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Child Pornography

“Unfortunately, we´ve also seen a historic rise in the distribution of child pornography, in the number of images being shared online, and in the level of violence associated with child exploitation and sexual abuse crimes. Tragically, the only place we´ve seen a decrease is in the age of victims.
This is – quite simply – unacceptable.”

-Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. speaks at the National Strategy Conference on Combating Child Exploitation in San Jose, California, May 19, 2011.

Child Pornography

           Child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation. Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (persons less than 18 years old).  Images of child pornography are also referred to as child sexual abuse images.
           Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, importation, reception, or possession of any image of child pornography.   A violation of federal child pornography laws is a serious crime, and convicted offenders face fines severe statutory penalties (For more information, see Citizen's Guide to Federal Law on Child Pornography).

Child Pornography Today

          Because the term “child pornography” is used in federal statutes, it is also commonly used by lawmakers, prosecutors, investigators, and the public to describe this form of sexual exploitation of children.  However, this term fails to describe the true horror that is faced by countless children every year.  The production of child pornography creates a permanent record of a child’s sexual abuse.  When these images are placed on the Internet and disseminated online, the victimization of the children continues in perpetuity. Experts and victims agree that victims depicted in child pornography often suffer a lifetime of re-victimization by knowing the images of their sexual abuse are on the Internet forever.  The children exploited in these images must live with the permanency, longevity, and circulation of such a record of their sexual victimiza­tion.  This often creates lasting psychological damage to the child, including disruptions in sexual development, self-image, and developing trusting relationships with others in the future.

          The expansion of the Internet and advanced digital technology lies parallel to the explosion of the child pornography market. Child pornography images are readily available through virtually every Internet technology, including social networking websites, file-sharing sites, photo-sharing sites, gaming devices, and even mobile apps.  Child pornography offenders can also connect on Internet forums and networks to share their interests, desires, and experiences abusing children, in addition to selling, sharing, and trading images.

          These online communities have promoted communication and collaboration between child pornography offenders, thereby fostering a larger relationship premised on a shared sexual interest in children. This has the effect of eroding the shame that typically would accompany this behavior, as well as desensitizing those involved to the physical and psychological damage caused to the child victims. For this reason, online communities attract and encourage new individuals to join them in the sexual exploitation of children.

          The methods many offenders use to evade law enforcement detection have also become increasingly sophisticated. Purveyors of child pornography continue to use various encryption techniques and anonymous networks on “The Dark Internet”, attempting to hide their amassed collections of illicit child abuse images. Several sophisticated online criminal organizations have even written security manuals to ensure that their members follow preferred security protocols and encryption techniques in an attempt to evade law enforcement and facilitate the sexual abuse of children.

          Unfortunately, no area of the United States or country in the world is immune from individuals who seek to sexually exploit children through child pornography. The continuous production and distribution of child pornography increases the demand for new and more egregious images, perpetuating the continued molestation of child victims, as well as the abuse of new children.

Victims of Child Pornography

          It is important to distinguish child pornography from the more conventional understanding of the term pornography.  Child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation, and each image graphically memorializes the sexual abuse of that child.  Each child involved in the production of an image is a victim of sexual abuse.
         While some child sexual abuse images depict children in great distress and the sexual abuse is self-evident, other images may depict children that appear complacent.  However, just because a child appears complacent does not mean that sexual abuse did not occur.  In most child pornography cases, the abuse is not a one-time event, but rather ongoing victimization that progresses over months or years.  It is common for producers of child pornography to groom victims, or cultivate a relationship with a child and gradually sexualize the contact over time.  The grooming process fosters a false sense of trust and authority over a child in order to desensitize or break down a child´s resistance to sexual abuse.  Therefore, even if a child appears complacent in a particular image, it is important to remember that the abuse may have started years before that image was created.  
          Furthermore, victims of child pornography suffer not just from the sexual abuse inflicted upon them to produce child pornography, but also from knowing that their images can be traded and viewed by others worldwide.  Once an image is on the Internet, it is irretrievable and can continue to circulate forever.  The permanent record of a child´s sexual abuse can alter his or her live forever.  Many victims of child pornography suffer from feelings of helplessness, fear, humiliation, and lack of control given that their images are available for others to view in perpetuity.
          Unfortunately, emerging trends reveal an increase in the number of images depicting sadistic and violent child sexual abuse, and an increase in the number of images depicting very young children, including toddlers and infants.

CEOS’s Role

          CEOS works to deter and eradicate the production, distribution and possession of child pornography.  CEOS attorneys work with the High Technology Investigative Unit (HTIU), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Attorney´s Offices throughout the country, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to vigorously combat this growing problem by investigating and prosecuting violators of federal child pornography laws.  In addition, CEOS attorneys work with law enforcement personnel to identify and rescue victims of child pornography from continued abuse.
          The use of the Internet to commit child pornography offenses has blurred traditional notions of jurisdiction.  CEOS maintains a coordinated, national-level law enforcement focus to help coordinate nationwide and international investigations and initiatives.
          Furthermore, CEOS attorneys and HTIU computer forensic specialists travel all over the world to conduct and participate in trainings for investigators, law enforcement personnel, and others involved in efforts to investigate and prosecute child pornography offenders.  CEOS also designs, implements, and supports law enforcement strategies, legislative proposals, and policy initiatives relating to federal child pornography laws.

Updated August 11, 2023