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What is CSAM- Where Did Child Pornography Go?



It is important for organizations to keep up with modern terminology and recognize the critical role definitions can play in legislation as well. Staying current, relevant, and “in the know” can advance mission goals more effectively.


Terms like “long-Covid” and “vaccine passport” are new to our modern vocabulary while some terms have lost their meaning or evolved into something else entirely. Originally “naughty” people had naught (nothing); they were poor or needy. Calling an unhoused individual “naughty” today would be offensive and inappropriate.


Although we wish we could say that child pornography itself has gone away as the title suggests, it is the term “child pornography” that is considered outdated and has been replaced with the term “Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)”, in order to “most accurately reflect what is depicted- the sexual abuse and exploitation of children” according to The National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). As a result, many organizations and advocates now refer to this material by the new term rather than child pornography “because it explicitly ties the material to the source of the problem; the abuse that is being perpetuated to create it.”


Because children are involved, it is not simply “pornography”, it is sexual abuse, which by definition is an “illegal sex act performed against a minor by a parent, guardian, relative, or acquaintance” which is a punishable crime. NCMEC notes that “While the term ‘child pornography’ is often still utilized in national legislation, in line with recent global movement and international consensus, the term has been replaced with the term ‘child sexual abuse material’ as it more aptly describes the true nature and extent of sexually exploitive images of child victims to which children can never consent.” The use of language is important which is why this type of crime is now being referred to what it truly is, child sexual abuse material, and is treated severely under the law.


Although Federal Law still refers to Child Sexual Abuse Material as “Child Pornography” and defines it as “any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age)” many advocates and organizations are working to ensure that our laws match our modern vocabulary and clearly define the act.


Whether you are a nonprofit organization fighting against the sexual abuse of children or finding that your ability to serve your community is limited due to current legislation, it is important to share your views relating to your particular cause and educate lawmakers. TWG has decades of experience navigating the government speak and advocating for language changes to current and proposed legislation. During this time our team has learned that terminology matters and so does your voice!

Cindy Johnson – TWG Research Specialist & Strategy Consultant