Online Child Pornography

Online Child Pornography

Catherine D. Marcum (Georgia Southern University, USA) and George E. Higgins (University of Louisville, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0315-8.ch070
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This entry provides an examination of the past and present prevalence and issues surrounding online child pornography in the United States. Legal definitions of child pornography are explained, followed by an analysis of the current empirical knowledge on the topic, as well as the legal and legislative history. Finally, a brief discussion of the future research directions on the topic will be discussed.
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In the United States, child pornography is defined as sexually explicit pictures or films involving youth under the age of 18 (Gillespie, 2010; Klain, Davies, & Hicks, 2001). However, dependent upon the state, the age of consent in the United States is generally 16. The United States Code, Chapter 110 defines the illegal act of production of child pornography to constitute the following:

“advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits through the mails, or using any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer, any material or purported material in a manner that reflects the belief, or that is intended to cause another to believe, that the material or purported material is, or contains—

  • 1.

    An obscene visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or

  • 2.

    A visual depiction of an actual minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;”

Determination of what age is the cutoff for “child” has been contested in the medical and psychological field, as the development and maturation of certain cages is considered. Jenkins (2001) argued that categorizing a teenager and prepubescent child in the same category in regard to development and sexual maturity is erroneous, as understanding of sexual behavior is comprehended on two different levels depending on the age.

The exact legal definition of this child pornography has been the subject of debate in the Supreme Court since the early 1980s (Marcum, Higgins, Ricketts, & Freiburger, 2011). The Court found that this material must “visually depict sexual conduct by children below a specified age” (New York v. Ferber, 1982), and it is not protected by the First Amendment as it is “related to the sexual abuse of children” (New York v. Ferber, 1982, p. 764). In Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002), the Court declared a federal statute unconstitutional that declared possession and production of child pornography with technologically created images illegal. Therefore, the virtual child pornography was not considered actual child pornography as no real children were harmed in the production of the material. The United States currently stands alone in this ruling, as other countries such as Australia and Canada deem it illegal to use material depiction of a child (Gillespie, 2010). However, a few years after Ashcroft, in United States v. Williams (2008), the Court upheld a statute that deemed it illegal to pander this material with the intention of leading others to believe it was actual minors in the pornographic material.

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