Criminal Law

By Satomi Hamon


Child sex dolls – are they legal? Should they be?

Child sex dolls are anatomically correct, life-size dolls made to look like pubescent and prepubescent children. They are currently manufactured in overseas markets, including China, Hong Kong and Japan, and are designed to be as lifelike as possible. The dolls are of a similar weight to a child and are designed with vaginas, anuses and mouths that will fit an adult penis.

South Australia will be the first Australian jurisdiction to officially ban child sex dolls after the State Government agreed to back new legislation which will see anyone guilty of producing, selling, or possessing the objects facing gaol terms of up to 10 years. The legislation is likely to come into effect later this year or early next year.

There is no comparable legislation currently operating in any other Australian State or Territory. Legislation in NSW prohibits the ownership of child sex dolls which was made clear in 2016 when a Sydney District Court judge ruled that a child sex doll could be classed as child abuse material under section 91FB of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). It is possible legislation in other states and territories could also be used to prohibit child sex dolls, although this largely remains untested in the courts.

In February 2019, the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced to the Australian Parliament. This bill, which has not yet passed, seeks to prohibit the possession of child sex dolls, as well as criminalising the use of a carriage service to advertise or solicit child sex dolls, and the use of a postal service to send such dolls.

From a societal perspective, it is commonly understood any sexual activity involving children is unacceptable and child pornography is abhorrent. All Australian jurisdictions understandably have legislation prohibiting sexual activity with children and the possession, production and distribution of child pornography.

In contrast, the use of a child sex doll results in neither a legal nor moral victim as a doll cannot experience harm. As such, their place in society is the subject of some debate.  It has been argued that child sex dolls might have “therapeutic” use for paedophiles by satiating sexual urges that may otherwise have been inflicted on children.  With these assumed benefits in mind, it has been proposed that child sex dolls could be regulated by providing paedophiles with access to them through psychiatrists.

In opposition to their use is the contention that child sex dolls may increase users’ sexual desires for children and lead to the objectification of children as sexual beings resulting in an increase in offences against real children.

The reality is this remains an under-researched topic and little is currently known about the actual risk associated with child sex dolls. It is likely child sex dolls will be prohibited in all Australian jurisdictions before the research is conclusive.