The Blurry Boundaries of Child Porn

Not every illicit image is equally offensive.

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She wasn’t really a child at the time, but the law says she was; the images aren’t much more pornographic than a high school yearbook, but some people clearly use them as though they were Playboy centerfolds. She is presumably embarrassed by the attention, given that she tried to remove the pictures from the Web. She may well be haunted by it. Is it the role of the government to preserve her peace of mind?

The difference between what happened to Amanda Wenk and what happened to Masha Allen should be obvious. But both must, to borrow the phrase the Supreme Court quoted in Ferber, “go through life knowing that the recording is circulating within the mass distribution system for child pornography.” I’m not convinced that’s reason enough to punish the people who merely see those recordings, as opposed to the people who actively participate in the abuse of prisoners like Allen—or the inmates at Abu Ghraib.

Jesse Walker ( is managing editor of reason.

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  • generic Brand||

    Wow. That's a real brain-teaser. Child pornography is a terrible thing. But while it's loathsome to imagine someone deriving pleasure through that medium, I've had a hard time accepting that they should be prosecuted as hard as the makers. In that sense it is the same as War on Drugs.

    Also, I like that victims can sue for damages now, but as you said with whom does it start and stop?


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