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Child pornography (also known as child abuse images ) refers to images or films depicting sexually explicit activities involving a child; as such, child pornography is a visual record of child sexual abuse. Abuse of the child occurs during the sexual acts which are photographed in the production of child pornography, and the effects of the abuse on the child (and continuing into maturity) are compounded by the wide distribution and lasting availability of the photographs of the abuse.

Child pornography is illegal in most nations, and carries severe penalties in almost all Western societies, but there are some countries that do not have relevant criminal statues in place. A large-scale movement is working to globalize the criminalization of child pornography, including major international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Commission, and others.

In common usage and for research purposes, child pornography refers to images of prepubescent children, and does not include post-pubertal teenage minors. But legal definitions generally refer to a wider range, including sexual images involving a minor or computer-generated images that appear to involve a minor. Most possessors of child pornography who are arrested are found to possess images of prepubescent children; possessors of pornographic images of post-puberty minors are less likely to be prosecuted, even though those images also fall within the statutes.

Child pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry and among the fastest growing criminal segments on the internet. Producers of child pornography try to avoid prosecution by distributing their material across national borders, though this issue is increasingly being addressed with regular arrests of suspects from a number of countries occurring over the last few years. NCMEC claims that around 20 % of all pornography contains children.

Child pornography is viewed and collected by pedophiles for a variety of purposes, ranging from private sexual uses, trading with other pedophiles, preparing children for sexual abuse as part of the process known as "child grooming", or enticement leading to entrapment for sexual exploitation such as production of new child pornography or child prostitution.


Recently, the term "child abuse images" has been increasingly adopted by both scholars and law enforcement personnel because the term "pornography" can carry the inaccurate implication of consent and create distance from the abusive nature of the material. The similar terms "abuse images" and "child sexual abuse images" are also used. However, the term "child pornography" retains its legal definitions in various jurisdictions, along with related terms such as "indecent photographs of a child" and others . In 2008, the World Congress III against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents stated in their formally adopted pact that "Increasingly the term 'child abuse images' is being used to refer to the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in pornography. This is to reflect the seriousness of the phenomenon and to emphasize that pornographic images of children are in fact records of a crime being committed."

Interpolmarker and policing institutions of various governments, including among others the United States Department of Justicemarker, enforce internationally. Since 1999, the Interpol Standing Working Group on Offenses Against Minors has used the following definition:
Child pornography is the consequence of the exploitation or sexual abuse perpetrated against a child.
It can be defined as any means of depicting or promoting sexual abuse of a child, including print and/or audio, centered on sex acts or the genital organs of children.

Child sexual abuse in production and distribution

Children of all ages, including infants, are abused in the production of pornography internationally. The United States Department of Justicemarker estimates that pornographers have recorded the abuse of more than one million children in the United States alone. There is an increasing trend towards younger victims and greater brutality; according to Flint Waters, an investigator with the federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, "These guys are raping infants and toddlers. You can hear the child crying, pleading for help in the video. It is horrendous." According to the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, "While impossible to obtain accurate data, a perusal of the child pornography readily available on the international market indicates that a significant number of children are being sexually exploited through this medium."

The United Kingdommarker Children's charity NCH have stated that demand for child pornography on the internet has led to an increase in sex abuse cases, due to an increase in the number of children abused in the production process.In a study analyzing men arrested for child pornography possession in the United States over a one year period from 2000 to 2001, most had pornographic images of prepubescent children (83%) and images graphically depicting sexual penetration (80%). Approximately 1 in 5 (21%) had images depicting violence such as bondage, rape, or torture and most of those involved images of children who were gagged, bound, blindfolded, or otherwise enduring sadistic sex. More than 1 in 3 (39%) had child-pornography videos with motion and sound. 79% also had what might be termed softcore images of nude or semi-nude children, but only 1% possessed such images alone. Law enforcement found about half (48%) had more than 100 graphic still images, and 14% had 1,000 or more graphic images. Forty percent (40%) were "dual offenders," who sexually victimized children and possessed child pornography.

A recent study in Ireland, undertaken by the Garda Síochána, revealed the most serious content in a sample of over 100 cases involving indecent images of children. In 44% of cases, the most serious images depicted nudity or erotic posing, in 7% they depicted sexual activity between children, in 7% they depicted non-penetrative sexual activity between adults and children, in 37% they depicted penetrative sexual activity between adults and children, and in 5% they depicted sadism or bestiality.

Masha Allen, who was adopted at age 8 from the former Soviet Union by an American man who sexually abused her for five years and posted the pictures on the Internet testified before the United States Congress about the anguish she has suffered at the continuing circulation of the pictures of her abuse, to "put a face" on a "sad, abstract, and faceless statistic," and to help pass a law named for her. "Masha's Law," included in the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act passed in 2006, includes a provision which allows young people 18 and over to sue in civil court those who download pornographic images taken of them when they were children.

