PROTECTing the figure of innocence: Child pornography legislation and the queerness of childhood

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4 Scopus citations


In US v. Williams (2008), the Supreme Court upheld the PROTECT Act; this law’s “pandering provision” prohibits the distribution and solicitation of child pornography, but does not distinguish between real child pornography and “virtual” child pornography (images that are digitally created or manipulated and do not depict a real child). Situating this case at the intersection of rhetorical studies of the law and queer studies, I read the Court’s opinions as rhetorical and cultural texts that circulate a strategic figuration of the child that emphasizes its sexual purity, vulnerability, and whiteness, and disavows the queerness of childhood desires. I argue that the Court’s decision virtualizes the figuration of the child through the performative “collateral speech” act, ultimately conflating virtual materials with real children. Furthermore, I contend that the language of the law, as it taxonomizes and disciplines illicit desires, also expresses desire through its passionate figurations of childhood innocence and adult sexual morality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-272
Number of pages22
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2019


  • Desire
  • Dissenting opinion
  • Legal rhetoric
  • US v Williams
  • Virtual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education


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