Child Sexual Abuse

One of the most heated issues regarding the connected environment is the protection of children. It raises questions of morality, freedom of expression, religion, culture and more. When we are in the realm of those issues, temperatures inevitably flare. In such a charged environment, the use of precise terminology is incredibility important.

We all recognise the important role we must play in protecting our children from predators on the internet, from content that is not age appropriate or which goes contrary to our particular moral, religious or cultural construct. However, this involves effort on our part. As a result, a lot of the heated emotions relate to the areas where “other people” are supposed to be keeping our children safe. No issue is more emotive than depictions of the sexual abuse of children, or as some call it “child porn”.

Pornography is defined as "Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.” The term originates from the mid-19th century; from the Greek pornographos ‘writing about prostitutes’. It then gets categorised in various ways and with various degrees of approbation or condemnation that led to the famous phrase referenced above: “I know it when I see it”, used in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis vs Ohio. In explaining why the material at issue in the case was not obscene and therefore, was protected speech that could not be censored.

Stewart wrote:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so, but I know it when I see it”.

If anyone has had the misfortune of being exposed to images of child sexual abuse, as a lawyer or investigator, they will know that there is no stimulation or excitement. The activities that lead to the production of these images are crimes, in many cases crimes of the most depraved nature involving pain and torture of the youngest and most vulnerable members of society. The images are evidence of crimes such as rape, assault, and physical and psychological abuse. Calling those images “child porn” minimises the pain and suffering these children endure at the hands of their abusers and when the term “kiddie porn” is used, it is insulting.

I would thus request that we remove the term “child porn” from our lexicon and refer to child sexual abuse images (CSAIs) or child abuse material. Even when these descriptions or images are fictional or simulations, they are descriptions of the most depraved crimes.

I hope the readers never suffer the misfortune of being asked to assist with a child sexual abuse case. However, if they ever do, they will "know it when they see it" and realise these images should never be confused with pornography, as such images are evidence of horrific crimes and we diminish the suffering of the victims by calling it anything else.

This has been accepted in South Africa: See

By: Mike Silber

Editor: Ashleigh Roach

QA: Richard Rosewarne

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