Relation to child molestation and abuse

Experts differ over any causal link, with some experts saying that use of child porn reduces the risk of offending, and others arguing that it increases the risk. A 2008 American review of the use of Internet communication to lure children outlines the possible links to actual behaviour regarding the effects of Internet child pornography.

According to the Mayo Clinicmarker of the U.S.A., studies and case reports indicate that 30% to 80% of individuals who viewed child pornography and 76% of individuals who were arrested for Internet child pornography had molested a child, however they note that it is difficult to know how many people progress from computerized child pornography to physical acts against children and how many would have progressed to physical acts without the computer being involved.


In the late 1990s, the COPINE project ("Combating Paedophile Information Networks in Europe") at the University of Cork, in cooperation with the Paedophile Unit of the London Metropolitan Police, developed a typology to categorize child abuse images for use in both research and law enforcement. The ten-level typology was based on analysis of images available on websites and internet newsgroups. Other researchers have adopted similar ten-level scales. In 2002 in the UK, the Sentencing Advisory Panel adapted the COPINE Scaleto five levels and recommended its adoption for sentencing guidelines, omitting levels 1 to 3 and recommending that levels 4 to 6 combine as sentencing level 1 and that the four levels from 7 to 10 each form an individual severity level, for a total of 5 sentencing stages.

The COPINE Scale
1 Indicative Non-erotic and non-sexualised pictures showing children in their underwear, swimming costumes etc.from either commercial sources or family albums. Pictures of children playing in normal settings, in which the context or organisation of pictures by the collector indicates inappropriateness.
2 Nudist Pictures of naked or semi-naked children in appropriate nudist settings, and from legitimate sources.
3 Erotica Surreptitiously taken photographs of children in play areas or other safe environments showing either underwear or varying degrees of nakedness.
4 Posing Deliberately posed pictures of children fully clothed,partially clothed or naked (where the amount,context and organisation suggests sexual interest).
5 Erotic Posing Deliberately posed pictures of fully,partially clothed or naked children in sexualised or provocative poses.
6 Explicit Erotic Posing Pictures emphasising genital areas, where the child is either naked, partially clothed or fully clothed.
7 Explicit Sexual Activity Pictures that depict touching, mutual and self-masturbation, oral sex and intercourse by a child,not involving an adult. .
8 Assault Pictures of children being subject to a sexual assault, involving digital touching, involving an adult.
9 Gross Assault Grossly obscene pictures of sexual assault, involving penetrative sex, masturbation or oral sex, involving an adult.
10 Sadistic/Bestiality a. Pictures showing a child being tied,bound,beaten,whipped or otherwise subject to something that implies pain.

b. Pictures where an animal is involved in some form of sexual behaviour witha child.

Internet proliferation

Philip Jenkins notes that there is "overwhelming evidence that [child pornography] is all but impossible to obtain through nonelectronic means." The Internet has radically changed how child pornography is reproduced and disseminated, and, according to the United States Department of Justicemarker, resulted in a massive increase in the "availability, accessibility, and volume of child pornography." The production of child pornography has become very profitable and is no longer limited to pedophiles.

Digital cameras and Internet distribution facilitated by the use of credit cards and the ease of transferring images across national borders has made it easier than ever before for users of child pornography to obtain the photographs and videos. The NCMEC estimated in 2003 that 20% of all pornography traded over the Internet was child pornography, and that since 1997 the number of child pornography images available on the Internet had increased by 1500%.

In 2007, the British-based Internet Watch Foundation reported that child pornography on the Internet is becoming more brutal and graphic, and the number of images depicting violent abuse has risen fourfold since 2003. The CEO stated "The worrying issue is the severity and the gravity of the images is increasing. We're talking about prepubescent children being raped." About 80 percent of the children in the abusive images are female, and 91 percent appear to be children under the age of 12. Prosecution is difficult because multiple international servers are used, sometimes to transmit the images in fragments to evade the law. Some child pornographers also circumvent detection by using virus to illegally gain control of computers on which they remotely store child pornography. In one case, a Massachusettsmarker man was charged with possession of child pornography when hackers used his computer to access pornographic sites and store pornographic pictures without his knowledge.

Regarding internet proliferation, the U.S. Department of Justice states that "At any one time there are estimated to be more than one million pornographic images of children on the Internet, with 200 new images posted daily." They also note that a single offender arrested in the U.K. possessed 450,000 child pornography images, and that a single child pornography site received a million hits in a month. Further, that much of the trade in child pornography takes place at hidden levels of the Internet, and that it has been estimated that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 pedophiles involved in organized pornography rings around the world, and that one third of these operate from the United States.

