Our words carry meaning and should be chosen with careful consideration. They have the power to shape the way we see the world. They affect how we hear, understand and conceptualize problems, prioritize issues, and take action.
This is especially true when we are dealing with the global fight against the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children.
Here’s one important example. Sexually explicit images and videos of children have traditionally been referred to as “child pornography,” “child porn” or “kiddie porn." But recently, there has been a global movement to stop using such terms.
Child protection advocates agree that the continued use of the word “pornography” is not only incorrect – it is harmful. Here’s why…
Within the commercial sex industry, pornography is a term that is generally understood to describe material depicting adults engaged in consensual sexual acts that, in Canada, if not considered obscene, is legal to make, buy or sell. But when children are involved, it cannot
be considered “pornography” – it is child sexual exploitation, assault and abuse, and it is illegal
It is recorded evidence of actual crimes perpetrated against real children – children who will bear the scars and damage of their abuse and exploitation for the rest of their lives. Long after these traumatic acts end, many suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. And with the wide dissemination of the material, made easier by modern technologies, these children are continuously victimized. Their nightmares never end.
Further, using the term “pornography” in the context of children infers consent or compliance on the part of the victim – it suggests that the child is responsible for, or a willing participant to, the awful things done to them when in fact, they are the victim of a horrific crime.
As well, the word “pornography” also infers that there is no harm done because the viewer is “just looking” and not actually laying hands on a child. This, however, blatantly ignores the fact that a real child – someone’s son or daughter – was indeed harmed in producing the material. And the demand for such images and videos contributes greatly to the problem of child trafficking, here in Canada and around the world.
We must change the language we are using. We must stop using words – like “child pornography” or “child prostitution” – that risk normalizing, trivializing, and legitimizing the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. We must stop using terms that take the focus away from how the lives of countless vulnerable children are being destroyed.
This is not “just semantics”— our words matter.
In 2016, a global organization that works to tackle child trafficking and exploitation assembled a working group of 18 international organizations, including Interpol and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. They developed best-practice guidelines on terminology for child protection and for the support of victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation and abuse. The group strongly advocated for the use of terms like “child sexual abuse material” (rather than “child pornography”) to better reflect the heinous nature of the crime, and to drive global efforts to prevent, address, and respond to child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Adopting a universal and standardized language around the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children will lead to a common understanding of the problem and the development of cross-border solutions, consistent policies and laws, and accurate data collection to help set targets and measure impact.
Governments must ensure they use correct and appropriate language to address this serious problem. If the words in our laws are inappropriate – if they trivialize or only shine a weak light on the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation, then they should be amended or replaced. Laws should utilize appropriate language that accurately names the criminal acts and that reflects the serious impact of the crimes on their victims so that justice may be served.
Bill C-291, a private member’s bill which was introduced and given its first reading on June 17th
, aims to amend Canada’s Criminal Code
by replacing the term “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse material.” If adopted, it will help to bring more clarity to the way the Canadian government conceptualizes, defines, and develops policies and laws on matters around child sexual abuse and exploitation.
The EFC supports this bill. We must send a clear signal that we, as a country, know and understand that using children for sexual gratification is unconscionable, and we are not going to stand for it.
Children are precious gifts from God. Each child has the right to dignity, safety, privacy, freedom from harm, and security. We are compelled to care for and protect them, to keep them safe from harm, and to help them thrive (Psalm 82:3-4). Will you join with us in fighting against child sexual abuse and exploitation? Please consider making a gift today.