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Concerns and confusion over what constitutes child pornography

In order for any North Dakota state or federal law to really serve in the best interests of the public, that statute must be clearly defined and enforceable. Not only must legal guidelines account for victims’ rights and protections but they must also safeguard those suspected of committing criminal offenses against false accusations and persecution. Consequently, serious questions and concerns have been raised over the definition and enforcement of Internet-related child pornography offenses.

The advent of the Internet revolutionized the way that people communicate and interact with one another. As a result, the Internet has also changed the way that many criminal offenses are identified and prosecuted on the state and federal level. Discussing the role that the Internet is playing in criminal cases involving child pornography, researchers with the University of New Hampshire Explained that a clear definition of Internet child pornography has yet to be established. Individual states differ on how they define, and therefore prosecute, Internet child pornography offenses, and those definitions do not always coincide with federal guidelines. Beyond that, federal laws defining child pornography have been noted as being vague and difficult to consistently interpret.

As described by the federal government, a child is recognized as anyone under the age of 18. Child pornography is described as the visual portrayal of sexually explicit conduct through media such as photographs, film and digital content. The federal definition for what qualifies as sexually explicit conduct is also notably vague, characterized as anything from masturbation to sexual intercourse, along with any other lascivious exhibition of genitals or the pubic area.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the district of North Dakota, state guidelines define Internet child pornography using similar language as federal statutes. Likewise, no specific definition is provided for what constitutes sexually explicit conduct under North Dakota law. The lack of a clear definition should cause reason for pause and concern when it comes to interpreting and enforcing Internet child pornography laws everywhere.

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