not much evidence for his point of view either. There's a frustrating lack of research on how pedophilic urges can be quelled or treated.

Such uncertainty hasn't stopped various legislators from sounding off on the issue as if there's a definitive consensus. House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) claims "these dolls create a real risk or reinforcing pedophilic behavior and they desensitize the user causing him to engage in sicker and sicker behavior." Rep. Dan Donovan (R–N.Y.), one of the bill's sponsors, warns: "Once an abuser tires of practicing on a doll, it's a small step to move on to a child. My bill takes necessary steps to stop these sickening dolls from reaching our communities."

The CREEPER Act says the dolls and robots are "customizable…and can resemble actual children." But legislators are failing to parse out the exact alleged harm here. Would child sex dolls and robots be permissible if they couldn't resemble actual children? Would a generic, non-customizable sex doll be more acceptable to polite society? Given that dolls like these are often imported from Hong Kong, China, and Japan, and sold labeled as mannequins or models, this bill seems difficult to enforce.

In any event, given the absence of evidence that these devices actually make child molestation more likely, the case for prohibiting them is pretty weak. Sex with a robot is a victimless act. It's what could possibly come after that––sex with a child––that is rightfully a crime.