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Austin Cline

What's Wrong with Virtual Child Pornography? (Book Notes: Free For All)

By May 25, 2006

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People are understandably concerned about child pornography, but that concern has caused some to try to prohibit "virtual" child pornography as well. This would include anything that looks like child pornography - models that look too young, drawings that look like minors, etc.

In Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today, Wendy Kaminer describes some of the problems with this: Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today

A ban on virtual child porn relies heavily on the subjective reaction of viewers, which means that speakers are given little notice of precisely what speech is criminalized. When Congress bans sexually explicit material that “appears” to depict minors engaged in sex, you have to ask “appears to whom?” A lot of people over forty have trouble distinguishing nineteen-year-olds from precocious fifteen-year-olds.

These are some of the reasons why the Supreme Court struck down a ban on virtual child pornography back in 2002. Although such bans are not currently an issue, they do point to a larger issue that merits some attention: when people find something to be awful enough, they may not only try to ban it but also anything that remotely looks like or leads to it.

Recently in Illinois a man was convicted as a sex offender and is now required to register as a sex offender, all because he grabbed the arm of a 14-year-old girl. He had to swerve to avoid hitting her when she walked out into traffic and he intended to lecture her — a story which the courts accepted as true. However, technically he engaged in “unlawful restraint” of a minor and that’s a sex offense in Illinois.

Why is it a sex offense? According to the Cook County state’s attorney spokesman Tom Stanton, it’s fair that this man should have to register “because of the proclivity of offenders who restrain children to also commit sex acts or other crimes against them.” Yes, read that again: because people who restrain children are likely to commit sex acts with those children, even a person who restrains a minor for completely different reasons (and reasons which are accepted as true) should have to be treated like a sex offender.

The faulty reasoning here is not unlike that behind attempts to ban virtual child pornography: something it treated as so awful that everything even remotely connected with it begins to be treated like it were the same. Just how far will the concept of “sex offender” be extended? If grabbing an arm can cause a person to be a sex offender, it’s hard to see how or why just about anything else wouldn’t qualify as well.


Read More Book Notes from the Book Reviews on this site.

June 4, 2006 at 3:13 am
(1) Tyciol@hotmail.com says:

Wow, I had no idea people could do this. I too am getting sick of this paranoid attack any any interactions with people under 18 being attacked.

Forget touching, you can’t even LOOK at a kid or come within 100ft or them or you’re a potential abductor! It reminds me of this case I saw in the news where a kid fell in a nearby pool and drowned. A guy driving by testified that he saw the kid alone in the front yard, thought he might stop to help, but didn’t because he thought people would think he was trying to abduct her. This seems similar.

July 26, 2006 at 9:43 am
(2) tish says:

exceptions like these are not the rule. many kids ARE victims of pedophila and child sexual abuse.

as to address the “19 year-old-looks just-like-the precoccious-14-year-old; hence-that’s-the-real-problem” argument. i’d attest that if we weren’t so busy tying to sleep with “barely legal” we’d not run into these sticky issues. i bet the average precoccious 14 year-old can be easily differentiated from a 25-30 year old adult.

July 26, 2006 at 9:50 am
(3) atheism says:

exceptions like these are not the rule. many kids ARE victims of pedophila and child sexual abuse.

Of course exceptions are not the rule — that’s why the are exceptions rather than rules. That, however, doesn’t address the issues at hand: trying to ban virtual child pornography and treating people as sex offenders when it’s obvious to any half-way sentient adult that they haven’t committed anything remotely like a sexual offense.

Protecting real children who are real victims of real sexual abuse is important, but it cannot include punishing people who haven’t victimized children or committed sexual abuse. Otherwise, we aren’t really pursuing justice anymore.

August 15, 2006 at 2:59 pm
(4) Andy says:

What’s happening now is that if you are a child or minor or juvenile doing something a bit daft no adult will dare to go near you. Or tell you off! (threatening behaviour etc,) i think i’d have been happy with a slap from “local policeman” or “respected neighbour”. Now well kids – you’re on your own in a way. Sorry kids my instincts as a father to ask you were your mommy or dad is has gone.

August 15, 2006 at 3:16 pm
(5) Andy says:

Sorry. Subject is virtual cp. I’m afraid that any image of a minor (under 18) whether photoshopped or a cartoon is illegal under current federal laws. (protect act). It does simplify the laws – in the uk i *think* debbie does dallas is illegal (depiction of minors), but i really wouldn’t get involved with hentai anime (protect act again).

August 7, 2009 at 9:56 pm
(6) iknm says:

HOW DUMB!!!!!!!

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