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Child sexual abuse is a criminal offence, not a privacy issue

By Ingrid Fjastad - posted Tuesday, 17 June 2003

"Sex before eight or it's too late"
- Slogan of the Rene Guyon Society

In January 2003, an opinion piece was published in The Australian titled "Save the Hard Line for the Real Abusers". In this piece the writer, Greg Barns, argues that while downloading child pornography shows poor taste, it does not deserve a jail sentence.

He questions the rationale for punishing people over the age of 18 who, in the privacy of their own homes, look at and/or download such material. The central tenet of his argument is the inalienable rights of the individual to liberty, free speech and freedom of movement. In fact, Barns writes "…don't throw the viewer in jail", instead advocating for the prosecution of those who make the movies and take the photos, leaving those who wish to satiate their erotic desires for children to do so in the privacy of their own homes.


However, I argue that on the issue of child sexual abuse, there is no subjective notion of right - there is only wrong. By advocating an individual's right to privacy in this instance, Barns is also advocating the right to passively participate in the sexual exploitation of children.

In a civil society there can never be an individual's right to abuse a child and therefore there can never be a right to passively view such abuse. The state must recognise that the protection of children is a more compelling argument for social investment than the protection of an individual's right to privacy of their own home within the ambit of the viewing of child pornography. The government has a greater interest in shielding children from the real and potential harms caused by the continuing existence of child pornography materials than in advocating the individual's right to privacy in this context.

First, I would like to draw attention to children's right to be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, as stated under the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Child pornography is best understood as "the visual depiction of children involved in sexually explicit activities".

In the case of child pornography, the central controversies involve the nature of, and possible responses to, pornography's links to harms such as coercion, exploitation and abuse in the creation of pornographic materials, the role of pornography in sexual violence and degradation and the effect of pornography on sexual subordination. However, the advocates of a free market in pornography stress pornography's educative and liberating functions while others emphasise the dangers of allowing civil and criminal law to restrict private moral choices. The argument here is between an adult's right to possess and view child pornography in the privacy of his own home, and the human and legal rights of the child.

In his article, Barns questions the rationale for punishing people over the age of 18 who, in the privacy of their own home, look at and/or download such material. He questions what he sees as the erosion of the right to privacy. Barns previously espoused (small 'l') liberal values such as respect for and belief in inalienable human rights and the sanctity of each and every individual. He advocates a reduction in censorship and he advocates the individual's right to choice. Barns cites the example of Pete Townshend, who was recently arrested in the United Kingdom for downloading child pornography from the Internet, and questions the validity of the police action. Barns argues that those who believe that the state has no role in regulating what adults do in their own homes should find Townshend's arrest offensive. Barns utterly defends an individual's right to sanctuary in his own home without regard to the overall sanctity of ALL individuals.

However, there is no sanctity for the child in child pornography within the ambit of accepted social norms. The liberal tenet of freedom of sexuality between consenting adults assumes that adults are experienced and knowledgeable enough to make an informed choice. Children do not meet the criteria of being informed and are therefore vulnerable to sexual predators. There is a responsibility that comes with freedom of speech and freedom of choice, and this must be observed: the responsibility to protect the weak and vulnerable in society.


The child pornography industry in Australia is worth millions of dollars each year. Every person who pays to view child pornography is an accessory to the crime. Every person who pays to view child pornography directly creates a demand that will result in a supply. To increase the supply, more children will need to be elicited, desensitised and sexually abused. Pornography helps to groom children and persuade them that they would enjoy certain sexual acts. It provides a convincing tool for fooling children into performing sexual acts.

The viewing of Internet child pornography cannot occur in isolation from the child victims. For someone to watch child pornography, a child has to have been sexually abused and harmed. This is an illegal, immoral and unacceptable act in a civil society. By identifying those who buy child pornography on the web, police are led to those who manufacture it. According to the Child Exploitation Squad formed in 1995, 80 per cent of offenders who were charged with child pornography were also charged with sexual assault on victims other than those featured in the pornography. Of the remaining 20 per cent, there was suspicion but no admissible evidence to prosecute. These kinds of figures support the conflation of possession of child pornography with child sexual assault.

Pedophiles have a well-documented, twisted logic that validates and justifies their behaviour. In various magazines and newsletters such as Blaze, Crosstalk and the NAMBLA (North American Boy Lovers Association) periodicals, pedophiles advocate for lowering the age of consent to the age of ten. Pedophiles state that children should be able to enjoy the same sexual freedom as adults.

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About the Author

Ingrid Fjastad is the Australian Democrats spokesperson for Rankin Electorate, a founding member of the Protective Parents Association, a volunteer with Bravehearts and mother of four children.

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