Module 5: Images Are Children


‘Consent’ means to give permission for something to happen. It is important for us to consider the issue of consent when we are talking about the children in the images because children, by nature, are unable to consent to sexual activity.

Before continuing with this section, you might find it helpful to view this short video clip. It details one individuals experience of coming to terms with the harm that this behaviour can cause to the children depicted in the images. 

Why Children are Unable to Consent to Sexual Activity

Children are unable to give consent because they are unable to fully understand what they are consenting to, or the emotional impact and consequences of sex. Adults in comparison are generally able to give informed consent about sexual activity and photographs of them unless they are under the influence of alcohol/drugs or have some kind of vulnerability. Some people disagree about the age at which children hit the maturity to be able to give this permission, however, in the UK the age of consent for sexual activity is set at 16. With regard to viewing images of children, any sexual picture of a child under 18 is illegal.

Children are not able to give consent to engage in sexual activity,  and consent is further taken away from children when sexual images of them are taken and posted on the internet.  Once an image is posted online, all control is lost over that image. The victim will experience further abuse with the knowledge that their picture is out there, being shared, and viewed, beyond their control.

What have you been looking at online?

The concept of ‘justifications’ can also be extended to the type, or category, of sexual image you are looking at online. The important point to remember is that any sexual image of a child is illegal.

  • Naturist images
  • ‘Modelling’ images
  • Images of children with no adult present in the image
  • Cartoon/Manga images


  • Self-taken sexual images

are abusive when used for sexual purposes.

The reality is that any sexual image of a child, used for a sexual purpose, is illegal. Abuse not only refers to the victimisation at the time when the photograph was taken, but it also refers to the continuation of victimisation the child will experience in knowing that images of themselves are circulating on the internet beyond their control, being used for inappropriate sexual reasons.

The reality of viewing naturist, modelling or cartoon images is that this behaviour may act as a ‘slippery slope’. These sorts of images might act to reinforce sexual interest in children and lead the person viewing the images to become curious about what other sorts of material might be available. When children are depicted in images either on their own or with other children, where no adult is present in the image, it is important that you remind yourself that an adult will have been behind that camera. An adult will have coerced the child(ren) into posing for the camera and an adult will have taken and shared that photograph to be used for a sexual purpose.

Regarding self-taken sexual images of children, it is important to remember that even though the child may have consented to taking the photograph in the first place, they almost certainly will not have consented to the world-wide sharing of that image. Children do not have the foresight to understand the consequences that sending an image of themselves may bring.   They do not understand that once an image is sent that it cannot be retrieved. Once the reality of this becomes known it can be very distressing and have a significant emotional impact on them.

Child Sexual Exploitation

Consent is further removed from children if there is a power difference between them and the person who is inciting sexual activity. It is not uncommon for children to be sexually exploited as a part of the process of producing illegal images – for example, by receiving gifts, drugs, affection or accommodation – in exchange for engaging in sexual activity.

Sometimes pictures are taken of children without them knowing – for example, at the beach – and sometimes pictures are taken with the child’s knowledge. Sometimes a child will be coerced into taking and posting an image of themselves, without fully realising the consequences of doing this.

As part of this module in helping you recognise and acknowledge that the children in the images are real children, it is helpful – although difficult – to get yourself to think about how that child got to be in that situation of being in front of that camera. This is what we will be asking you to consider in the following exercise.


Now I know, of course, that it’s not a victimless crime


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