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Virtual Child Pornography (JLE 2019)

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

***Hello all, I've been working on polishing my essay for the John Locke Essay competition, one of the most prestigious essay competitions for high schoolers. ( I thought it would be good to share my essay as the deadline has now already ended.

Below is my essay for the topic "should virtual child pornography be allowed." Currently, I have converted from a progressive liberal to a hard-core social and economic libertarian. Enjoy and any debates / questions / feedbacks are always welcome!!

*** Virtual Child Pornography (VCP), a newly emerging form of pornography due to developments in technology, will be defined as a computer-generated “depiction of a minor or an individual who appears to be a minor who is engaged in sexual or sexually related conduct.” (, 2019) In my opinion, VCP must be permitted, as it does not violate the standards of John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle, which is widely recognized as a valid definition of the boundaries of an individual’s freedom. According to the Harm Principle, the government should guarantee and maximize the liberties of an individual when the following two conditions are fulfilled:

  1. Is the action based on informed consent,

  2. Does the action harm the negative rights of a third party member?

In this essay, I will use these two conditions as a standard for analyzing VCP on the levels of the method of production, content, and impact. Method of production If it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that a piece of pornography is entirely computer-generated, its distribution, ownership, and consumption should be permitted. Real child pornography is heavily condemned because it abuses a minor’s inability to give informed consent, and infringes upon his or her negative right not to be mentally or physically harmed, especially before full maturation. However, a computer- generated piece of pornography involves no real children, meaning that the questions of informed consent and negative rights are non-issues. Some contend that the standard of “harm” in the Harm Principle is vague, making the principle flawed; such claims can also be dismissed, as the harm is nonexistent in the first place. In the United States, pornography that depicts adults as minors have been declared legal (Supreme Court of the United States, 2002); this shows just how much the issue of a ban hinges upon a real minor’s presence.

Content of VCP Opponents would still claim that the content of child pornography—regardless of its method of production— endorses and propagates the notion of exploiting a child for sexual pleasure, which is morally reprehensible. Yet, the logical link between legalization and endorsement seems unclear. Depiction of illegal actions is legal because the government respects the freedom of expression of the creator and the freedom of the viewer to consume the depiction, not because the government actively supports the action. Take the depiction of heinous crimes such as murder, for instance. Movies such as Joker, The Saw series, or Extremely Wicked that depict or even glorify murder reign in the box offices. Violent video games invite players to destroy virtual societies or civilians for the sake of entertainment. Nobody would claim that a failure to outlaw all such forms of entertainment somehow indicates that the government condones, or even endorses, real-life violence. Another widely held view by the oppositions of VCP legalization is that law must be reflective of society’s collective moral values. Most, if not all, societies find the depiction of minors engaging in sex as morally reproachable. This collective standard is then often enshrined in the law. The United States Supreme Court, for example, already bans content that the majority of society deems obscene, as gauged by the Miller Test. (Supreme Court of the United States, 1973) The test considers “whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest” in the three guidelines indicated in the Miller V. California case. (Id.) The followers of this argument assert that not causing third party harm is not enough for legalization, but that law must respect common moral standards. But this communitarian logic fails to acknowledge the pluralist claim that what to many people is reprehensible may be an innate, natural preference to some. In other words, the moral standards of the majority should not be allowed to deprive individuals of their fundamental liberty to exercise their preferences, especially if they are innate. If the law were to be representative of community standards, depictions of sexual acts by LGBT individuals would also have to be censored. In reality, however, most liberal democracies have legalized or are in the process of legalizing such depictions, on the

grounds that LGBT individuals’ right to live out their innate preferences trumps the majority’s perception of those preferences. By the same token, in our legislation regarding VCP, we must accord the same importance to the possibility of pedophilia being a congenital preference. If anything, most societies’ vehement sentiment against pedophilia suggests that it may not be a choice, but rather a predilection over which the individual has no control. Why, given the option, would an individual voluntarily continue or choose to be a pedophile despite the risk or reality of extreme ostracization? The government should not prohibit the expression of an inborn predilection or, at the very least, a preference on which an ultimate verdict cannot be pronounced. When considering the freedom of pedophiles and the negative rights of minors, VCP is a reasonable legal compromise between two clashing interests. Consideration of the impacts However, even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that VCP legalization violates the harm principle by virtue of what VCP depicts, it might still be an ethical choice. Both proponents and opponents of VCP legalization envision the same ethical goal: less child abuse. Then, one could say that the policy that is most effective in achieving this goal is also the most ethical one. Under this pragmatist approach, the justification of legalization depends on whether the legalization of VCP would lead to fewer cases of child molestation. Opponents claim that greater exposure of the public to child pornography will cause the normalization of child sexual abuse and a consequent increase in child molestation. But this “monkey-see-monkey-do” argument is fallacious in a myriad of ways. First of all, this greater exposure is unlikely to happen in the first place. Heterosexual people already watch heterosexual pornography because they cannot feel sexual pleasure from homosexual pornography, and the same applies to homosexuals. Then, it naturally follows that non-pedophiles would not watch child pornography in the first place, especially when child pornography is such a morally repugnant concept for them. Even if some individuals find out their hidden pedophilic instincts, the population

