Child Pornography and Community Notification: How an Attempt to Reduce Crime Can Achieve the Opposite

9 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2011 Last revised: 22 Mar 2014

J.J. Prescott

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: December 1, 2011


Community notification laws, designed to reduce the frequency of sex offenses by alerting potential victims to nearby threats and by encouraging citizen monitoring of potential recidivists, may make sense in the context of traditional sex offenses and sex offenders. But child pornography crimes and the individuals who commit them are different, and they differ from archetypal sex crimes and criminals in ways that may unintentionally cause community notification laws to facilitate crime rather than inhibit it. Child porn offenses typically involve money or trade, and their commission hinges on successfully conspiring with others. Markets and information are necessary building blocks for this sort of criminal behavior. Child porn offenders must find each other to make crime pay. As a result, announcing the identity of past offenders may perversely make child pornography and its associated harms more, not less, of a problem. Lawmakers, therefore, should reconsider the blanket application of community notification requirements to child porn offenders. Shrinking the child porn market and its associated abuse of minors may be easier if the law subjects fewer child porn offenders to community notification requirements. For the same reason, when sentencing child porn distributors and possessors, judges should not assume that community notification can provide an effective substitute for the incapacitation benefits typically associated with incarceration.

Keywords: community notification laws, child pornography, sex offenders, illegal markets, criminal enterprise, child pornography market, child pornography sentencing

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Prescott, J.J., Child Pornography and Community Notification: How an Attempt to Reduce Crime Can Achieve the Opposite (December 1, 2011). Federal Sentencing Reporter, Vol. 24, pp. 93-101, 2011. Available at SSRN:

J.J. Prescott (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

3170 South Hall
701 S. State St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States
734-763-2326 (Phone)

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