Very interesting story Wednesday evening on The 7.30 Report, on the topic of child p-rnography, which it portrays as a huge and growing problem.

Arnold Bell, head of the FBI’s “Innocent Images Unit”, talked about “a 2,000 per cent increase pretty much across the board” since 1995. A Microsoft spokesperson described child p-rn as “a multi-billion-dollar industry.”

I confess that I’m sceptical about this; partly because in a decade of surfing the internet I’ve never come across any hint of such material, nor have I ever met anyone who has expressed even the slightest interest in it.

Abuse of children is a dreadful thing. But there’s a danger that reports like this are running together the actual harm done to children with the supposed “harm” that the images do just by being there. We need to protect children, rather than just punish people for having s-xual tastes that we disagree with.

But the striking thing about the child p-rn debate is that its claims are impossible to verify: “experts” can make assertions about the size of the problem without fear of contradiction, because any attempt to search for offending material or discover how available it is would run the risk of offending against the very laws that the claims are trying to justify.

I could be quite wrong about the size of the problem; maybe there’s much more child p-rn out there than I think. But I’m not going to go and look, because if I am wrong and I find plenty of it, I could go to jail just for having it on my computer.

Just as researchers into terrorism have found themselves hamstrung by the anti-terrorism laws, the laws that prohibit anything to do with child p-rn — even without evidence of criminal intent or of trading in the stuff — frustrate legitimate enquiry. It’s a law enforcement officer’s ultimate dream: a law that effectively criminalises attempts to question it.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW