cover image Beyond Tolerance: Child Pornography on the Internet

Beyond Tolerance: Child Pornography on the Internet

Philip Jenkins. New York University Press, $65 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-8147-4262-4

Politicians, media and law enforcement have ""massively over-responded"" to ""quite innocuous"" adult sexual material on the Internet, argues historian Jenkins, while doing far too little to stamp out pernicious and prevalent child porn, such as pictures of four- and five-year-old girls sexually servicing men. Even anti-porn activists who target specific pedophilic Web sites are wrongheaded; the problem is international, Jenkins charges in this important wake-up call, with pictures posted on short-lived sites known only to a computer-savvy subculture that sidesteps the strictures of countries that condemn the material. Thus, while Jenkins (Synthetic Panics) has spent his career arguing that social menaces (e.g., serial killers) are overblown, here he aims to increase public concern. Given that simply looking at child pornography is illegal, Jenkins was constrained in his research. His ingenious solution was to access the news groups and ""pedo boards"" where regular users communicated, drawing on their descriptions of the material they consumed, and using a feature on his computer that prevented images from downloading. His reading of the various online discourses suggests that child porn users like some other deviant subgroups share a conventional morality, which suggests that many might be deterred by more effective law enforcement. Currently, policing focuses on child porn users, whom Jenkins likens to drug addicts, without striking against the suppliers at the core of the subculture. Thus, he calls not for increased punishment for users but for a prohibition of newsgroups and bulletin boards. And to increase awareness of the issue, he suggests a journalistic exemption to child porn laws. (Sept.)