University Of Tasmania
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Internet users' perceptions of child exploitation material : lessons for prevention

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:46 authored by Hunn, CM
Fewer than 15 years ago, the Australian federal government criminalised the 'accessing' or, in lay terms, the online 'viewing' of child exploitation material (CEM). National statistics reveal that prosecutions for this offence are a consistent feature of Australia's criminal justice system. The stereotypical 'paedophile offender' is commonly invoked to explain the prevalence of such offending. Yet a growing body of evidence appears to indicate that the online viewing of CEM is a more mainstream activity than suggested by such a stereotype. Of concern in this context, recent Australian studies purport to have found evidence of a 'disjuncture' between the perceptions of some members of the community and the criminalisation of this activity. While the evidence is limited, researchers speculate that the criminality of viewing CEM may not be widely appreciated in Australia. To better illuminate and understand this purported disjuncture, this thesis presents original findings from two empirical studies. The first study explores the perceptions of Australian internet users (N=504) towards the online viewing of CEM. This study finds gaps in participants' knowledge of the law, with significant proportions of participants failing to identify the criminality of viewing prohibited material. This study also reveals gaps in participants' awareness about the potential for the viewing of CEM to affect victims, other offenders, society and viewers. The second study assesses the value of judicial sentencing remarks (N=57) in educating the Australian community about the criminality of viewing CEM online. This study finds that while remarks represent a primary ongoing opportunity for communication, their value is limited. Even leaving aside practical questions about their dissemination, a significant proportion of the remarks analysed did not contain any normative explanations of why the offender's behaviour was criminal. This thesis uses two theoretical lenses to consider the implications of these findings for the prevention of onset - the first deliberate viewing of CEM online. Taking the notion of the 'Opportunistic Offender' from Situational Crime Prevention theory, this thesis contends that under the current policy settings, Australia is missing an opportunity to reduce the likelihood of onset for some individuals. To underline the significance of this oversight, this thesis uses legal theory to demonstrate that this policy deficiency means that Australia is falling short of its duty to publicise the law, and ensure citizens have fair warning of criminalisation. Informed by these findings, this thesis recommends changes to public policy, legislation and judicial practice.


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