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DEFINING CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

Child pornography is most commonly defined as the visual depiction (including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer-generated image or picture, as well as undeveloped film or data stored on computer storage devices) of sexually explicit conduct where (18 U.S.C. §2256(8)):

  • • the production of the visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
  • • the visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
  • • the visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

Embedded within this definition is not only actual child pornography, which consists of images of real children engaged in real sexual acts, but also virtual child pornography, which consists of synthesized, manipulated images of children who appear to be engaged in sexual acts. Federal law (18 U.S.C. §1466A) also classifies such images in the forms of drawings, cartoons, sculptures, and paintings as pornographic as well. Images themselves (whether actual or virtual) may vary considerably in their sexual content. The legal definition of child pornography, therefore, does not capture all material that an adult with a sexual interest in children may consider sexualized or sexual. Researchers have identified ten levels of increasing image severity (Taylor, Holland, & Quayle, 2001):

  • 1. Indicative: Non-sexualized pictures collected from legitimate sources (e.g., magazines, catalogs) showing children in undergarments, bathing suits, etc. from either commercial sources or family albums.
  • 2. Nudist: Pictures of naked or semi-naked children in appropriate nudist settings (e.g., baby bathtub photographs).
  • 3. Erotica: Surreptitiously taken photographs of children in appropriate nudist settings.
  • 4. Posing: Deliberately posed pictures of children fully clothed, partially, clothed, or naked.
  • 5. Erotic Posing: Deliberately posed pictures of children fully clothed, partially, clothed, or naked in sexualized or provocative positions.
  • 6. Explicit Erotic Posing: Emphasizing genital areas where the child is either naked, partially clothed, or fully clothed.
  • 7. Explicit Sexual Activity: Involves touching, mutual, or self-masturbation, oral sex, and intercourse by child, but not involving an adult.
  • 8. Assault: Pictures of children being subject to a sexual assault, involving digital touching, and involving an adult.
  • 9. Gross Assault: Grossly obscene pictures of sexual assault, involving penetrative sex, masturbation, or oral sex involving an adult.
  • 10. Sadism/Bestiality: Pictures showing a child being tied, bound, beaten, whipped, or otherwise subject to something that implies pain; pictures where an animal is involved in some form of sex with a child.

Deciding which of these levels actually constitutes child pornography has become difficult, particularly in today's courts. It is arguable that images that fall under Levels 1 and 2 (i.e., indicative and nudist) are just as dangerous (if not more dangerous) than those images falling under Levels 9 and 10 (i.e, gross assault and sadism/besti- ality). For example, research shows that pedophiles usually construct erotic fantasies not through the use of perverse, sexual material, but rather through innocuous, non-sexualized images of children, such as images from television advertisements, children's clothing catalogs, and even photographs of children at Disneyland (How- itt, 1995). This is discussed more in-depth after covering the child pornography laws. For now, the important take away is that the "legitimateness" of material or an image may be irrelevant to an offender given that sex offenders with interests in children may use perfectly legitimate material to satisfy sexual needs.

Child pornography exists in numerous formats, including printed media, film, CD-ROM, and DVD, to name a few. Today, it is most commonly transmitted on various platforms within the Internet, including email, websites, Internet chat rooms, Instant Message, File Transfer Protocol, and peer-to-peer technology. Child pornography is one of the fastest growing online businesses, with an estimated 9,550 child sexual-abuse webpages hosted by 1,561 individual domains detected in 2012 (Internet Watch Foundation, 2012). Of those, 54% were housed within the U.S. Worldwide, the production and distribution of child pornography has developed into a huge industry, with annual revenues estimated upwards of $20 billion. A study of arrested child pornography offenders revealed that 83% were in possession of images involving children between the ages of 6 and 12. Also, 39% had images of children between three and five years old. Another 19% had images of infants and toddlers under the age of three (Wolak, Finkelhor, & Mitchell, 2005).

 
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