The effect of child sexual exploitation images collection size on offender sentencing

Francis Fortin*, Sarah Paquette, Chloé Leclerc

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although image analysis techniques are improving, classifying images collected from the hard drives of individuals consuming Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM) is both time-consuming and costly. Police organizations offer two main motives for the systematic analysis of these images: 1) to identify victims of sexual abuse and 2) to determine the number of illegal images as large numbers of such images lead to longer prison sentences. This study examines the assumption behind the second motive by analyzing connections between the number of images and the sentences imposed by Quebec courts. Results of quantitative analysis show that sentence length is most affected by the offender’s criminal history or present activity and that for the majority of cases the number of images in the collection has no impact on the prison term. Results of qualitative analysis of judges’ written decisions in cases of accusation of possession of CSEM show that they emphasize three aspects: 1) the size of the collection, 2) the time spent managing the collection, which is seen as a measure of deviance and motivation, and 3) the nature of the images. The current study offers a better understanding of the factors that affect decisions in CSEM cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-348
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Review of Law, Computers and Technology
Issue number3
Early online date6 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • child sexual exploitation material
  • forensic
  • image analysis
  • sentencing

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