U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Criminalizing Online Speech to "Protect" the Young: What are the Benefits and Costs? (From Crime and the Internet, P 100-112, 2001, David S. Wall, ed. -- See NCJ-213504)

NCJ Number
Marjorie Heins
Date Published
13 pages
This chapter critiques the assumption underlying legal efforts to protect children from reading or viewing sexually explicit images and materials.
Laws against exposing or dispensing pornography or sexual speech to children assume that such exposure would damage the children psychologically and stimulate sexual feelings they cannot manage responsibly. This chapter argues that such an argument is intellectually and politically flawed, proving ultimately to be counterproductive. Youth cannot be expected to mature into competent adults who can assess ideas unless they have practice in being exposed to and managing a variety of experiences as children. Education is more likely than legally enforced censorship to develop sexually mature adults. Attempts to control online speech through legal sanctions tend to stifle rational efforts to teach children about responsible sexual behavior. This chapter proposes that as youth approach mid-adolescence, perhaps at age 15, there should be a presumption against censorship. As with censorship of adults, the government would have to prove the need for any restrictions on free speech. Courts and policymakers should reconsider the traditional but mistaken assumption that sexually explicit speech has little value and therefore merits little protection. It is an important area of human development that brings with it many concepts and value judgments. Children should not be entirely closed off from learning about this important area of their development. 11 notes and 48 references