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Child Sexual Abuse Images Cause Different Distress Than Sexual Abuse Itself

Nearly half of survivors who were forced to appear in child sexual abuse material report that the images of their exploitation caused additional distress to the sexual abuse itself.

Decades of studies from respected academic institutions, have demonstrated significant impacts of porn consumption for individuals, relationships, and society. "What’s the Research" aims to shed light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn’s harms in a variety of ways. Below are selected excerpts from published studies on this issue.

The full study can be accessed here.

The complex experience of child pornography survivors

Authors: Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, Wendy Walsh, Janis Wolak, and David Finkelhor
Published: June 2018

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Child Abuse & Neglect


The purpose of this paper was to 1) examine characteristics of the CP crime, such as age when images were first created, the relationship to the perpetrator, whether CP victims were also sexually molested, the length of time the creation of the images lasted, whether images were shared with others and whether the crime was reported; 2) examine whether there are sex differences and characteristics of the CP crime; 3) investigate the impact and reactions to the images shortly after the CP was created; and 4) explore respondents’ reflections as adults about being depicted in CP.


We conducted an online survey of a convenience sample of adult survivors of CP production as part of a larger research project to improve responses to victims depicted in CP.

Several victim service organizations and support groups for adult survivors of child sexual abuse agreed to send email invitations with links to the survey to listserv members or to post invitations on their websites.


For most respondents, the CP images were part of a long-term sexual abuse, often beginning when they were quite young. Eighty-three percent were age 12 or younger when they were first photographed; 52% were victimized by family members.

Female respondents were more likely to be victimized by family members, and male respondents were more likely to be victimized by acquaintances, X2(1, N = 119) = 15.381, p < .001. Most respondents (93%) suffered contact child sexual abuse in addition to being photographed. For 80% the CP occurred over a substantial period of time, 6 months or more. Most participants (83%) reported it happened more than 10 years ago.

Close to half of respondents (48%) reported their images were illegally shared or given to other people, but almost as many reported they did not know whether images were illegally shared.

Only about 1 in 4 incidents (23%) were reported to the police or a child welfare agency, and of the 31 respondents whose crime was reported, 71% of agencies (n = 22) knew or found out about the CP production. Of the 16 respondents who had a perpetrator arrested or charged, 88% (n = 14) of perpetrators were convicted. Survey questions asked respondents directly about certain reactions they may have had as children to being photographed or filmed for CP.

Nearly half of respondents (47%) agreed that the images “caused specific problems or difficulties that were different from the problems caused by other aspects of the crime.”

About half or more of participants reported they had the following reactions all of the time: 74% felt ashamed, guilty, or humiliated all of the time, 54% always worried that people who saw the images would think they were a willing participant, 51% always felt it was their fault the images were created, 48% always worried about friends or other people they knew seeing the images, and 48% worried all the time that people who saw the images would recognize them.

Approximately one-third of respondents reported that they always refused to talk to anyone or to the police and counselors about the images. About 1 in 5 respondents (22%) always denied the existence of the images.

The only significant difference by sex was that male respondents were significantly more like to refuse to talk to anybody about the images as compared to female respondents.

The full study can be accessed here.

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