Pornography versus Child Abuse Images

 

Child Porn Versus Child Abuse Images

I have been called down at seminars and presentations, by merely reciting the title of the criminal charge. ..”It’s not child porn ,,,it’s pictures of child sexual abuse…noted in Federal Sex Offender Treatment Programs. There are really no child pornography pictures, as pornography is more of a willing act.

My impression is that more policy-makers, researchers and clinicians are moving towards the term “child sexual abuse images”.  This nomenclature is now used in Federal Sex Offender treatment programs.  I don’t use the term myself because (1)child pornography is the legal term and it’s short and clear, though perhaps imprecise or even misleading; and (2) not every image is of a child being sexually abused (e.g., images of a nude child who is unaware he or she is being photographed in a pose that has sexual connotations for the viewer; one could argue that child is being sexually exploited, but I don’t think that child is being sexually abused). The nuances matter, of course, and we can discuss them intelligently as specialists, but it’s easy to end up arguing about the branch (or twig!) rather than the tree and forest.

My sense is that more precise but longer labels (e.g., “youth who have committed criminal sexual behaviors”) will generally lose to shorter labels (“adolescent sex offender”) in the mind-spaces of others because the latter are easier to remember and  easier to use, rightly or wrongly. Long terms are a mouthful and tend to  end up as acronyms in our writing, which is obscure to non-specialists and quite annoying if not used sparingly. I think clear, non-jargon-y,  and less precise language is often preferred when we are talking to  non-specialists, policy-makers, and the public, because the message has a better chance of successful transmission.

We’ll see where the field goes. Child abuse images will be the term used inside Federal Sex Offender Treatment programs.

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