At its most basic definition, child pornography is the depiction of children in sexually explicit content; this can run the gamut from nude photography to graphic depictions of sexual assault of minors. In 1977, the first federal legislation was passed outlawing child pornography, called the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation Act of 1977; this made it illegal to use a child under 16 years of age in depictions of sexual content that would meet the criteria established by the Miller test when determining obscenity. However, this illegality was only the case when a person knowingly used a minor in their depictions. By 1984, this law was adjusted slightly to the Child Protection Act of 1984, which omitted the requirement that the content produced pass the Miller test for the obscenity criterion. In 1986, the Child Sexual Abuse and Pornography Act made advertising for child pornography illegal, and implemented civil cases against the producers and consumers of child pornography. As technology changed, so too did our laws: in 1988, the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act made receiving, distributing, or transporting child pornography via computer illegal.
The impact of child pornography reaches far beyond the computer screen on which it is viewed. While some depictions of child pornography are clearly abusive in nature, some children seem acquiescent to what is going on; some may even appear to find it to be similar to a fun game. However, the process of “grooming” a child for this level of abuse is harmful in its own way; the false sense of security that is established as well as the mental and emotional manipulation that occurs, can break down children’s barriers and leave them more susceptible to physical abuse. Additionally, the initial publication of child pornography means it is in the world forever, particularly the digital world. Victims of child pornography often report feelings of helplessness, isolation, and an increased sense of suspicion, not knowing who has seen this more vulnerable side of themselves. Ultimately, the goal is the eradication of child pornography; knowing this is a difficult, if not impossible, task to accomplish, the temporary objective to meet is an overall reduction in the availability of child pornography and a lessening of the impact it has on those individuals depicted therein.