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Pedophiles in Wonderland: Censoring the Sinful in Cyberspace

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 98 Issue: 4 Dated: Summer 2008 Pages: 1467-1500
Gabrielle Russell
Date Published
34 pages
This article describes the constitutional problems with legally proscribing “virtual age play” under either child pornography or obscenity law.
Second Life is a popular virtual world created by Linden Research, Incorporated. While there are many kinds of virtual environments, many of which are text-based, massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) environments are the most real-world environments, in appearance and in the way that users can interact with their surroundings and with each other. A user navigates through these virtual worlds as an avatar that a user can design to look like anything, including a child; avatars are free to do whatever their creators please including having sex. While some adults design avatars that look like monsters or celebrities, others prefer to adopt a childlike appearance. Some adults also favor less socially acceptable activities and use their young counterparts for virtual “age play” or sexual role play occurring in a virtual world where one avatar appears to be a child and the other an adult; this theme has become a very popular and newsworthy online pastime. This article begins with an explanation of virtual age play and an overview of the laws that bear on its legal standing, followed by a discussion of why regulation of such activity under child pornography law is inappropriate. The article concludes by exploring the potential regulation of virtual age play under obscenity law, ultimately rejecting that strategy as an unconstitutional restriction of free speech and individual liberty. This article notes that not only is there no proof that the man who is stimulated by cybersex with a virtual child is any more likely to seek our real sex with a real child but that there may be some therapeutic value in indulging such fantasies.