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Child sex abuse images matter

James Marsh is probably the USA’s leading lawyer when it comes to representing victims of child sex abuse where an image of the abuse has appeared online. He represented Amy in Amy v Paroline. It went all the way up to the US Supreme Court. Marsh is quite clear. Victims want every copy or version of an image of their humiliation to be found and deleted as quickly as possible. Pending that, they want access to be restricted to the greatest extent achievable, again as quickly as possible. Knowing this is being done can be crucial to a victim’s prospects of recovery and getting back to any kind of normal life. It is reassuring evidence that the harm done to them is acknowledged, that every practical step is being taken to make things as right as they can be, that justice is being delivered.

Child sex abuse images which have been posted on the internet are important in and of themselves. We do not need to justify taking action against them on any grounds other than the fact that they exist. Let’s remind ourselves why.

Every act of sexual abuse involving a child will harm that child. However, if an image of the abuse is also created then distributed over the internet, potentially to be viewed by everyone in the world, unquestionably that will add to, change and expand the harm. The crushing sense of loss of one’s human dignity can be severe, even overwhelming. The constant, nagging fear that your classmates or people from your neighbourhood may already have seen the images or might in the near future can be deeply corrosive of a young person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. And that’s on top of the harm caused by being sexually abused in the first place.

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