I was very excited to contribute to the recently published, highly awesome book Sexual Deviance and Society, published by Routledge and written by my colleague and friend Meredith G. F. Worthen.

I wrote a bit about the book here. Go take a look if you’d like more info about the volume.

As promised, I’m sharing the full text I wrote for the book in a series of posts.

Here’s a passage from a spotlight box in Chapter 13 titled “‘Child Pornography’ and CSAM: Language, and the Perpetuation of Crime and Marginalization.” This explains why the use of the terms “child pornography” and “CP” are inherently loaded, unclear, and inflammatory — doing far more harm than good in terms of helping survivors of sexual abuse and understanding professional adult content production.

(You can also read “What is Webcam?” right here and “What is a Sexpert?” right here)

As we have learned, ideas about deviance are variable and subjective – what’s reprehensible and illegal to one may be ordinary practice to another. There are some occurrences, however, that come close to being universally deviant. Media captures of child sexual exploitation, or what’s commonly referred to as “child pornography” (also, “CP”), are one such thing. Unfortunately, discussing sex crimes against minors via phrases such as “CP” and “child pornography” serves to perpetuate crime and marginalization because of one key issue: “Child pornography” does not exist.

Graphic depictions of child sexual abuse and sex-related media (CSAM) involving persons under the age of eighteen exist and are highly illegal in the United States. Pornography, on the other hand, is a legal enterprise, made for and featuring consenting adults. Professionally produced erotic content made in the US does not feature models or performers who are under the age of eighteen. The phrases “CP” and “child pornography” thus connect the sexual abuse of minors (illegal) with porn production in the US (legal). This type of sensationalist language serves to distract from the very real issue of child sexual exploitation and further stigmatize and marginalize sex workers working as porn performers (Tibbals 2015). Thus, CSAM is a preferable term to describe these illicit representations of child sexual abuse and sex-related media

In sum, porn is a legal enterprise and a labor negotiation between consenting adults. The use of “porn” in conjunction with illegal enterprises related to privacy violations, entrapment, coercion, and revenge muddies the issues in a similar manner. It augments harm experienced by survivors of illegal activity, while enhancing the stigma and marginalization experienced by sex workers working in the adult entertainment industry. The issue of language is especially significant here: while “child pornography” does not exist, CSAM is a very real, criminal, and horrific enterprise.

Well, what do you think? Is the power of language being misused when we invoke “CP”?

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(pictured: I have no idea what image goes with this info… so here are people)

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One thought on ““Child Pornography” & CSAM (excerpt from “Sexual Deviance and Society”)

  • September 21, 2016 at 1:36 pm
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    Dr Tibbals,

    I think that you’re spot on. The problem is that in this, as in so many complex areas of human activity, there is an accepted, commonly perpetuated linguistic shorthand. In some cases, the shorthand makes it easier for, say, electrical engineers or medical doctors to discuss some deeply technical matter using a comfortable jargon laced with special words and mysterious (to the outsider) acronyms.

    A problem arises, though, when that shorthand is borne out of a social or racial stereotype and is used to perpetuate that stereotype by helping to produce a kind of lazy, imprecise thinking (think of the use of phrase “inner city” and all the mostly images that surface). There is this notion of “cognitive ease” that we humans like to adopt concepts and ideas that make for less effort in the brain. Stereotypes and the kind of thinking associated with stereotypes is just easier for most to engage in if not called by circumstance to make some effort. And, our present politics would suggest that most don’t make that effort.

    So, no effort is made, except for academics and specialists like yourself, to try and tighten up lazy language and the thinking behind a phrase fraught with such heated meaning. Hence “child porn” is commonly used when – as you’ve pointed out – that doesn’t really formally exist. But, its a convenient shorthand for prosecutors to use when communicating with the general public or legislatures to use when passing laws. Sadly, the imprecision allows for a conflation of the sexual exploitation of minors with legal materials produced with adults for adults. And, that blurring of lines allows some critics to conclude that even legal porn is similarly tainted and ought to be controlled or banned.

    Reply

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