The Problem With the Term 'Child Porn' – From a Survivor Who Was in Front of the Camera

By Rachel Undoed
March 10, 2020

A young girl looking down behind a colorful fence

This topic is probably the hardest part of my story of survival. Or maybe it is just taking the longest to heal. I’ve had to speak so much about other aspects of the abuse to officials, lawyers, investigators and so on. But this topic… it still drags me deep down and I speak of it to almost no one, because acknowledging it, “admitting” it, means I am admitting to be immersed in a dark world, whether I chose it or not.

Being used in what the world calls “child pornography” brings a whole separate level of shame than other things I have experienced at the hands of my abuser. It leaves a thread connecting my past forever to my present. A thread that just cannot fade over time, and that prevents a certain level of closure I so desperately yearn for. When people speak of “leaving the past in the past,” or when therapists have me remind myself that “it’s over,” there is a deep part of me that can not fully hold onto that. With this, it feels like it will never be over.

This is a constant topic in the news: “Highly Respected Man Arrested on Child Porn Charges.” The designated label “child porn” is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Though I am sure it’s not intentional, it absolutely puts the culpability on the child only, as the child is the only one in the description of this horrific thing. Because of that language, an extra level of shame is added, and seems to deepen that unrelenting hold that it has. Even though I am aware that at 5, 6 and 7 years old, I had no control over what was happening. Even though I know I was frozen on the floor, unable to even move while the photos were taken, just being connected to a world that everyone knows is sick and twisted tears at my insides and I feel immediately like I am free falling into a darkness that never ends. It makes it seem as if I belong to this dark thing.

There’s nothing in the title of “child porn” that puts the responsibility where it should be. Even using the word “porn” denotes there is a form of entertainment in there — but throw “child” before it and it seems more like a risqué form of entertainment gone wrong. This is not just a form of entertainment that has gone wrong or a little too far. These are graphic depictions of sexual abuse, devoured by people from apparently all walks of life, and traded as if it were a currency. The day I see a headline read, “Man Arrested for Possessing Graphic Depiction of Sexually Abused Children,” will be a day I will be able to breathe just a little easier… because it is calling it exactly what it is.

So what’s it like being one of “those kids”? It’s losing pieces of yourself. Knowing that you forever do not have control of your body, depiction, story and even abuse. You forever know that it’s “not over” because there’s no way to track if the pictures are still out there. At the moment of typing this, I know in the back of my mind, some person could be using my abuse and my body for his own sexual gratification this very second. All I want is to be able to sit here writing, knowing confidently that I am my own and that no one is using pieces of me for indescribably reasons. However, that is a comfort I can not be awarded. Being one of those children means that every time another headline shows up I wonder, “Was I in that stack of photos? Was I in a hidden folder on his computer?” But there’s no answer to that question, and very little that can ease the torment that goes along with it.

I’ve heard people comment that “at least it was just possession and he didn’t escalate to actually hurting a child…” They’re wrong, it does destroys us. Not only are they “hurting” us by possessing it, they are shattering an army of children and the adults they have managed to become. By it’s very nature, any existence or possession of these graphic images stretch the legacy of shame and trauma into a timeless form. There is no “it’s over,” there’s no “I’ve escaped.” Because of the reach of the internet and the trading that happens in this dark alley of humanity, we can not collect these pieces of us and bring them home. The only hope is to instead find someway to release it, somehow find peace with the knowledge that the most vulnerable parts of ourselves are continuing to be decimated. By partaking in the deepest trauma of my life, that person is now directly related to my pain.

They are the person I fear on a daily basis. They are using my body in ways it never should be used, again and again. They are hurting me and all the other children that have ever been on this side of that weaponized camera and forced into a darkness that is unrelenting in today’s society.


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