Legal Scholars Encourage Regulation of Sex Robots in Australia
A new article from Flinders University acknowledges possible benefits, but warns that sex robots may ‘promote sexual violence.’
Recognizing their legislature may have to decide the legality of manufacturing, importing, or owning sexbots, legal researchers at South Australia’s Flinders University recently shared their analysis of the technology in The Bulletin: The Law Society of SA Journal.
Written by Madi McCarthy, an Associate with LK Law, and Tania Leiman, an Associate Professor and Dean of Law at Flinders, “Sex With Robots: How Should The Law Respond?” is noteworthy for taking a thoughtful and well-rounded approach to the issue.
Call to action
McCarthy and Leiman ultimately urge the Australian legislature to consider regulations.
“While any regulatory response will need to balance a multitude of interests, ethical questions, and legal challenges,” they write, “The very real potential for this technology to objectify and promote sexual violence against women suggests action is required sooner rather than later.”
Although they ultimately come down in favor of regulations, McCarthy and Leiman carefully outline the arguments for and against realistic sexbots.
Sex robots may increase objectification of women
McCarthy and Leiman’s largest argument against sex robots stems from the belief that sex robots encourage further sexual objectification of and sexual violence towards female-identifying persons.
Groups like the Campaign Against Sex Robots, for example, express vehement objection to sex robots in the name of protecting women’s rights and increasing their safety in sexual situations.
Finding connection through technology
On the other side of the argument, McCarthy and Leiman point out that sex robots can be used as tools for more fulfilling and accessible sexual activity.
They cite the work of Nancy Jecker, Professor of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who advocates the use of sexbots for older persons, people with disabilities, or anyone struggling with feelings or isolation and loneliness.
“The ability to conduct relationships, to connect with others, to think, to play, to imagine, are the basic things that we appreciate and that we can and should do and be as human beings,” Dr. Jecker told Hareetz, “So the article [on robots as sexual assistants] is a call to the sex industry to provide those basic needs of this community.”
Sex therapists share possible benefits
McCarthy and Leiman also penned an article on Phys.org, in which they reference a survey of sex therapists on the possible benefits of sex robots.
The three uses that garnered the most support were: limiting social anxiety (50% of sex therapists surveyed supported); helping those “who do not have a partner but still want a sex life without resorting to fleeting acquaintances or prostitution” (50%); and dealing with premature ejaculation (47%).
The law and technology
“Legislators will have to balance competing and complex individual and public interests,” McCarthy says in the same Phys.org article, “which pose new ethical, regulatory and legal challenges because of advancements in technology.”
McCarthy goes on to address another complication: the government might be tempted to reference already-in-place anti-child pornography laws in their decisions. “These statutory provisions may guide any future laws on the use of adult sex robots, but there are new factors which have to be considered.”
Inconsistent laws and punishments
For now, laws concerning sexual technology are applied erratically, without a single unifying standard. Sex remains a taboo subject, and new sex tech can provide lawmakers with an opportunity to stake moral claims.
In Alabama, for example, it is a crime to “distribute, possess with intent to distribute, or offer or agree to distribute any obscene material or any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.”
And in Houston, the city council barred the development of a sex doll brothel in 2018.
Councilman Greg Travis told Chron “We're not legislating morality here. That's not what we’re doing. We don't care what people do in their bedrooms. If somebody wants to order these dolls and have them in their homes, it's weird, that's fine, they can do that.”
He went on to say that businesses like the proposed sex doll brothel “degrade our city.”
Further research required
Sexdoll ownership has been and will be a hotly contested issue for years to come. Researchers have only just begun investigating their potential impact on society, and issues are certain to arise when dolls become more widely available.
In short, no one knows if sexbots will be detrimental or beneficial. The most likely probability is that they will be some mix of the two.
So the question becomes: which will outweigh the other?
Until we have a better understanding of their impact, we need to support researchers like McCarthy and Leiman who are trying to explain this complexity to lawmakers so they can draft intelligent and compassionate legislation regarding sexbots and their owners.