We must fight child sexual abuse

Japan should update pornography law to allow international investigations

By J. Thomas Schieffer
U.S. Ambassador to Japan

The English version of this article appeared in The Daily Yomiuri on January 31, 2008 and is reproduced here with the newspaper's permission. The article appeared in the morning edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun (in Japanese) on January 30, 2008.

The world is losing the fight against child pornography. Today's widespread use of home computer technology has led to a staggering number of people trading and distributing child pornography online. No country is immune to this form of child sexual exploitation. As two of the world's biggest consumers of child pornography, the United States and Japan must work together to combat its spread.

The term "child pornography" misrepresents the heinous nature of this crime. Unlike some people in adult pornography, children are not willing or paid participants. In fact, the majority of images and videos depict the violent and brutal sexual assault of children, most of them younger than 12 years old. We are talking about child rape.

Any discussion of child pornography must acknowledge the devastating and lasting effect it has on the children who are victimized. In addition to any physical injuries and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, child victims also experience depression, withdrawal, anger and other psychological disorders, usually continuing into adulthood. The lives of children displayed in these images are forever altered, not only by the molestation, but by the permanent record of their victimization. Once these images reach cyberspace, they are irretrievable and can continue to circulate forever. The child is victimized over and over each time the images are viewed.

We should also recognize the strong link between viewing child pornography and sexually abusing children. A 2007 U.S. government study showed that more than 85 percent of people convicted for child pornography crimes admitted to sexually abusing children. Child pornography consumers participate in online networks, which makes them feel they are part of a vast community of like-minded people. This sense that it is "normal" to engage in sexual fantasies about children lowers their inhibitions about acting on their fantasies, increasing the likelihood that they will actually molest children. Child molesters also use child pornography to seduce children by showing them images that appear to depict other children enjoying sexual activities with adults.

The United States has a serious child pornography problem, but effective laws against production, distribution and possession give investigators the critical tools they need to go after people who victimize children. Japanese law enforcement authorities are praised throughout the world for their professionalism and competence, but their ability to investigate child pornography crimes is severely limited by the fact that it is legal to possess child pornography in Japan. The vast majority of child pornography prosecutions today around the world involve images contained on computer hard drives and computer disks. But, because it is legal in Japan to possess child pornography, it is almost impossible for investigators here to obtain search warrants to confiscate and search suspects' computers. Without the vital evidence stored on these hard drives, police cannot effectively investigate child pornography crimes, which in Japan are defined as production and distribution of child pornography. Child pornography investigations inevitably involve more than one country. Law enforcement officials from the United States and around the world enjoy tremendous cooperation from Japanese police on a wide variety of issues, but international investigations of child pornography are significantly hampered by the inability of Japanese investigators to participate or contribute their expertise.

Criminalizing the possession of child pornography does not compromise the rights to privacy or free speech. Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States are all countries where a high value is placed on the rights to privacy and free speech, but all six countries have found it possible to criminalize the possession of child pornography without undermining these rights. Virtually all child pornography is obscene under international standards. The victimization of children is not entitled to protection.

Among the Group of Eight countries, Japan and Russia are the only two countries that do not criminalize the possession of child pornography. On May 24, 2007, Japan signed a declaration at the G-8 justice and interior ministers meeting in Munich that: "We commit to ensuring the implementation and effectiveness of our own laws relating to child pornography, and to taking steps to update and improve those laws when necessary and where appropriate." The Law Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography was due for its three-year review in 2006. We hope the Diet will revise this law to criminalize the advertisement, access, purchase, and possession of child pornography. This revision would allow U.S. and Japanese law enforcement officials to cooperate on investigations. Increased cooperation between our two countries would improve the protection of children throughout the world.