“It comforts offenders in their actions”: The problem with ‘virtual’ child sexual abuse material

*Content warning- this content may be distressing*

Child sexual exploitation material, or child sexual abuse material, refers to sexually abusive images of children. It may include photographic or video evidence of the rape, sexual abuse and torture of children and infants.

Virtual or computer-generated child sexual exploitation material is produced without the use of living children, depicting fictional children. Under Australian law, this content constitutes illegal child sexual exploitation material. The Commonwealth Criminal Code prohibits the sale, production, possession and distribution of offensive and abusive material that depicts a person, or is a representation of a person, who is or appears to be under 18. This includes virtual or animated representations of children, as well as child sex dolls.

Some advocates for virtual child sexual exploitation material, including visual media and child sex dolls or robots, claim that their use is ‘victimless’, as no child is used in their production. But there is good reason why this material is prohibited.

Normalising sexual use and abuse of children

Depictions of child sexual abuse, including virtual child sexual abuse, serve to normalise the sexual use and abuse of children, and encourage offenders.

“The increased accessibility and availability of child sexual abuse material online appears to normalise this crime and may encourage potential offenders and increase the severity of abuse. This includes new phenomena, such as drawings and virtual representations of non-existing children in a sexualised manner, widely available on the Internet.

“The increasing social acceptance of early sexualisation is exacerbated by the widespread dissemination of child sexual abuse material on the Internet and the production of highly realistic representations of non-existing children. This objectification of children comforts offenders in their actions.” – United Nations Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material 2020

In 2019 paper ‘Exploring the implications of child sex dolls’ from the Australian Institute of Criminology, authors Rick Brown and Jane Shelling note that child sexual exploitation material encourages the sexual use and abuse of children:

“From a societal perspective, it is commonly understood that any sexual activity involving children is unacceptable...Roos (2014) noted that such material actively encourages the sexualisation of children by creating a market that validates sexual gratification through its use, eroticising the child’s defensiveness and encouraging the use of children for sexual satisfaction.”


Increasing the risk of child sexual abuse

Computer-generated child sexual exploitation material may lead to the abuse of more children, by fuelling the demand for children for sexual abuse, inducing viewers to perpetrate crimes against living children and as a tool for grooming.

Australian legislation prohibits computer-generated child sexual abuse material as it may fuel the demand for further child sexual abuse material, which can involve the abuse of more children in its production.

From the AIC report:

“The representation of a child being party to sexual acts in computer generated images has been considered to raise the risk of subsequent child victimisation. The explanatory memorandum to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2004 (Cth) noted that depictions of children in child abuse material would be covered by the proposed act, including representations of children in cartoons and animation. This was justified...because although it may not directly involve an abused child in the production, its availability can fuel further demand for similar material. This can lead to greater abuse of children in the production of material to meet this demand.” (Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia 2004: 6)

The use of child sexual abuse material by predators to groom children for sexual abuse has been well-documented. Virtual child sexual abuse material could be used in the same way.

Individuals who consume this content may not be satisfied with merely viewing, and may escalate to contact offending against children- and such a relationship between the viewing of child sexual exploitation material and offending against children has already been established.

The availability of computer-generated child exploitation material could even make it more difficult for police to enforce existing laws, according to David B. Johnson in ‘Why the Possession of Computer-Generated Child Pornography Can Be Constitutionally Prohibited’. If the market is flooded with computer-generated child sexual abuse material, not even experts could tell the difference between computer-generated content and images of real children, making it impossible for the government to prove the image is of a real child:

“This argument is based on a premise that there is no child victim. With computer-generated child pornography, there is a victim. The child who gets seduced by a paedophile using computer-generated child pornography is a victim. The child whose picture may haunt him or her for years to come is a victim when computer-generated child pornography prevents the law from being enforced.”- David B. Johnson

While there are some who prefer to prioritise the complete sexual freedom of men over children’s human rights, if we are a society that truly values children, we must fight for their rights to live free from sexualisation.

If someone you know is accessing child sexual exploitation material you can get support. Contact PartnerSPEAK.

See also:

Media Release: Classification Board approves movies depicting child rape - Collective Shout calls on Communications Minister Fletcher to urgently intervene - Collective Shout

'Online child abuse material is not ‘child pornography- PartnerSPEAK

“Better a robot than a real child”: The spurious logic used to justify child sex dolls- ABC Religion and Ethics

The sexual exploitation and sale of children: UN Special Rapporteur releases report- Collective Shout 


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