In 2008 the Google search engine adapted a software program in order to faster track child pornography accessible through their site. The software is based in a pattern recognition engine.

Collection by pedophiles

Viewers of child pornography who are pedophiles are particularly obsessive about collecting, organizing, categorizing, and labeling their child pornography collection according to age, gender, sex act and fantasy. According to FBI agent Ken Lanning, "Collecting" pornography does not mean that they merely view pornography, but that they save it, and "it comes to define, fuel, and validate their most cherished sexual fantasies." An extensive collection indicates a strong sexual preference for children, and if a collector of child pornography is also a pedophile, the owned collection is the single best indicator of what he or she wants to do. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children describes researchers Taylor and Quayle's analysis of pedophile pornography collecting:

"The obsessive nature of the collecting and the narrative or thematic links for collections, led to the building of social communities on the internet dedicated to extending these collections.
Through these 'virtual communities' collectors are able to downgrade the content and abusive nature of the collections, see the children involved as objects rather than people, and their own behaviour as normal: It is an expression of 'love' for children rather than abuse."

These offenders are likely to employ elaborate security measures to avoid detection. The US DOJ notes that "There is a core of veteran offenders, some of whom have been active in pedophile newsgroups for more than 20 years, who possess high levels of technological expertise.", also noting that pedophile bulletin boards often contain technical advice from child pornography users' old hands to newcomers."

Child sex tourism

One source of child pornography distributed worldwide is that created by sex tourists. Most of the victims of child sex tourism reside in the developing countries of the world. In 1996, a court in Thailandmarker convicted a Germanmarker national of child molestation and production of pornography for commercial purposes; he was involved in a child pornography ring which exploited Thai children. A sizable portion of the pornography seized in Swedenmarker and in the Netherlandsmarker in the 1990s was produced by sex tourists visiting South-east Asia. INTERPOLmarker works with its 186 member countries to combat the problem, and launched its first-ever successful global appeal for assistance in 2007 to identify a Canadianmarker man, Christopher Paul Neil, featured in a series of around 200 photographs in which he was shown sexually abusing young Vietnamese and Cambodian children.

Organized crime

Organized crime is involved in the production and distribution of child pornography, which is found as a common element of organized crime profiles. When criminals organize to produce and distribute child pornography, they are often called "sex rings". In 2003, an international police investigation uncovered an immense Germany-based child pornography ring involving 26,500 suspects who swapped illegal images on the Internet in 166 different countries. In a 2006 case, US and international authorities charged 27 people in nine states and three countries in connection with a child pornography ring that US federal authorities described as "one of the worst" they have discovered. The assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement added that the case reflected three larger trends that are becoming more common in child pornography rings. One is the increasing prevalence of "home-grown" pornographic images that are produced by predators themselves, and include live streaming video images of children being abused, not just the circulation of repeated images. Another trend is the growing use of sophisticated security measures and of peer-to-peer networking, in which participants can share files with one another on their computers rather than downloading them from a web site. The group used encryption and data destruction software to protect the files and screening measures to ensure only authorized participants could enter the chat room. A third trend is the increasingly violent and graphic nature of the images involving the abuse of younger children.

According to Jim Gamble, CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, around 50 per cent of sites showing children being abused are operated on a pay-per-view basis. "The people involved in these sites often aren't doing it because they're deviant by nature. They're doing it because they're business people. It's risk versus profits. We need to reduce the profit motivation." The CEOPP was established in 2006, and targets the finances of organised criminal gangs selling images of child abuse.

International coordination of law enforcement

Recent investigations include Operation Cathedral that resulted in multi-national arrests and 7 convictions as well as uncovering 750,000 images with 1,200 unique identifiable faces being distributed over the web; Operation Amethyst which occurred in the Republic of Irelandmarker; Operation Auxin which occurred in Australia; Operation Avalanche; Operation Ore based in the United Kingdommarker; Operation Pin; Operation Predator; the 2004 Ukrainian child pornography raids and the 2008 US child pornography raid.

Even so, the UK based NSPCC said that worldwide an estimated 2% of child pornography websites still had not been removed a year after being identified.

In the United States, the FBI has taken steps to reduce sex offender crimes by creating links to fake Child Porn sites. One who clicks these links, are subject to arrest by Law Enforcement or is contacted by Law Enforcement, or the FBI. Those who are convicted of Creating Child Pornographic websites must register as Sex Offenders with their home state. Those who are convicted of holding or distributing Child Porn must also register as a Sex Offender, as with viewers of Child Pornography, even some under the age of 18.

