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Disentangling Child Pornography from Child Sex Abuse


Carissa Byrne Hessick


University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

March 24, 2010

Washington University Law Review, Vol. 88, 2010
University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 34

Abstract:     
Recent years have seen a significant increase in the criminal penalties associated with possession of child pornography. The new severity appears to be premised on arguments that blur the distinction between those who possess images of child pornography and those who sexually abuse children. In particular, sentences have been increased based on arguments that possession of pornography is equivalent to or worse than child sex abuse, arguments that viewing child pornography increases the risk that an individual will sexually abuse a child, and arguments that those who possess child pornography are abusing children undetected. This Article identifies instances where possession of child pornography and child sex abuse have been conflated, critically evaluates the arguments that promote such conflation, and identifies independent concerns with conflation. Specifically, it argues that blurring the distinction between the two crimes allows us to continue to misperceive child sex abuse as a stranger-danger issue, and that when law enforcement statistics aggregate possession and child sex abuse, then the public may be misled into believing that law enforcement is successfully battling child sex abuse, when that is not the case. The Article concludes that the modern trend of increasing sentences for possession of child pornography ought to be reviewed, and it suggests several possible areas of reform.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 52

Keywords: child pornography, criminal sentencing, punishment, child sex abuse, child molestation

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Date posted: March 28, 2010 ; Last revised: August 8, 2013

Suggested Citation

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, Disentangling Child Pornography from Child Sex Abuse (March 24, 2010). Washington University Law Review, Vol. 88, 2010; University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 34. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1577961

Contact Information

Carissa Byrne Hessick (Contact Author)
University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )
332 S. 1400 East Front
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States
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