Appropriate terminology

At INTERPOL, we support the use of appropriate terminology to avoid trivializing the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Definitions and terms are slowly changing as legislation is revised and the victims are given better protection and rights. Also, new forms of abuse are emerging and, with them, the need for new and accurate terminology.

Serious crime, serious definition

Children who have been sexually abused and photographed or filmed deserve to be protected and respected, and not have the seriousness of their abuse reduced by the use of terms such as "porn".

Pornography is a term used for adults engaging in consensual sexual acts distributed (mostly) legally to the general public for their sexual pleasure.

Child abuse images involve children who cannot and would not consent and who are victims of a crime.

Terms such as "kiddy porn" and "child porn" are used by criminals and should not be legitimate language used by law enforcement, judiciary, the public or media.

Legislation in some countries, or even the departments dealing with child sexual abuse within the police, may use terms like "child pornography", making the term difficult to avoid. However, we encourage the law enforcement community to contribute to a cultural change by being precise in the way that such crimes are described.

Recommended terminology

A set of international guidelines makes precise recommendations on appropriate terminology in this area.

  • Terms to be used with caution, or avoided completely, include 'child pornography', 'child sex tourism' and 'child prostitution'
  • More appropriate terms are ‘child sexual abuse’, ‘sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism’ and ‘exploitation of children in/for prostitution’. 

The development of harmonized and internationally recognized terminology is essential, particularly in the context of victim identification, in order to strengthen data collection and cooperation across agencies, sectors and countries.

INTERPOL will implement these guidelines as best practice and recommend their use to law enforcement across the globe.

INTERPOL's International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) database

8 steps to identifying victims of child sexual abuse