Module 5: Images Are Children

The effects on the child of being involved in the production of sexual images

Psychologists have tried to look at what it means to the child to be photographed and for these photographs to be used in a sexual way (e.g. fantasy and/or masturbation etc.).

During the abuse 

While it is convenient to think about photography as being separate from the actual abuse, for the majority of children this is not the case. Very often being photographed is PART OF the abuse; victims see the lasting photographical evidence as a continuation of the abuse they experienced. 

Knowing that images of them are circulating on the web, and that strangers use these photographs for inappropriate sexual purposes, causes ongoing victimisation for the children involved. 

Before continuing, you might find it helpful to view this short video clip of an individual explaining his realisation of the harm to children, as a result of his own online behaviour. 


Abuse can produce physical symptoms, such as urinary infections and soreness around the genitalia or anus, headaches and vomiting. Depression, tiredness, difficulties in concentrating and nightmares are also common in such children. It can also lead to other problems, such as the child behaving or talking in a sexual way, acting out or behaving aggressively, as well as impacting on their relationships with other children and adult relationships when they are older.

During disclosure of what has happened

As with all forms of sexual abuse, children are reluctant to talk about what has happened. This may be very convenient for the adults involved, but increases the chance that the child will have problems in the future, such as depression or inability to form trusting or loving relationships with other adults. When the abuse is photographed, this seems to increase the child's fear of talking about what has happened. Disclosures, when eventually made, are often limited, with the child only telling as much as they feel the person questioning them already knows. Feelings of shame, humiliation and helplessness are often accompanied by feelings of anxiety, with the child worried that the photograph may be viewed as evidence of co-operation on their part. The child may also feel that the fact that they were smiling may be seen as evidence that he or she was enjoying the experience when they were being coerced or forced to smile.

The long-term consequences of having been photographed can include:

  • Intense bad feelings, such as a negative picture of themselves, long-term feelings of shame, hopelessness, an inability to feel anything or relate to anyone.
  • A distressing awareness that even though the abuse has stopped, others may still be able to access their photographs and that there is nothing that they can do about it.
  • Worry that the photographs may encourage the abuse of other children.



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