One of the primary mandates of the international policing organization Interpolmarker is the prevention of crimes against children involving the crossing of international borders, including child pornography and all other forms of exploitation and trafficking of children.

The USA Department of Justicemarker coordinates programs to track and prosecute child pornography offenders across all jurisdictions, from local police departments to federal investigations, and international cooperation with other governments. Efforts by the Department to combat child pornography includes the National Child Victim Identification Program, the world's largest database of child pornography, maintained by the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the United States Department of Justicemarker and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) for the purpose of identifying victims of child abuse. Police agencies have deployed trained staff to track child pornography files and the computers used to share them as they are distributed on the Internet, and they freely share identifying information for the computers and users internationally.

In Europe the CIRCAMP Law Enforcement project is aimed at reducing the availability of abusive material on the Web, combining traditional police investigative methods and Police/Internet industry cooperation by blocking access to domains containing such files. The result is country specific lists according to national legislation in the participating countries. This police initiative has a world wide scope in its work but is partly financed by the European Commissionmarker.

When child pornography is distributed across international borders, customs agencies also participate in investigations and enforcement, such as in the 2001-2002 cooperative effort between the United States Customs Service and local operational law enforcement agencies in Russia. A search warrant issued in the USA by the Customs Service resulted in seizing of computers and email records by the Russian authorities, and arrests of the pornographers.

In spite of international cooperation, less than 1 percent of children who appear in child pornography are located by law enforcement each year, according to Interpol statistics.

Google announced in 2008 that it is working with NCMEC to help automate and streamline how child protection workers sift through millions of pornographic images to identify victims of abuse. Google has developed video fingerprinting technology and software to automate the review of some 13 million pornographic images and videos that analysts at the center previously had to review manually.

International Law

Child pornography is illegal in most but not all nations. In almost all Western societies, child pornography laws provide severe penalties usually including incarceration, for producers and distributors, with shorter duration of the sentences for non-commercial distribution depending on the extent and content of the material distributed. Convictions for possessing child pornography also usually includes prison sentences, but those sentences are often converted to probation for first-time offenders.

In recent years there have been increased international agreements to outlaw child pornography. The Council of Europe's Cybercrime Convention, the United Nations Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child, and the EU Framework Decision that became active in 2006, require signatory or member states to criminalize all aspects of child pornography, including its production, distribution, transmission, making available in any way, as well as acquisition and possession.

However, while international efforts have made a difference and are continuing, the coverage of laws is not complete. A review in 2006 of child pornography laws in 184 countries by the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) and other organizations including Microsoft Corporation shows that more than half have no laws that specifically address child pornography. This review, however, did not take into account legislation outlawing child pornography "indirectly" by a ban on the "worst forms of child labor", or a "general ban on pornography" because of the absence of legislation specific to child pornography.

Artificially generated or simulated imagery

A small fraction of pornography involving minors is produced without the direct involvement of children in the production process itself. Forms of such pornography include: modified photographs of real children, non-minor teenagers made to look younger (age regression), and fully computer-generated imagery or adults made to look like children. Drawings or animations that depict sexual acts involving children but are not intended to look like photographs may also be considered by some to be child pornography.


Sexting refers a recently increasing practice in which people use cell phone messaging to send nude or semi nude images of themselves to others (such as friends or dating partners). These may be passed along to others or be posted on the internet. Due to sexting by minors, some teenagers have been charged with possessing and/or distributing child pornography resulting in unintended consequences and unintended uses of child pornography laws. Florida cyber crimes defense attorney David S. Seltzer, wrote of this, "I do not believe that our child pornography laws were designed for these situations.[...]a conviction for possession of child pornography in Florida draws up to five years in prison for each picture or video, plus a lifelong requirement to register as a sex offender."

See also


  1. World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
  2. NCMEC transaction trends p3
  3. Child pornography: an international perspective, Margaret A. Healty, 1996
  4. Jenkins, Philip (2005). "Law Enforcement Efforts Against Child Pornography Are Ineffective," in At Issue: Child Sexual Abuse. Ed. Angela Lewis. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.
  5. Child Pornography, Child Exploitation and Obscenity, Department of Justice
  6. Houston Chronicle, " Government developing huge child porn database". 4 April 2003
  7. CBS News, " Combating Kiddie Porn", 6 April 2003
  8. Child Pornography: Model Legislation & Global Review, 2006 (page 7, footnote 15)
  9. Virtueel filmpje geldt ook als porno, AD, March 11, 2008
  10. Paul, B. and Linz, D. (2008). " The effects of exposure to virtual child pornography on viewer cognitions and attitudes toward deviant sexual behavior," Communication Research, 35(1), 3-38
  11. Cyber Crime Lawyer Blog: Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer, December 2008

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