UN to Downplay Crime of Child Pornography
NEW YORK, November 29 (C-Fam) The UN General Assembly will replace the term “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse material” even though experts have warned in the past that the move could make it harder to prosecute some child pornography cases.
The General Assembly is scheduled to adopt a resolution on the sexual exploitation of children online that endorses replacing the term “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse material” as part of the fight against child pornography. Advocates of this approach say that this will help law enforcement distinguish between lawful adult pornography and criminal sexual images of children. Experts from U.S. law enforcement have cautioned against this approach in the past, warning that it may hamper efforts to prosecute child pornography cases.
European countries have been promoting the new language for several years, and the resolution about to be adopted could have far reaching implications for how the UN system and countries around the world fight child pornography. Because child pornography is a global internet phenomenon, the fight against child pornography requires a globalized approach.
The resolution of the General Assembly notes that “the term ‘child pornography’ is being increasingly referred to, within some Member States, as child sexual exploitation or child sexual abuse material to better reflect the nature of such material and the seriousness of the harm suffered by the child in this context.”
The complication is that it is unclear if the resolution’s use of the term “child sexual abuse material” refers only to images produced as a result of or in the process of sexual abuse of child or to any sexually explicit depiction of children.
The confusion was a reason why longtime Federal Bureau of investigation expert Kenneth V. Lanning opposed the use of new terminology to fight child pornography.
“Federal law does not now require the children in child pornography to be sexually abused… If it did, this could require further proof and evidence to prosecute a case,” Lanning wrote in a manual on sex offenders used by the Department of Justice until recently.
“Because some people think ’pornography’ is not an important issue does not justify changing from a term (child pornography) with 30 years of case law to a term (child-abuse images) with no legal history and requiring an added burden of proof. Why start using a new term of unclear meaning that will further confuse people?” Lanning said.
Proponents of the new language respond that any sexually explicit image of a child is inherently abusive and therefore this is a moot question.
“If an image depicts a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct, then the image is child pornography or a sexually abusive image of a child. The image themselves are harmful,” former federal prosecutor and Catholic University of America law professor Mary Graw Leary, wrote in a book more recently.
But the European countries who promote the new language are signatories of the Lanzarote Convention, which is known to leave latitude to countries on what should be considered sexual abuse of children. The Lanzarote Convention is considerably less protective than the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, to which the U.S. is a party.
The Optional Protocol considers any sexually explicit image of a child under the age of 18 child pornography, and requires states to prohibit production, distribution, and possession of such images. The Lanzarote convention, on the other hand, does not require the prosecution of virtual child pornography or the criminalization of child pornography produced or distributed consensually by minors above the age of consent.