'I'm providing comfort': Sex doll maker recreates life size doll of deceased loved ones

Late last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law a bill outlawing child sex dolls in the state. SB 160, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book (D–Plantation), makes it a crime to own, sell, or distribute a "child-like sex doll."

Simple first-time possession would earn someone a second-degree misdemeanor charge, rising to a third-degree felony for repeat offenders. Possession with the intent to sell or distribute a child sex doll would be a third-degree felony for the first offense, rising to a second-degree felony for a subsequent offense.

Those convicted under the statute of selling or distributing a child sex doll could get anywhere from five to 15 years in prison, equivalent to the state's penalties for child neglect that results in "great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement."

The harsh penalties are justified by the deterrent effect the ban will have on would-be offenders, Book said in a press release in early May, when her bill unanimously cleared the legislature.

"These are anatomically correct, lifelike silicone dolls that are eerily similar to real human children made for the sole purpose of sexual gratification," said Book. "Just as viewing child pornography lowers the inhibitions of child predators, so do these childlike sex dolls that have no place in the state of Florida."

This same argument has been deployed in favor of the federal Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots (CREEPER) Act.

"These dolls create a real risk or reinforcing pedophilic behavior and they desensitize the user causing him to engage in sicker and sicker behavior," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.) last year.

The CREEPER Act passed the House in June 2018 but was never brought up for a vote in the Senate.

The Kentucky Senate passed a bill banning child sex dolls back in March. The bill is currently awaiting a vote in the state's House. The United Kingdom also prohibits them and has seized 230 dolls since 2016, according to The Sun, a British tabloid.

Manufacturers of child sex dolls argue that by allowing pedophiles to satiate their desires without viewing child pornography or engaging in actual physical abuse, these dolls will help to reduce child sexual abuse.

"I am helping people express their desires, legally and ethically. It's not worth living if you have to live with repressed desire," said Shin Takagi, a Japanese maker of child sex dolls, to The Atlantic in 2016.

Academic research has so far found no empirical evidence one way or another on the effect of child sex dolls.

"The available evidence in relation to sex dolls in general and child sex dolls in particular is very weak, with almost no studies empirically examining the implications of doll use," reads an Australian government report on the issue from March 2019.

The desire to ban child sex dolls is understandable. It is nevertheless true that their use produces no victims. Given that there is also no direct evidence that their use leads to actual crimes, the case for imprisoning people over them is incredibly thin.

In addition, Florida's child sex doll ban does not actually define what it means by "child-like sex doll." This provides little guidance for either law enforcement officers or potential purchasers of sex dolls to know what is actually allowed.

Given that child sex doll bans take aim at a victimless activity, rely on an unsupported theory that they'll deter actual episodes of abuse, and will almost certainly be enforced in an arbitrary manner, they should be abandoned.