Massachusetts State Police

Child Sex Dolls: Why Aren't They Illegal?

Federal lawmakers are following in the footsteps of Great Britain and Australia, which have banned their importation and distribution

A Shirley man is facing indictment after Massachusetts State Police said the online sales site eBay notified them that he had purchased a sex doll shaped and sized like a child.

The dolls are not illegal, and the man, 48-year-old Sean McClure, a level three registered sex offender who spent a decade in prison for multiple counts of rape of a child, was not charged with having it.

Rather, the doll led police to his stash of child pornography. McClure is facing indictment for possession of sexually explicit images of children.

But McClure's arrest raises the larger questions of whether these dolls should be illegal.

Federal lawmakers are following in the footsteps of Great Britain and Australia, which have banned the importation and distribution of child sex dolls.

"There’s only one reason to possess one of these dolls," said Congressman Dan Donovan, a Republican from Staten Island. "It’s to fulfill some perverted fantasy that someone has about having sex with a child or a baby."

Donovan is pushing a bill that follows in the footsteps of the United Kingdom and Australia, banning the importation and distribution of child sex dolls. But his proposal does not prohibit owning a doll.

"Right now, child sex dolls proliferate mainly through international manufacturers," Donovan said. "My bill will stop these dolls from reaching pedophiles, which is the goal. It's clearly within Congress' jurisdiction to regulate interstate commerce, so that's the avenue I chose to take."

Child sex dolls are made overseas and imported into the United States. McClure is believed to be the first local case where a doll was involved in an arrest and prosecution.

The dolls do not fall under child pornography laws.

"The definition is right there. It’s not a child," said Carlos Cuevas, an associate professor of criminology at Northeastern University.

Cuevas evaluates sex offenders and works with victims. He wants the dolls banned altogether, and said Donovan’s proposal doesn't go far enough.

"There’s a lot of ways you can get someone a doll and not get caught," he said. "Once it’s in their hands, that’s where the problem is."

Donovan’s office said they did not push to make possession of the dolls illegal because of First Amendment concerns.

"We ban lots of things that are potential harm not actual harm," Cuevas said. "Drunk driving laws. Drunk driving is illegal because it can potentially hurt or kill somebody."

There is no shortage of what are often called "love dolls" for sale. They are posed on slides with toys or treats, some with measurements matching children as young as five years old.

In recent months, the NBC10 Boston Investigators have found them promoted on YouTube, eBay, Amazon — even Pinterest.

With recent public pressure, the shopping sites have gotten more aggressive in removing listings. But there are simple work-arounds.

We asked an eBay seller if a doll they were advertising with adult specifications if could be customized into a child version. They told us that it could be "tailored to one’s preferences."

eBay said in a statement that it could not comment on the specifics of McClure’s case.

"However, no company, including eBay, should tolerate its platform being used for nefarious reasons," the company said in its statement. "We regularly work with law enforcement to support them with criminal investigations. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that eBay is a safe and secure platform for all of our customers.

"eBay has blocks and filters in place to keep prohibited items, including child-sized sex dolls, off of our site," the company continued. "From time to time, sellers circumvent these filters, so we also undertake regular, manual sweeps to identify and remove these prohibited items. We take our policies very seriously and sellers who violate them, including evading our filters, will be restricted or suspended."

Cuevas said now is the time to put legal safeguards in place. Sex doll technology has already gone to the next level with adult sex bots, and he warns that child versions could soon be making their way into the U.S., fueling dark desires.

“Most of these people have already viewed child pornography, already potentially have hands-on offending,” he said.

State police started investigating McClure after eBay notified their Cybercrime Unit that he had paid an overseas seller $700 for, specifically, a doll with the height and weight of an average 8-year-old girl. Suspicious of a sex offender convicted of child rape owning a child-sized sex doll, investigators confronted McClure.

Soon after, they got a search warrant for his home, where state police, Shirley police, and special agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security discovered a cache of child pornography, according to state police.

McClure is being held on $20,000 cash bail.

Middlesex County Assistant District Attorney Rachel Perlman told Judge Margaret Guzman that the district attorney’s office is pushing for McClure to be indicted on Superior Court charges.

The U.S. House recently unanimously passed Congressman Donovan’s bill. It has not been heard in the U.S. Senate yet.

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