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"But I was only looking ...." - Managing situations where adults are accessing, exchanging, collecting and/or producing child pornography

Updated: 22 September 2013

What's Important To Us

Child pornography is a crime and something that the vast majority of the population stay far away from. There are some adults, however, for whom child pornography is an interest and there may be times when this activity is brought to our attention, either through a report of concern or while we are in the process of working with a family/whānau. Child pornography is child abuse and is never acceptable. It presents a risk to children and young people who live with or have some form of contact with the adult. Therefore, it is important that we undertake a thorough assessment of the situation and, at the same time, pay close attention and respond appropriately to those children and young people who are believed to be at risk.

Child pornography is morally and ethically wrong, and serious child protection concerns exist whenever an adult actively engages in this criminal activity.

This key information will help you understand some of the issues involved when adults are accessing, exchanging, collecting and producing child pornography, and outlines useful research and contacts to support you in assessing risk and moving forward with the family/whānau.

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What is child pornography?

Child pornography is any representation of a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for a sexual purpose (Ministry of Justice, 2002). Child pornography can exist in different forms. Visual child pornography is the most common and can range from images of clothed or partially clothed children posing, to images of naked children posed in sexually provocative ways and, at its worst, images of a sexual assault being perpetrated against a child (Taylor & Quayle, 2003). Child pornography can also exist in audio form, where audio devices using a child’s voice (whether real or simulated) are used for the sexual gratification of the user, or in the form of words or stories.

Child pornography is about abuse – it requires that a child be abused in order to produce it. The adults that view, read, hear or exchange child pornography are, in a sense, an accessory after the fact to the abuse (Ministry of Justice, 2002).

The availability of child pornography

Child pornography is illegal and is an abuse of children. Significant changes in technology in recent years, specifically the creation of the Internet, has however made child pornography so much more accessible and available to the wider public and made it easier to share images and connect with other adults who display similar abusive behaviours. The Internet also provides an easy way for adults to contact children, initiate friendships with them, encourage physical meetings, and introduce them to pornographic material.

The problem with child pornography in New Zealand is largely associated with the possession and distribution of pornography that has been imported as opposed to the production of child pornography within New Zealand itself (Ministry of Justice, 2002).

What does the law say?

Child pornography is illegal in New Zealand. The Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 make it an offence in New Zealand to make, possess or distribute a publication which:

  • promotes or supports the exploitation of children and young people for sexual purposes
  • describes, depicts or deals with sexual conduct with or by children or young people
  • exploits the nudity of children or young people for sexual purposes.

Isolated viewing of child pornography images on a website does not constitute an offence, provided that the viewer closes the site as soon as there is recognition of offensive material. However if a person habitually or frequently visits the same website/s containing child pornography, even if no material is downloaded, this constitutes an offence.

The difference between viewing and making child pornography

‘Viewing’ child pornography implies some level of passive observation (Taylor & Quayle, 2003), and there may be rare occasions where it can happen out of curiosity or by accident. What is significant in relation to child pornography is the way in which the viewer engages with the material. If viewing child pornography generates sexual fantasy or sexual interest about children in an adult, this is something that you need to be very concerned about. While there is no clear causal relationship between viewing child pornography and committing sexual abuse against children, research does suggest that there is at least a correlative relationship between accessing child pornography and child sexual abuse (Hernandez, 2000; Carr, 2004).

Producing child pornography, on the other hand, is even more concerning because it causes direct and primary harm to a child (Ost, 2009). The producer has knowingly and willingly allowed a child to be sexually abused while also filming the act and no doubt profiting from it in some way. Production of child pornography is fuelled by the market for it – as long as adults want to access child pornography, producers will continue to create the product.

Moving forward with the family

Adults who access child pornography tend to be distributed along a wide spectrum – on one end sit those adults who represent a risk to public safety due to their highly criminalised and sexually deviant behaviour; on the other are the adults who are able to regulate their behaviour and are not generally antisocial or sexually deviant but who still are a sexual risk and are in some way supporting the abuse of children. Although both groups of adults may have committed the same or a similar crime, they are significantly different in terms of the risk they pose to public safety (Carr, 2004). Understanding these adults requires a comprehensive assessment of them, their crime and the context within which the crime/s occurred.

It is important to work in an honest and transparent way with families when it is found that an adult who has direct contact with a child or young person has been accessing child pornography. This type of offending is usually secret and unknown to partners, family members and the community. Securing the safety of children or young people will often mean that this secret activity becomes known. The adult in question and their family may react strongly to exposure, factions may develop in the family and community interest can be high. Practicing in these situations can be challenging, and regular consultation with your supervisor and other staff will be important.

The safety and wellbeing of the children and young people living in the home or having contact with the adult will be your paramount concern, and the usual process of assessment or investigation will apply.

Working safely with families where children and young people are in contact with an adult who has sexually abused

When to involve the Police

Because child pornography is illegal in New Zealand, if you hold the belief that an adult is accessing, exchanging or producing child pornography you must immediately report this activity to the Police.

Responding to young people who access child pornography

For many young people, being interested in pornography is simply a part of their normative developmental experience (Kaufman, Daleidin, Hilliker & O’Neil, 1998) and is not activity that should immediately raise concerns. Young people who access child pornography may do this out of curiosity and will likely have little understanding of just how dangerous this type of imagery is. The context of the situation in which child pornography is viewed needs to be taken into account. In saying this, however, regardless of the nature of the image it is still child pornography and should never be minimised.

Working safely with young people who display harmful sexual behaviour

Where can I get more information or talk to treatment providers?

When a child or young person is a victim by internet contact, in addition to your usual interventions, it can be helpful to contact NetSafe who can provide further information on keeping children and young people safe on the internet.

SAFE (Whangarei, Auckland and Hamilton), WellStop (Wellington, Masterton, Manawatu, Whanganui, Levin, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne) and STOP (Nelson, Christchurch, Invercargill and Dunedin) offer assessment and treatment services for young people and adults who have sexually abused others and for children who have exhibited harmful sexual behaviour. These agencies also provide support to the family members of those who have abused others to help them deal with the effects of the behaviour.


Carr, A. (2009). Internet Traders of Child Pornography and Other Censorship Offenders in New Zealand. Wellington, NZ: Department of Internal Affairs.

Hernandez, A. (2000). Self-reported Contact Sexual Offenses by Participants in the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Sex offender Treatment Program: Implications for Internet Sex Offenders. Poster session presented at the 19th Annual Research and Treatment Conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, San Diego, CA.

Kaufman, K.L., Daleiden, E.L., Hilliker, D.R., & O’Neil, J. (1998). The sexual histories and fantasies of youthful males: A comparison of sexual offending, nonsexual offending and nonoffending groups. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment, 10(3), pp. 195-209.

Ministry of Justice (2002). Protecting Our Innocence: New Zealand’s National Plan of Action Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Ost, S. (2009). Child Pornography and Sexual Grooming: Legal and Societal Responses. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, M. & Quayle, E. (2003). Child Pornography: An Internet Crime. New York, USA: Brunner-Routledge.