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101 Colum. L. Rev. 209 (2001)
The Perverse Law of Child Pornography

handle is hein.journals/clr101 and id is 245 raw text is: COLUMBIA LAW REVIEW
VOL. 101                       MARCH 2001                              NO. 2
Amy Adler*
In this Article, Professor Adler argues that child pornography law, in-
tended to protect children from sexual exploitation, threatens to reinforce the
very problem it attacks. The Article begins with a historical claim: Our
culture has become preoccupied with child sexual abuse and child pornogra-
phy in a way that it did not used to be. The Article traces the rapid develop-
ment of child pornography law, showing that a cultural transformation in
our notion of childhood sexual vulnerability has coincided with the birth and
dramatic expansion of the law. Professor Adler then introduces various
causal accounts of this chronological correlation between the regulation of
child pornography and the growing crisis of child sexual abuse. First, she
explores the possibility that the burgeoning law of child pornography may
invite its own violation through a dialectic of taboo and transgression. She
then presents another reading of the relationship between child pornography
law and culture: The law may unwittingly perpetuate and escalate the sex-
ual representation of children that it seeks to constrain. In this view, the
legal tool that we designed to liberate children from sexual abuse threatens us
all, by constructing a world in which we are enthralled-anguished, enticed,
bombarded-by the spectacle of the sexual child.
But most of us carry in our hearts the Jocasta who begs Oedipus
for God's sake not to enquire further.
-letter of Schopenhauer to Goethe, Nov. 11, 18151
* Associate Professor, New York University School of Law. For helpful comments, I
am indebted to Harry Adler, Ed Baker, Mary Anne Case, Anne Coughlin, Michael Dorf,
Chris Eisgruber, Dan Filler, Barry Friedman, David Garland, Abner Greene, Janet Halley,
Marcel Kahan, Larry Kramer, Jody Kraus, Liz Magill, Pearson Marx, Geoffrey Miller, Dot
Nelkin, Rick Pildes, Robert Post, David Richards, Neil Richards, Larry Sager, Eva Saks, Rip
Verkerke, and Jonathan Vogel. I am also grateful to the participants of workshops at
Harvard Law School, the University of Virginia Law School, the Colloquium on
Constitutional Theory at the N.Y.U. School of Law, and the participants of the Conference
on Gender-Based Censorship at the University of Michigan Institute for Research on
Women and Gender, where I presented an earlier draft of this Article. I thank Keith Buell
for his amazing contributions as a research assistant. I also thank Gretchen Feltes in the
New York University Law Library for outstanding library assistance.
I dedicate this Article to the memory of my father, Harry R. Adler (1932-1999), who
encouraged and inspired me in every way and who would have liked to see the final draft.
1. Quoted in Sandor Ferenczi, First Contributions to Psycho-Analysis 254 (1980).


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