Computer Crime Research Center


Child pornography: an international perspective

Date: August 02, 2004
Source: United Stated Embassy Stockholm
By: Margaret A Healy

... predominance of boy victims. Virtually all studies have found higher sexual abuse rates for girls. Ann Wolbert Burgess &Christine A. Grant, Children Traumatised in Sex Rings, 4 (1988). In contrast, in Japan, it is female minors that are predominantly exploited in pornographic material. The gender of the child victims displayed via computer networks is constantly in flux and difficult to determine with any precision.

In most countries, street children, poor children, juveniles from broken homes, and disabled minors are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation and to being seduced or coerced into the production of pornographic material. These children, however, are not the only victims. Sex exploiters frequently target neighbourhood children or those with whom they have contact through their vocation or avocations. Additionally, pornographic activity is a common part of life for teen prostitutes. Finally, in many countries, including developed nations, child victims may come from homes where their own parents use them to create child pornography or where their parents offer them to others for the same purpose.

Sex rings, which involve the simultaneous sexual exploitation of more that one child but are not necessarily commercial, exist in many countries and frequently involve the use of children in the creation of pornographic material. In the United States, they consist largely of loosely organised child abusers. According to one 1989 study, 31 sex rings were identified by police in the United Kingdom over a two year period in a geographically defined population of 710,000.

2. Identifying the Exploiters

Child exploiters and pornographers represent a cross-section of the larger community including highly esteemed members of the population. Furthermore, they frequently seek occupations that bring them into habitual contact with children. Producers (including photographers, publishers and creators of home videos), middlemen (including procurers and parents), distributors, (including advertisers and those who trade) as well as child pornography collectors, are included in the category of exploiters.

Paedophiles constitute a significant sector of the offenders. The American Psychiatric Association defines paedophilia as a disorder in which an adult's primary sexual attraction is to prepubescent children, generally age 13 and under. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV 527-28 (1994). Because this is a psychiatric diagnosis, and because it is impossible to fix pubescence at any exact age, law enforcement agents often employ a broader definition of paedophilia to include adults with a sexual preference for individuals legally considered children. Lanning, supra note 3, at 2. This paper employs the broader law enforcement definition with the understanding that the definition may include a large number of individuals with an attraction to pubescent teenagers--a condition which is not considered a psychiatric disorder in most countries. Additionally, the broader definition does not concentrate attention on a sector which societies consider "abnormal" while ignoring a much larger segment of society that may participate in the production and consumption of pornography.

Some paedophiles are attracted to children of the same sex, but the majority of paedophiles are heterosexual. Additionally, it is important to note that not all paedophiles are child molesters and that many child molesters are not paedophiles--even under a broad definition. The term "preferential child molester" can be used to distinguish those paedophiles who act on their impulses and sexually abuse children from those who simply fantasize about sexual activity with children.

Child pornography serves significant purposes for both paedophiles and child molesters. Preferential child molesters often possess large collections of child pornography that are meticulously catalogued and carefully guarded. They, however, are not the only ones who produce or consume child pornography. A much broader segment of the population is interested in pornography featuring pubescent children in their teens. Additionally, with the emergence of the use of computers to traffic in child pornography, a new and growing segment of producers and consumers is being identified. They are individuals who may not have a sexual preference for children, but who have seen the gamut of adult pornography and who are searching for more bizarre material.


The worldwide flow of pornography is difficult to describe with any precision but a brief examination of some of the major international production centres offers a sense of the global supply and demand. In Asia, Japan is the most important centre for the commercial production of child pornography, producing a significant and increasing amount of "teen pornography" that depicts young Japanese girls in sexually explicit poses in teen magazines. Peter Constantine, Japan's Sex Trade: A Journey Through Japan's Erotic Subcultures 184-88 (1993). Japan also produces millions of erotic comics that are targeted at young students and readily available in vending machines in most Japanese cities. Japanese child pornography reflects a special appeal for sex with Japanese girls who are often depicted in school uniforms. Pornography involving pre-pubescent children is also available commercially in Tokyo.

Japanese child pornography is distributed in Asia and worldwide. U.S. law enforcement officials in California report seizing material depicting the exposed genitals of pre-pubescent Japanese children. Canadian Customs reports that pornographic materials involving Japanese children are found in the possession of crew members of Japanese cruise ships. Japanese child pornography is also circulating on the Internet. The Yakuza, Japanese organised crime, previously controlled the sex industry in Japan. Some commentators report that tough Japanese anti-mob laws, however, have loosened the Yakuza's grip in recent years. Id. at 13-14.

The early 1970's marked the heyday of commercial production of child pornography in the Western world. Denmark, Holland, and, to a lesser extent, Sweden, were the main centres of production in Europe. Most of the children depicted were Caucasian. Many who were featured in European child pornography magazines were photographed in the United States and the photos were published in magazines assembled abroad. Some of the material produced in Europe during the 70's, however, included children from India and Mexico and one series included black children from Africa. Telephone interview with R.P. (Toby) Tyler, Sheriff's Sergeant, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department (March 1996). By the mid-70's, commercially distributed child pornography became widely available in the United States and Europe.

The late 1970's and early 80's brought increased governmental regulation, first in the United States and later in Europe. As a result, commercial distribution is no longer a major means of circulating such material. The majority of child pornography disseminated internationally is, in fact, exchanged between paedophiles and child molesters without any commercial motive. Furthermore, while there is evidence that organised crime is involved in adult pornography, the same is not generally true in regard to child pornography. Pornography produced using underage models resembling adults (sometimes referred to a "technical" child pornography), however, accounts for a small portion of pornography controlled by organised crime.

"The overwhelming majority of child pornography seized in the United States has not been produced or distributed for profit ... Instead, the cost must be measured in terms of the sexual exploitation of children represented by child pornography, and the sexual abuse of children to which child pornography is a central contributing factor. It is not necessary to view child pornography as a hugely lucrative, organised crime-controlled underground in order to appreciate the scope of the damage to society caused by this reprehensible practice." U.S. Senate Report, supra note 7, at 43.

While it is true that the availability of commercial child pornography has declined, there are those who continue to profit from its production and distribution. Commercial production and consumption still exists in both Europe and the United States, as well as in Japan. Additionally, "amateur" pornographic material is being produced in many countries including Mexico, the Philippines, and Brazil (often utilising street children) for importation into North America. The distinction between "amateur" and "commercial" child pornography is far from clear. Once child pornography enters the public sphere, even if by trade or gift, it becomes available to anyone who chooses to use it for monetary gain. Liz Kelly, et al., Splintered Lives: Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Context of Children's Rights and Child Protection, 16 (1995).

A further source of child pornography distributed worldwide is that created by sex tourists who travel to other countries to have sex with minors. Most of the child victims of sex tourism reside in the developing nations of the world. In March 1996, a court in Thailand convicted a German national of child molestation and production of pornography for commercial purposes; he was involved in a child pornography ring which exploited Thai children. Letter from the International Cooperation In Criminal Matters Division, Office of the Attorney General, Thailand (March 20, 1996). Until approximately two years ago, a sizable portion of the pornography seized in Sweden and in the Netherlands was produced by sex tourists...
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