Child Exploitation Material in the Context of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

Jeremy Prichard PhD & Caroline Spiranovic PhD

Law School, University of Tasmania

September 2014

ISBN 978 1 925118 43 8

Executive summary

The child exploitation material (CEM) market has expanded dramatically with the advent of the internet and digital cameras; CEM is easy to access, and the risk of detection is relatively low when offenders take security precautions. Criminal laws differ between Australian jurisdictions, but generally they proscribe knowingly possessing, distributing and producing CEM. Definitions of CEM include footage, still images, written material, drawings and depictions of people who appear to be children. CEM varies from cartoons through to footage documenting the sadistic rape of real children. Prosecutions are now commonplace for CEM offences committed in Australia.

Compared with other areas of crime research, CEM research is relatively new. This report highlights where the current research base is limited. It is important these limitations are carefully considered before drawing conclusions based on this report.

CEM offenders

Current evidence suggests that some offenders use CEM without ever directly sexually abusing children. There is no evidence to support a direct causal link between viewing CEM and committing hands-on sex offences. However, CEM is associated with child sexual abuse. Viewing CEM may be a strong risk factor for child sexual abuse for individuals already disposed to sexual aggression and sexual deviancy.

CEM in the workplace

Very little research has examined CEM in workplace contexts. It may be accessed, distributed or produced in the workplace using a variety of technologies and for a variety of purposes (for example, personal fantasies, grooming children or financial gain). Arguably, red flags for the potential for current or future abuse of children include the possession, distribution or production of CEM; any CEM depicting children under an institution’s care; and evidence that CEM has been shown to children. Within the literature, strategies highlighted for workplaces to counter CEM include:

  • applying software filters that block inappropriate websites

  • implementing IT systems that monitor or audit workers’ internet use

  • applying protocols for children and workers concerning smartphones, cameras, webcams, computers, content transfer and so on

  • introducing online identify verification requirements

  • situating monitors so they can be easily viewed by others

  • implementing internet use policies that: (a) stipulate sanctions for inappropriate behaviour, including reporting CEM offences, and (b) influence workplace culture by explaining the harmfulness of CEM

  • facilitating anonymous workplace counselling for problematic internet use.

With a view to developing clear protocols for workplaces, research is needed to clarify the legal context of these strategies and how workplaces can handle CEM discovered on a worker’s IT equipment without committing additional offences.


This report was prepared for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Commission). Its aim is to succinctly explain the relevance of child pornography, or CEM, to institutional child sexual abuse and the Commission’s terms of reference. Primarily the report informs the Commission’s first and second terms of reference (respectively, protecting children and reporting child sexual abuse) by:

  • explaining the extent to which the viewing of CEM by employees (within institutions or governments) should be treated as a red flag for current or future sexual abuse of children

  • suggesting prevention strategies for institutions and governments to: (a) reduce the risk of onset among employees or (b) assist employees to anonymously desist from viewing CEM.

The agreed scope of this report did not encompass original legal or empirical research, but rather a brief review of available scholarly literature concerning:

  • evidence of the extent of access to CEM

  • evidence of the factors contributing to onset

  • evidence that links viewing CEM with contact child sexual abuse

  • issues concerning institutions managing staff accessing CEM.

The authors of the report have sought to objectively inform the Commission about available evidence, the quality of the evidence and its key messages. Scholarly literature and other relevant material were sourced through social science and psychology search engines (for example, PsycINFO, APAIS-Health, CINCH and CINCH-Health) and legal search engines (for example, Westlaw International, LexisNexis International, and AustLII).2


There are six parts to this report. Part 1 explains the scope of the report and legal definitions of CEM in Australia. Part 2 presents available data on the prevalence of CEM offences. Part 3 examines factors that contribute to CEM onset – that is, an individual’s first decision to use CEM. Parts 4 and 5, respectively, discuss: (a) Child exploitation material in the context of institutional child abuse evidence concerning the link between physically abusing children and viewing or distributing CEM and (b) approaches to managing CEM within institutional settings.