Computer Crime Research Center


Child pornography: an international perspective

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

... used as a way to show a child what the offender wants the child victim to do. Pornography may be used under the guise of "sex education" to create sexual arousal in the child.

4. Preservation of the child's youth: Child pornography ensures that there will always be an image of the child at the age of sexual preference.

5. Blackmail: Sexually explicit images are used to ensure the lifelong silence of the victimised child by threatening to show the pictures to parents, peers or others. Child victims will not always report pictorial records--even if they report sexual abuse--because they may be ashamed of what happened to them as well as of their participation in the pornography.

6. A medium of exchange: Child pornography is used as a means of establishing trust and camaraderie with other paedophiles and molesters and as proof of their good intentions when establishing contact with other exploiters. It is a medium of communication with fellow exploiters in public and private sex markets.

7. Access: Some exploiters exchange pornography to gain access to other markets and to other children.

8. Profit: Although most do not sell child pornography, there are some paedophiles and child molesters who sell home-made videos and photos on a one-to-one basis. Some child exploiters sell their self-produced materials to finance trips overseas to popular sex tourist destinations.

Arguably then, child pornography does not merely involve the abuse of the individual child victim depicted, but rather can be used to perpetuate the sexual exploitation of other children who have not been pornographically exploited. Furthermore, child pornography serves to desensitise society and to send a message that children are legitimate sex partners.


Considerable controversy exists within the social and behavioural science community about the negative effects, if any, of child pornography upon the behaviour of potential or actual offenders. The main reason for the debate is that it is virtually impossible to conduct research in the laboratory using standard scientific methods which yield statistically reliable results. The constraints of ethical research, false reporting, interviewer distortion and a whole host of other problems contribute to the difficulty of acquiring scientific results. Many researchers have come to the conclusion that there is no sound scientific basis for concluding that exposure to child pornography increases the likelihood of sexual abuse of children. Others have suggested that there is a consistent correlation between the use of pornography and sexual aggression. Some social scientists interpret the research to indicate that the use of child pornography is a precursor to other sex crimes and that child pornography is fuel to feed the obsession of paedophilia; Child Pornography and Sexual Exploitation: European Forum for Child Welfare Position Statement, 3 (Nov. 1993) [hereafter EFCW Position Statement] (citing studies that support this thesis). others conclude that it is a safety valve that prevents such crimes. Kutchinsky, B., The Effect of Easy Availability of Pornography on the Incidence of Sex Crimes: The Danish Experience, Journal of Social Sciences, 29:3, 163-81 (1973); see Daniel Lee Carter, et al., The Use of Pornography in the Criminal and Developmental Histories of Sexual Offenders, Journal of Interpersonal Violence 207 (June 1987).

Law enforcement agencies also have differing opinions. In 1995, several Australian law enforcement agencies testified in hearings on organised paedophile activity that "there was a significant likelihood that a person in possession of child pornography was also involved in sexually abusing children." Organised Criminal Paedophile Activity: A Report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia 36 (Nov. 1995) [hereinafter Australian Parliament Report]. This view is not universally accepted, even in Australia. Id. It is well documented that paedophiles may possess extensive collections of child pornography. However, not all paedophiles who collect or view pornography sexually molest children and not all of those who collect child pornography can be characterised as paedophiles.

What is clear, however, is that law enforcement agents have found that a significant number of arrested child molesters are in possession of child pornography. One detective in the Los Angeles Police Department estimated that of 700 child molesters arrested over 10 years for extra-familial child sex crimes, more than half had child pornography in their possession and about 80% owned either child or adult pornography. From 1986 to 1988, an organisation called Childwatch in England found that of the 27 child molesters convicted, 23% were using their child victims to make pornography and nearly all of the child molesters had child pornography in their possession.

When discussing the relevance of child pornography to the sexual abuse of children, most experts note that it is important not to confuse the question of statistical line (i.e., whether some or many child sex offenders possess child pornography) with the separate issue of causality (i.e., whether possession of child pornography causes people to commit child-sex offenses). While taking pains to acknowledge that there was no evidence of causality, however, a U.S. Senate Subcommittee investigating child pornography came to the conclusion that "[child pornography plays a central role in child molestations by paedophiles, serving to justify their conduct, assist them in seducing their victims and provide a means to blackmail the children they have molested in order to prevent exposure." U.S. Senate Report, supra note 7, at 44.


Many have argued that the distribution of obscene adult material is a victimless crime, that no one gets hurt and that what one does privately is his or her own business. In the case of child pornography, however, where a real child is videotaped or photographed, there is always a victim. The distribution of that depiction repeats the victimisation over and over again, long after the original misdeed took place. Likewise, when the face of a child is superimposed on a sexually explicit photo, even though that child never participated in any sexual act, the distribution of the altered image arguably produces a similar effect.

There are two ways in which children can potentially be harmed by child pornography--by being exposed to child pornography or by being filmed themselves. Children who are exposed to pornography are in danger of being desensitised and seduced into believing that pornographic activity is "normal" for children. EFCW Position Statement, supra note 22, at 3. It can provide a kind of modelling that may adversely affect children's behaviour and result in learning experiences which connect sex to exploitation, force, or violence. James Check, Teenage Training: The Effects of Pornography on Adolescent Males, in Laura Lederer and Richard Delgado, eds., The Price We Pay: The Case Against Racist Speech, Hate Propaganda and Pornography 89-91 (1995).

The impact on the child victim who is exploited to produce pornography is often serious. Children can experience a myriad of symptoms including physical symptoms and illnesses, emotional withdrawal, anti-social behaviour, mood-swings, depression, fear and anxiety. In a study of children involved in sex rings, all of whom were sexually abused, 54.8% of the children were used in the creation of pornography. In these children, there was a significant relationship between involvement in pornography and a pattern of identification with the exploiter, along with deviant and symptomatic behaviour. Ann Wolbert Burgess, et al., Response Patterns in Children and Adolescents Exploited Through Sex Rings and Pornography, American Journal of Psychiatry 141:5 (May 1984).

Children who are sexually abused or exploited may be at high risk of becoming perpetrators or abusers themselves. Note that there are those who reject the "cycle of abuse" theory because it is females who are more frequently sexually abused and yet males are responsible for the majority of child sexual abuse in most societies. See Kelly, et al.., supra note 16, at 25-26. Those who have been photographed may take drastic measures, for example, burning the house where the pictures are located or stealing back the record of their exploitation. The media in some countries often confuses victims with perpetrators by publishing pictures of children who have been sexually exploited and blanking out the faces of offenders. Those exploited children who enjoyed the attention or who were sexually stimulated carry special shame about their participation in pornography. It must be emphasised that whether minors acquiesced to sexual exploitation, profited from it, or enjoyed it, they are always the victims of an unlawful and often destructive act.


The easy availability of child pornography in the 70's led governments to respond by promulgating legislation that prohibited the production, sale and distribution of child pornography. Most notably, the United States, in 1977, passed strict laws against child pornography with heavy penalties. In 1980, both Denmark and Sweden put child pornography legislation into effect and the Netherlands followed in 1986.

In 1984, the U.S. Department of State made diplomatic visits to the governments of...
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