Welcome to another week.

In 2015, the Victorian Government in Australia proposed changes to child pornography legislation, which if passed would double the criminal penalties for possessing child abuse material from five to ten years’ imprisonment. The legislation also introduces three new criminal offences:

  • Administering a child pornography website;
  • Encouraging use of a website to deal with child pornography; and
  • Providing assistance to another person to avoid apprehension for a child pornography offence.

However, some academics take the view that harsher penalties and a growing body of criminal offences are unlikely to tackle the root of online child abuse, arguing that the use of the term ‘child pornography’ minimises the seriousness of these crimes and confuses what is acceptable within the world of pornography and what is not.

Three main arguments are put forward:

Firstly, the term ‘child pornography’ creates a misleading distinction between the viewing of images and actual physical abuse of a child.

Secondly, the term potentially gives the impression that this material is a legally acceptable form of pornography.

And finally, it can contribute to the normalisation of child sexual assault. Research suggests that perpetrators sometimes use online material material to desensitize themselves to the impact of their actions before committing a sexual offence, or to “mentally rehearse” the abuse. Perpetrators also use this online content to “groom” child victims in preparation for physical offences against them.

The academics in the piece we’ve linked to above, suggest using the term “online child abuse material.” 

In the UK, we also call this online material ‘child pornography’ and crucially, we refer to sexual images of child sexual abuse as ‘indecent’ images.

Our question then, is just this: is the language we use in the UK to define online child abuse too weak?