Summary

  • The definition of ‘child pornography’ differs from one legal jurisdiction to the next across the world.
  • Establishing uniform laws on child pornography on the Internet is difficult.
  • You can make complaints about Internet content to the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), either by email or fax.
  • You can call Crime Stoppers to report computer crime.
The definition of ‘child pornography’ differs from one legal jurisdiction to the next across the world. This makes it difficult to establish uniform laws to police the Internet. Australians can report online pornography to the Australian Broadcasting Authority or the police.

Grey areas include the legal definition of ‘child’, for example, some societies mark adulthood by events such as marriage, rather than age.

The definition of ‘pornography’ also varies. To some, pornography is limited to depictions of sexually explicit acts; to others, suggestive pictures that don’t show any overt sexual activity also fall within the definition.

To further complicate matters, the material in question may be real, illustrated, computer-generated or computer-enhanced. Since legal jurisdictions across the world have different definitions of child pornography, establishing uniform laws for the Internet is difficult.

Victorian law

In Victoria, the law states that child pornography ‘means a film, photograph, publication or computer game that describes or depicts a person who is, or who looks like, a minor under 18 engaging in sexual activity or depicted in an indecent manner or context’ (Crimes Act, 67A). Under this law, ‘publications’ also include stories, poems, essays, drawings and cartoons.

Criminal Internet activity is difficult to police

Before digital technology, perpetrators of child pornography were risking arrest during the many stages of manufacture and marketing, simply because the material had to be physically handed from one person to the next. With the advent of digital cameras, modems and the Internet, such materials can now be distributed worldwide with ease. Overt websites dedicated to child pornography are becoming less common, now that many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) around the world refuse to host illegal or offensive material. Websites are also more ‘visible’ and pose a greater risk of arrest. Paedophiles communicate with each other and exchange materials online via chat rooms and news groups. The anonymity and immediacy of the Internet makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to police criminal activities.

International cooperation

Many countries are now banding together to tackle child pornography on the Internet. For example, the European Commission drew up the document titled, Creating a safer information society by improving the security of information infrastructures and combating computer-related crime. This document aims to give countries in the European Union the same legal muscle to fight child pornography on the Internet. The United Nations is currently working on international legislation that has so far been signed by some 69 countries.

You can make a difference

It takes a lot of time and money for law enforcement agencies to track child pornography on the Internet. The most valuable resource in the fight against this material is the millions of people worldwide who use the Internet. If you discover child pornography on the Internet, you can notify the Online Services Content Regulation department of the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). Various countries around the world have also set up similar authorities that investigate complaints from the general public. You can also report computer crime to Crime Stoppers.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority

You can make complaints about Internet content to the Australian Broadcasting Authority, either by email or fax. By law, ‘Internet content’ includes material on the World Wide Web, newsgroups postings, bulletin boards, and downloadable files from archives or libraries. Ordinary emails, or real time services like chat lines, are not legally considered ‘Internet content’. The ABA will only investigate complaints if the material is prohibited. Child pornography is prohibited. Legal material that may be offensive to some people isn’t subject to investigation.

Making a complaint to the ABA

To make a complaint about Internet content to the ABA, you must be an Australian resident. It is important to include specific details in your complaint, including:
  • Your name and contact details.
  • The Internet address (URL) and any instructions, if necessary, on how to access the material.
  • A description of the content.
  • Why you think the content is, or may be, prohibited.

Action taken by the Australian Broadcasting Authority

If the material is prohibited and hosted in Australia, the ABA will order the content host to remove the material. If the prohibited material is hosted overseas, the ABA will inform the suppliers of approved filters in line with the Internet Industry Association’s code of practice. In the case of child pornography, the ABA will also inform the appropriate law enforcement agency. The complainants are notified about the outcome of the investigation.

Protecting your children from harmful content

Supervising children while they browse the Internet is the best way you can protect them. Children also need to be told of the potential dangers of chat rooms, and that details such as their name and address should always be withheld. There are also various filtering systems available that can block particular Internet sites. Consult with your Internet service provider (ISP) for more information. However, it’s best not to see this as a replacement for adult supervision.

Where to get help

  • Your Internet service provider (ISP)
  • NAPCAN (National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect). Tel. 02 9269 9200
  • The Manager, Online Services Content Regulation, Australian Broadcasting Authority online@aba.gov.au or fax: (02) 9334 7783
  • Crime Stoppers Tel. 1800 333 000
  • Child Wise (ECPAT in Australia) Tel. 9645 8911
  • Your state police service.

Things to remember

  • The definition of ‘child pornography’ differs from one legal jurisdiction to the next across the world.
  • Establishing uniform laws on child pornography on the Internet is difficult.
  • You can make complaints about Internet content to the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), either by email or fax.
  • You can call Crime Stoppers to report computer crime.
References
  • Paedophile Internet Activity [online], ‘Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice’ (November 1998), Australian Institute of Criminology. More information here.
  • ECPAT mission statement [online], ECPAT (Ending Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking) Australia. More information here.
  • International cooperation to tackle child pornography [press release], NAPCAN Australia.
  • Cass, F. et al (1997), Child Pornography in the Digital Age, ‘Transnational Organised Crime’, vol.3, no.4. Available from the Australian Institute of Criminology. More information here.

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Last updated: August 2014

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