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Children at Risk: Legal and Societal Perceptions of the Potential Threat that the Possession of Child Pornography Poses to Society

NCJ Number
Journal of Law and Society Volume: 29 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2002 Pages: 436-460
Suzanne Ost
Philip A. Thomas
Date Published
September 2002
25 pages
This article analyses the social and legal response to the phenomenon of child pornography with a focus on possessing child pornography and addresses the constructions of the child and the possessor of child pornography found in social, legal, and academic discourses.
The phenomenon of child pornography is recognized as posing a clear danger to children who are involved in the production of child pornography, recognized as placing children at risk simply as a consequence of an individual being in possession of child pornography, and it has been accepted that possibly the availability of child pornography is harmful to society due to the corrupting effect on general morality. This article attempts to examine legal and social discourses surrounding the phenomenon of child pornography, considering the legal responses to child pornography and the way in which such material, the child, and the possessor of child pornography are socially constructed. It is argued that a moral panic is occurring in terms of the threat child pornography poses to our society, as well as the social and legal desire to protect children from sexual abuse focuses to a big extent on the possibility that the possessor of child pornography will commit sexual abuse. Discussion in the article indicates that any link between the possession of child pornography and child sexual abuse is contingent and variable rather than causal. In summary, the strongest legitimating force behind the current law exists in the protection it may offer to children by discouraging individuals from committing child sexual abuse in order to create child pornography and its reinforcement of the fact that our society will not tolerate child sexual abuse.