will be too small to cause a meaningful change. (M.C. Seto, 2009) Thus, the pedophilic population will, at best, increase marginally. Then, the more important question follows: will the pedophilic population resort to more child molestation? Although this question does not have a definitive answer since all individuals vary in their moral standards, past data seems to point to the answer “no.” If viewing a certain action encouraged individuals to commit the act, the world would have encountered a global pandemonium replete with gun violence, due to the distribution of violent video games and media. In fact, developments in technology are making the virtual worlds inside games seem more and more real, which would have even more tempted people to act out the violence they see and play. Yet, the reality is that nations with the highest consumption of such media (i.e., The United States and South Korea) have seen a constant decline in murder rates. (UNODC, 2018) Simply watching an action does not cause an action; self-consciousness, the deterrence effect of regulations, effectiveness of gun control policies, and a myriad of other factors are barriers that counteract impulses. The opponents of legalization also claim that though crime rates overall have decreased, perpetrators of heinous crimes have turned out to be ardent players of violent video games. However, it is more convincing that these murderers were ardent players because they were predisposed to violent crimes, rather than that they committed such crimes because of violent games. World governments are already cognizant of this fact, and thus do not illegalize pornography adult actors pretend to be minors. The “monkey-see-monkey-do” logic is a confoundment of correlation with causation. In fact, legalized VCP might be a way to resolve their sexual desires through vicarious satisfaction. Pedophiles would rather lose an incentive to act upon their sexual desires once they have an alternative that precludes the risk of criminal activity. A recent survey conducted by the Japan Times illustrates this psychology. Japan, considered one of the most prolific countries when it comes to pornography production, has seen a continuous drop in sexually active people. While the Japanese porn market has been continuously growing, the number of sexually active men and women have decreased by 25 percent. Though various factors account for this drop, scholars claim that people refrain from real-life activities when the same urge can be satisfied elsewhere in a more private manner. (The Japan Times, 2019) Even more convincingly,

Japan, (M. Diamond and A. Uchiyama, 1999) the Czech Republic, (M. Diamond et al. 2011) China, Hong Kong, Denmark, and a myriad of other nations claimed a decrease in rape incidents in response to the distribution of pornography. (B. Kutchinsky, 1991) In a world with no substitutes to resolve their sexual desires, there is a higher chance for individuals’ suppressed sexual desires to resort to real-life sexual abuse. By the same token, will pedophiles really commit more sexual offense when there is a considerable alternative, alongside with social pressure and immense punishment for child molestation? Most importantly, legalization would cause a considerable shift in how relevant stakeholders access or create child pornography. As the Supreme Court also acknowledged, when an expensive but legal alternative would suffice, why would directors take the risk of involving an actual child in the filming process? (Supreme Court of the United States, 2002) The same effect would be produced on possession of child pornography. Why risk searching and possessing child pornography featuring actual children? The online distributors of pornography will also take this policy into consideration. They are likely to verify by all means possible that the pornography they distribute is computer-generated so as to avoid a run-in with the law. Consequently, child pornography featuring actual children will lose their market. The legalization of VCP may be the least of all evils. Conclusion Indeed, the notion of legalizing virtual child pornography sounds “icky.” However, it is time for society to put aside its repugnance about a concept, and take a rational approach that considers the moral justification and impacts. After all, it was challenges to these “community standards” that allowed the assimilation of sexual minority groups into our society. Just as society condones the sexual expressions of an LGBTQ citizen, so too should it permit VCP, the safest expression of another repressed sexual preference.

Bibliography (2019). Child Pornography Law | Justia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jul. 2019]. Supreme Court of the United States (2002). Ashcroft V. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 [pdf] Supreme Court of the United States. Available at: [Accessed 30 Jul. 2019]. Supreme Court of the United States (1973). Miller V. California 413 U.S. 15. [pdf] Supreme Court of the United States. Available at: [Accessed 30 Jul. 2019]. Id. M. Seto (2009). "Pedophilia". Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, p. 391–407. UNODC. (2019). Intentional Homicide Victims | Statistics and Data. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Jul. 2019]. The Japan Times. (2019). Quarter of Japan's adults under 40 are virgins, at least when it comes to the opposite sex | The Japan Times. [online] The Japan Times. Available at: virgins-least-comes-opposite-sex/#.XUA1Bqc68b0 [Accessed 30 Jul. 2019]. M, Diamond. and A, Uchiyama. (1999). Pornography, Rape, and Sex Crimes in Japan. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

M, Diamond. et al. (2011) Pornography and Sex Crimes in the Czech Republic. Archives of Sexual Behavior (2011). B, Kutchinsky. (1991) Pornography and Rape: Theory and Practice? Evidence from crime Data in Four Countries, Where Pornography is Easily Available. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.


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