Virtual Child Pornography

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Virtual Child Pornography is the computer-aided representation of children engaging in sexual activities. This form of child pornography does not use real children, but instead uses technology to generate computer images of children. Virtual child pornography is a significant controversial issue in many countries all over the world.

Second Life has had a controversy relating to how some users simulated sexual acts with avatars representing children.

Forms of simulated child pornography

Forms of simulated child pornography involve: modified pictures of real children, non-minor teenagers altered to look younger (age regression), adults altered to look like children [1] Drawings or animations that portray sexual acts that involve children, but are not intended to look like pictures could also be considered by some people to be simulated child pornography.

The Hentai sub genre also known as "lolicon" and "shotacon" is a topic of most controversy involving the impact of child sex abuse [2]. There are also pornographic parody images of popular cartoon characters that exist known as Rule 34. One case that caused controversy in Australia is the pornographic play on the cartoon show "The Simpsons" [3].


Inside the United States

The first attempt at nationally regulating virtual child pornography was made in 1996 when Congress passed the Child Pornography Protection Act (CPPA). CPPA prohibited the possession, distribution, or sale of any visual image that appears to be a minor doing sexual acts.

Six years later the United States Supreme Court found the CPPA to be unconstitutional in the case Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002). The main reason for rejecting the CPPA was two-fold. First, the CPPA clauses were too broad in that they impeded on the First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Also, because the production of virtual child pornography does not harm any children those justifications cannot be applied when banning virtual child pornography.

Soon after this decision, Congress passed PROTECT Act in 2003. PROTECT Act bans certain types of virtual children pornography, but not all types. The law allows for virtual child pornography as long as it does not show explicit sexual acts such as “sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal [4]."

Outside the United States

In the U.K., possession of either a virtual or actual sexual image of a child is considered a crime. The "implicit prioritization in UK law of virtual child pornography (whether virtual or not) is a crime not only against a particular child, but against all children [5]."

Other countries that ban virtual child pornography include Canada, Germany, France, and Italy. In Germany, the felony is worth up to five years in prison. In Australia, it is illegal to publish any material that contains images that even appear to resemble minors engaged in any sort of sexual act.

The allowance of virtual child pornography in the U.S. has had international consequences. For example, French virtual child pornography producers have moved their 'wares' to servers in the United States because of its wider free speech protection [6]."

Virtual Child Pornography in Virtual Worlds

The above history in legality of virtual child pornography has affected many arenas of life including the virtual environments. For example, the virtual social community of Second Life has banned sexual ageplay. This ban prohibits “depictions of or engagement in sexualized conduct with avatars that resemble children [7]”. The company that runs Second Life, Linden’s Lab, banned sexual ageplay, because even though some forms of virtual child pornography is allowed in the United States, in many other countries like the U.K. and Germany all forms of virtual child pornography are illegal. Those Second Life residents who are caught ageplaying are given this warning:

“Dear Second Life Resident: Linden Lab would like to inform you that your land or business is possibly not in compliance with Second Life’s Community Standards. The depiction of sexual activity involving minors may violate real-world laws in some areas, and the Second Life community as a whole has made it clear that it views such behavior to be broadly offensive. Linden Lab chooses not to allow the advertising or promotion of age play or related activities in any public forum — including in-world textures, classified ads, the Second Life forums, or parcel descriptions. Advertisements, promotions, or descriptions of such activities must be removed to avoid account sanctions. Any account asserting an age that does not meet Second Life’s minimum age of eligibility will be closed[8].

Controversy Concerning Virtual Child Pornography

Arguments Against Virtual Child Pornography

There are several arguments of why people are opposed to virtual child pornography.

  • Virtual child pornography could increase the likelihood of actual child abuse: This argument is similar to the argument that adult heterosexual pornography encourages rape: the depiction of violent sexual acts normalizes and encourages mimicry from viewers. Some studies claim to show that pornography encourages the abuse of actual children; however, this is likely due to the fact that the vast majority of studies are referring to actual images of child porn which involve children in the making.
  • Virtual child pornography could be used to seduce actual children: The idea here is that pedophiles will use images of virtual children performing sexual acts to deceive the child into thinking that those acts are normal. A potential flaw with this the assumption that these simulated pornographic images will be that influential in whether a child is abused or not. Pedophiles often use drugs or bribe children with toys or money.
  • Allowing virtual pornography could make laws banning real child pornography unenforceable: With technology growing rapidly, the fear here is that law enforcement agencies would not be able to tell the difference between real children and virtual children. Thus, those who use real children in the making of pornographic images will not be punished because they could claim that they are virtual depictions of children [9].

Arguments For Virtual Child Pornography

  • Virtual child pornography could reduce specific child abuse: Some studies claim that pornography actually reduces abuse, because it gives pedophiles an outlet to fulfill their desires.[10].
  • Virtual child pornography could decrease the illegal child pornography market: This argument implies that because virtual child pornography is legal it will serve as a substitute for illegal sexual images of children, because the legal consequences of virtual child pornography are much lower.
  • There are no real victims involved in virtual child pornography: This argument is a common one among ethically questionable situations in the virtual world. The underlying question of, "Does harm in the virtual environment translate to harm in real life?" is one that must be investigated further in order to address situations such as virtual child pornography.

See Also


  1. Bryant, Paul. Linz, Daniel. 2007.The Effects of Exposure to Virtual Child Pornography on Viewer Cognitions and Attitudes Toward Deviant Sexual Behavior.
  2. Does comic relief hurt kids?. 04/27/2004.Japan Times.
  3. [1] Anderson, Nate (December 08, 2008). "Cowabunga! Simpsons porn on the PC equals child pornography". ars technica. CondéNet Inc.. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  4. Cornell University Law School. Legall Information Institute. "U.S. Code collection." Retrieved from [2]
  5. Oswald, David. "When Images Matter: Internet Child Pornography, Forms of Observation and an Ethics of the Virtual",in Information, Communication & Society, Vol 9(2), Apr, 2006. pp. 244-265.
  6. Eko, Lyombe. "Regulation of Computer-generated virtual Child Pornography under American and French Jurisprudence: One Country’s Protected “Speech” is another’s Harmful Smut." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Marriott Hotel, San Diego, CA, May 27, 2003 Online <.PDF>. 2009-12-04 Retrieved from [3]
  7. Duranske, B. (2008, May 23). New Supreme Court Opinion Discusses Virtual Child Pornography Law; Linden Lab's 2007 Ban Clarified. Virtually Blind. Retrieved from [4]
  8. Duranske, B. (2007, May 9). Second Life Child Pornography Allegations Draw International Press Attention. Virtually Blind. Retrieved from [5]
  9. Brey, P., "Virtual Reality and Computer Simulation," in Himma and Tavani (2008), pp. 361-384
  10. Rape, Porn, and Criminality

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