Internet users up in arms over vague guidelines on child porn crackdown
By Kim Bo-eun, Jung Min-ho, Bahk Eun-ji
“Jjanggu,” the popular character in Japanese animation series “Crayon Shin-chan (“Jjanggu the Unstoppable”), often takes his pants off to perform a butt-revealing dance. The kindergarten student’s cute trademark dance has recently become the subject of an online dispute as to whether downloading the TV series would be taken as possession of child pornography.
The silly dispute stems from the vagueness of the National Police Agency’s recent announcement that it will crack down on the possession of videos or files that contain content that “could insinuate child pornography or imply sex with minors.”
According to the revised Youth Sex Protection Law that went into effect in March, simply downloading such a file with content implying sex with those aged under 18 becomes illegal. Under the law, even if the file was deleted right after viewing it, the downloader can be fined up to 20 million won for possessing the material.
The law also stipulates that viewing porn with content that might imply sex with a person who is portrayed as a minor will be punishable, even if no minors actually feature in the video.
The harsh online censorship, designed to find and punish pedophiles, came after a man who raped a young school girl in Naju, South Jeolla Province, last August was found to have enjoyed watching child porn.
However, netizens say that the blurry thin line that defines what exact elements are associated with child pornography could give rise to innocent victims.
The law is stirring a heated controversy and related words have risen as some of the most frequently typed in search engines.
“The law and crackdown guidelines are too vague and ambiguous. It’s difficult to know if the people appearing in adult videos are underage or not,” said Kim Jun-hyuk, a university senior based in Seoul. “The guidelines for the crackdown should be clearer. And I’m doubtful about the efficacy of the crackdown. We need more fundamental measures than an attempt to censor Internet users.”
Kim, a 25-year-old student, is no longer able to freely watch pornography as he used to. Last week, he read several news articles about a recent case in which police for the first time booked people for downloading or distributing child porn.
They were university students or young men serving in the military. These days, Kim is also racking his brains to recall whether he has ever downloaded anything that could be associated with child pornography.
Child porn without children
When it comes to punishing sex offenders who commit crimes against children, people speak with one voice. But a law banning child pornography that does not feature children raises questions. What about animation or comic books? Could there be an objective definition of what could imply or suggest sex with a child?
“I think it’s fair to prevent the sale of child pornography but not schoolgirl fetish movies, if the content does not have a child present. In other words, if the viewers watch grownups doing grownup things, it should be allowed,” said Anthony Grant from the United States. “I think a lot of people role-play that kind of thing with their wives or girlsfriends at home anyway.”
Lee Seung-geun, a 27-year-old office worker, noted that just thinking about having sex with a minor while watching such videos shouldn’t be subject to punishment. “You can’t punish someone for thinking about a crime he or she did not commit,” he said.
“What we are talking about here is a change of law that can possibly criminalize a huge number of people,” Lee said. “Obsessed with seeking popularity, it seems the revision of a very important law was made in a hurry without solid reason. To me, it seems much more reasonable and effective to toughen up punishment on sex criminals against children rather than making such a controversial law.”
He also questioned why child pornography alone should be the target.
“Then, why don’t they punish all producers and consumers of pornography? It is supposed to be illegal,” Lee said. “They probably know that is impossible to completely eradicate it. With that said, it is a double standard. How about video content of a woman being raped? Is it okay to watch that?”
Need for crackdown
Some experts have stressed the need for this law and a tougher crackdown on child pornography.
Park Yong-chul, a professor at Sogang University Law School in Seoul, said the law should be more strictly enforced for people who habitually upload and distribute sex videos on the Internet.
“I totally agree that the police should tighten controls over obscene material to root out sex crimes committed against children. All those involved with child pornography including those who possess the material should be punished. Of course, distributors should be subject to harsher punishment,” said Park.
Still, he also agreed that the guidelines should be applied more flexibly because there are some people who didn’t even know they uploaded those videos due to the trait of P2P programs that automatically allow downloaders to share files anonymously.
Park said it would be going overboard if those people, who had not been aware of what they were doing, were punished as well.
The professor also pointed out that this should not be a one-off measure that goes along with the social atmosphere. The criminals have to be properly punished so as not to commit the same offense after serving their sentences, he said.
“In other words, this should be a long-term plan to create a better society for everyone, especially women and children with a proper process, from regulation to the rehabilitation of offenders,” said Park.
United States case
In the United States, as the First Amendment to the Constitution stands for freedom of speech, the U.S. Supreme Court has struggled to find the fine line between free-speech protection and making laws that prevent the spread of pornography.
In 1982, however, the court made a landmark decision in New York vs. Ferber that the First Amendment doesn’t protect child pornography, by prohibiting anyone from knowingly producing, promoting or selling any material showing sexual performances by underage children.
When it comes to simulated child pornography without a child actually involved, however, the line is vague as laws only ban “realistic” sexual images of children.
Because of the subjective standard, images where actresses act with a lollipop clad in a school uniform are commonly found on Internet websites’ “teen” category under the protection of the First Amendment.
“If there is no child present in the content, it is just porn, not child porn,” Elena Porcelli from the United States said. “I understand the reasons behind the inspiration because that’s deliberately misleading. Nonetheless, I do think that the law is flawed.”
Porcelli said virulent reactions will arise if the same law takes effect in the U.S. where freedom is speech is one of the most important values.
The United Kingdom and most other Western countries also have strict rules and guidelines against the possession and distribution of child pornography.
Calls for clear standard
Calls for clear standard
As the controversy rages, the National Police Agency Monday announced details of the guidelines on its crackdown on child pornography.
In a press release, the agency said that downloading “Jjanggu” is not illegal as it “contains no obscene scenes.” But it said downloading child porn animation will be punishable.
In the meantime, a special committee under the opposition Democratic United Party set up to root out sex crimes against women and children, said the current crackdown and penalties are triggering many troublesome side effects due to the unclear criteria.
It called for more specific and clear-cut standards and a sufficient time period for the public to become aware of the regulations. The main argument was that the current measure is creating unnecessary confusion and anxiety due to the absence of the aforementioned elements.
“The police should let people know the clear standards so that they do not have to be worrying needlessly and should let them know when exactly the police will start to regulate it before they actually enforce the law,” said a committee member.