Redefining “Child Pornography”

child abuse swing

Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age). While the definition given above is the proper legal term, it too closely relates this content to adult pornography. In actuality, the subject matter of “child pornography” is one of the most violent, horrific form of child abuse possible. For this reason, those working to combat this type of abuse have begun using the term “child abuse imagery,” one that more accurately describes the content and is explicitly tied to the source of the problem.

“Child Abuse Imagery”

Child abuse images and videos are most often documented with the purpose of being shared widely for others to watch, and in so doing, victimizing the child many times over.

In 2002, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) started collecting child abuse images as part of its Child Victim Identification Program (CVIP). This program aims to identify multiple images that depict the same child for a twofold goal: (1) to assist federal and state law enforcement agencies in determining which seized images depict identified child victims; and (2) to assist law enforcement in locating unidentified child victims.

The statistical breakdown of the kind of abuse involved in the images submitted to NCMEC’s CVIP shows that 76% of the series collected contained images depicting penetration, while 44% of the series contained images depicting bondage and/or sado-masochism.

We report these child trafficking statistics not for shock value, but rather to reinforce the idea that categorizing these images as “child pornography” is simply not enough. By referring to this abusive content as “child abuse imagery,” our aim is to convey the horrific truth about this imagery. Click through to read NCMEC’s full testimony before the U.S. Sentencing Commission for “Federal Child Pornography Offenses.”

Where Does Child Abuse Imagery Come From?

Often times, child pornography victims are abused by someone they know. These offenders have close access to the children they are abusing; they are people these children should have been able to trust.

By identifying series of child abuse images through CVIP, NCMEC has been able compile data on the overall relationship of exploiters to children. Data from 2013 shows that 25% of content is produced by a neighbor or family friend, while 18% is produced by the child’s parent or guardian. NCMEC also reported a growth, over five years, in self-produced content (14%) and content stemming from online enticement (18%).

Although NCMEC’s CVIP has enabled law enforcement to identify thousands of victims of child pornography, we know that there are many more unidentified victims who have not yet been rescued from their abusive situations. Until these children are identified and rescued, they will continue to be at risk of being sexually exploited.  This is why we continue to fight and search for new tools and techniques to stop online distribution, find the abusers and identify the victims.

How can you help educate yourself? Read our blog post on child abuse awareness month, and sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media.