The Perverse Law of Child Pornography

Posted: 7 Mar 2001

See all articles by Amy Adler

Amy Adler

New York University School of Law


In this article, Professor Adler argues that child pornography law, intended to protect children from sexual exploitation, threatens to reinforce the very problem it attacks. The article begins with a historical claim: our culture has become preoccupied with child sexual abuse and child pornography in a way that it did not used to be. The article traces the rapid development of child pornography law, showing that a cultural transformation in our notion of childhood sexual vulnerability has coincided with the birth and dramatic expansion of the law. Professor Adler then introduces various causal accounts of this chronological correlation between the regulation of child pornography and the growing crisis of child sexual abuse. First, she explores the possibility that the burgeoning law of child pornography may invite its own violation through a dialectic of taboo and transgression. She then presents another reading of the relationship between child pornography law and culture: the law may unwittingly perpetuate and escalate the sexual representation of children that it seeks to constrain. In this view, the legal tool that we designed to liberate children from sexual abuse threatens us all, by constructing a world in which we are enthralled---anguished, enticed, bombarded---by the spectacle of the sexual child.

Suggested Citation

Adler, Amy M., The Perverse Law of Child Pornography. Columbia Law Review. Available at SSRN:

Amy M. Adler (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
Room 314
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
212-998-6645 (Phone)
212-995-4341 (Fax)

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