Age of Innocence
Who says child pornography is a grey area?
Only criminals, warns Andrew Vachss.

by Andrew Vachss
Originally published in the London Observer, April 16, 1994

Anytime the issue of "censorship" raises its head, the result is a virtual stampede of opposition—anyone perceived to be in favour is quickly consigned to the lunatic fringe. But when abstract principles are applied to ground–zero problems, rhetoric often falls short of reality's need. A case in point is the debate over "child pornography," a phenomenon more easily denounced than defined.

The concept of censorship is irrelevant to child pornography. lt is not censorship to outlaw (and punish) certain activities. Criminal laws are necessary to both illuminate and enforce the social contract that prohibits individuals from preying upon others. Nor is it censorship to criminalise production and dissemination of, and profit from, child pornography.

In truth, when it comes to child pornography, any discussion of censorship is a sham, typical of the sleight–of–hand used by organized paedophiles as part of their ongoing attempt to raise their sexual predations to the level of civil rights.

In the past, paedophiles have attracted support and sympathy by portraying themselves as a "sexual minority". The idea of suppressing any minority is anathema to those who hold liberty dear. However, when the question is not of status but of acts, paedophiles are no more entitled to protection than rapists.

In the United States, our highest court will soon hear the appeal of an individual convicted of disseminating kiddie porn. The case in question involved a girl who "starred" in a whole series of sex films. There is no question that the films were intentionally pornographic. However, it was later revealed that the girl was only 15 years old when the films were made. The appeal is based on the argument that the film producers were not aware of the child's age, and that a "good–faith mistake" as to the age of an individual in a sexual performance should be completely exculpatory.

That argument is specious to the point of absurdity. We criminalise sexual conduct between an adult and a child. If no force is employed, the crime is called "statutory rape"—a crime for which there is no "good–faith" exception. Such laws are designed to protect children—why should any lesser standard be applied to child pornography? Photographs of a child in a sexual performance should result in strict liability, shifting the burden to the producer to prove that the individual depicted was, in fact, an adult.

Nor should "consent" be exculpatory.

Parents do not "own" children. They cannot dispose of living beings as they see fit. When the proud paedophile waves his "consent form" signed by the child's parents, I would argue that not only does he remain liable, but that the individual who signed the "consent form" also shares that liability.

In truth, when it comes to child pornography, any discussion of censorship is a sham, typical of the sleight–of–hand used by organized paedophiles as part of their ongoing attempt to raise their sexual predations to the level of civil rights.

Another pitch paedophiles use to gain support is to claim fellowship with the gay community by calling anti–paedophile activity "homophobic". Their cry is: "Today the paedophile, tomorrow the homosexual." This argument is aided and abetted by sloppy journalists who report "homosexual child abuse" when the perpetrator and victim are of the same sex, but never headline "heterosexual child abuse" when they are not. The truth is, of course, that predatory paedophiles are neither homosexual nor heterosexual; they are child molesters. It is worthy to note that the world's largest gay and lesbian organization has recently severed all ties with NAMBLA (the grotesquely–named North American Man–Boy Love Association, which actively promotes sex between children and adults), finding NAMBLA's positions "reprehensible".

What then of child pornography? The issue is not whether it should be banned—it is patently illegal—but how to define it statutorily. The hoary old charge that it "appeals to prurient interest" simply invites debate, creating another of the treasured "grey areas" so precious to those seeking sexual access to children. lt is pointless to ask if child pornography "appeals to prurient interest." The real question is, whose prurient interest? The test cannot be whether such material would stimulate a paedophile. Anyone who has worked with (or against) such individuals knows that they can be stimulated by material which is beyond the scope of prohibition, from children modeling underwear in a catalogue to a primary school football match.

Not so many years ago, the production of child pornography required a network of confederates for production and distribution. Kiddie porn, once a monolith, has become a cottage industry. With the advent of do–it–yourself devices such as the Polaroid camera and the camcorder, anyone can produce a "quality" product.

Paedophiles do not rely upon child pornography for self–stimulation. For them, such material has two essential purposes: one, it self–refers the possessor to "normality" (i.e. it tells paedophiles they are not alone, that others share their practices, that it is not they who are deviant—it is the oppressive laws which prohibit their "love"); and two, it de–sensitizes children especially susceptible to peer pressure by displaying graphic proof that "lots of kids like to do this," thus paving the way for the victimization of their targets.

Child pornography should not be attacked on the grounds that it causes crime, but that it is a crime.

The definition? Photographs, videotapes or any other means of recording and reproducing children engaged in sex (whether with adults, other children, objects or animals) is a picture of a crime, period. (In the limited space allocated to this piece, I can do no more than acknowledge the "baby–on–the–bearskin–rug" issue, while maintaining that the alleged "danger" such a possibility poses to loving parents is deliberately exaggerated by those of another ilk entirely.)

Are such depictions "art"? Again, the paedophile community seeks to make us complicitous in begging the question. The issue is not "what is art?" but "what is victimization?" I can no more accept a child pornographer saying he is a victim of censorship than I could a mugger claiming his field of activity was performance art.

© 2000 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.

Update: "No Protection Found for Sex Photos Altered to Include Minors," New York Law Journal, March 02, 2011