Child Pornography


Definition and Legality

Pornography is visual or printed material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings. Child pornography is pornography that exploits children under the age of eighteen for sexual gratification.  Child pornography may consist of real sexual depictions of children such as on video or in photographs, as well as simulated material such as drawings or sculptures. Child pornography is illegal in the majority of nations around the world. Laws regarding child pornography generally include sexual images involving prepubescents, pubescent or post-pubescent minors, and computer-generated images that appear to involve them. The majority of people who are arrested for child pornography are found to have images of prepubescent children. Possessors of pornographic images of post-pubescent minors are less likely to be prosecuted, though those images are illegal in most countries.


In the late 1990s, Combating Pedophile Information Networks in Europe (COPINE) at University College Cork, cooperated with the Department of Pedophilia of the London Metropolitan Police Department to develop a typology to categorize child abuse images for use in both research and law enforcement. The original ten-level classification system was based on analysis of images available on the internet. The more recent COPINE classification scale has been reduced to fewer categories in many police departments. The COPINE scale is exclusive to images, as pornographic videos are not included in the model.

The COPINE Scale

1.  Indicative: Non-erotic and non-sexualized pictures showing children in their underwear, swimming costumes from either commercial sources or family albums. Pictures of children playing in normal settings, in which the context or organization of pictures by the collector indicates inappropriateness.

2.  Nudist: Pictures of nude or half-nude children in appropriate nudist settings from legitimate sources, such as in non-pornographic photography or art.

3.  Erotica: Photographs of children in play areas or other safe environments showing either underwear or varying degrees of nakedness.

4.  Posing: Deliberately posed pictures of children fully clothed, partially clothed or naked (where the amount, context, and organization suggests sexual interest).

5.  Erotic posing: Deliberately posed pictures of fully, partially clothed or naked children in sexualized or provocative poses.

6.  Explicit Erotic Posing: Pictures emphasizing genital areas, where the child is either naked, partially clothed or fully clothed.

7.  Explicit Sexual Activity: Pictures that depict touching, mutual and self-masturbation, oral sex and intercourse by a child, not involving an adult.

8.  Assault: Pictures of children being subject to a sexual assault, involving manual touching, involving an adult.

9.  Gross Assault: Grossly obscene pictures of sexual assault, involving penetrative sex, masturbation or oral sex, involving an adult.

10. Sadistic/Bestiality:

a.  Pictures showing a child being tied, bound, beaten, whipped or otherwise subject to something that implies pain.

b. Pictures where an animal is depicted having sexual involvement with a child.

The Influence of the Internet

A person's hands typing on a laptop keyboard.

With the increasing popularity of the internet, child pornography in print media has grown sparse. Pornographic material on the web has skyrocketed in recent years, making it easier for individuals to access child pornography The internet has allowed offenders to pursue their sexual interest in children in various ways.

.  To establish and engage in contact with other individuals with a sexual interest in children.

.  To engage in inappropriate online sexual communication with children.

.  To harass children online with threats or sexually explicit material.

.  To locate children as potential victims for abuse.

.  To promote sex tourism and/or child trafficking.

Many child pornography offenses include a combination of the above behaviors.

Pedophilia and Child Pornography

Pedophiliac disorder, more commonly known as ‘pedophilia,’ is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a paraphilia in which adults or adolescents 16 years of age or older have intense and recurrent sexual urges and fantasies about prepubescent children that they have either acted on or which cause them distress. Not all pedophiles watch child pornography, and not everyone who watches child pornography has a pedophilic disorder. One who watches child pornography becomes a pedophile when they act on their sexual urges towards children, or their thoughts interfere with their everyday life.  However, for some offenders, viewing child pornography occurs alongside actual sexual abuse and plays an integral part in the sexual molestation of children. For example, researchers found that up to 36% of a sample of convicted child molesters used child pornography as self-stimulation prior to their offenses. The images may normalize a sexual interest in children, and pornography may function as fantasy generators or templates for sexual abuse in the real world. Masturbating to child pornography directs the fantasy of its viewer and conditions a sexual interest in children that they might act upon in real life.

Concluding Remarks

Though viewing child pornography and being a pedophile are not synonymous, research suggests there is oftentimes a link between the two.  With the introduction of the internet, the amount of child pornography has increased greatly.  However, new developments in technology have also made it much easier for officials to enforce laws regarding child pornography and obscenity.  It is important to understand the laws in your respective country, and know that viewing child pornography can be considered a crime, and can have serious consequences.


1. Merdian, H. L., Curtis, C., Thakker, J., Wilson, N., & Boer, D. P. (2013). The three   dimensions of online child pornography offending. Journal Of Sexual Aggression, 19(1), 121-132.

2. Merdian, H., Thakker J., Wilson N., Boer, D. (2013). Assessing the internal structure of the COPINE scale. Psychology, Crime, and Law. Vol. 19, Iss.

3. Beech, A. R., Elliott, I. A., Birgden, A., & Findlater, D. (2008). The internet and child sexual offending: A criminological review. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 13, 216. 228.

4.“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition.” (2013). American Psychiatric Publishing.

5. Taylor, M., Quayle, E., & Holland, G. (2001). Child pornography, the internet and offending.

Last Updated 02 December 2014.