By Senator Brad Hutto, Chair of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children

Senator Hutto

Senator Brad Hutto

New threats to children’s safety and well-being emerge every day, particularly online where the line between reality and fiction is rapidly disappearing. The Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children is committed to addressing two specific threats to South Carolina children – morphed pornography of identifiable children and AI-generated child sexual abuse material – neither of which is explicitly covered by state law.

Morphed pornography of identifiable children (MPIC)

Morphed pornography is when a child’s image, often pulled from social media, is morphed into a pornographic image making it appear as if the child is engaged in sexual activity. It can be very difficult to distinguish the morphed images from reality due to the proliferation of apps and other software that make face swapping easy and produce high-quality images. The Attorney General’s office shared with the Committee that the use of morphed images is on the rise in our state.

A South Carolina family raised this issue to the Committee after the family’s young children had their images taken from social media and “morphed” onto pornographic images by someone in another part of South Carolina. These children were clearly identifiable in the images, and the altered images make it appear as if the children are engaged in sexual activity. The family was told this is not a crime under state law, so state and local law enforcement could not do anything for them. While it is a federal crime, the exponential growth in these types of cases means the federal government does not investigate or prosecute all cases.

The Committee on Children filed S.995 and H.4973, which would amend our state’s sexual exploitation of a minor laws to include morphed pornography of identifiable minors and add these offenders to the sex offender registry. The bills make these images a state offense that can be investigated by local law enforcement and SLED and prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office and solicitors.

Obscene visual representations of child sexual abuse

We have all heard about the potential for use and abuse of Artificial Intelligence or AI. Unfortunately, advancements in technology are being used to create virtual child pornography. Unlike MPIC, where a child is identifiable, these images of child sex abuse material are being created either partially or entirely by AI. While the images contain partially or fully virtual minors, these are not victimless crimes. Many of the images are created from actual child sexual abuse material. They also encourage users to look for similar content or progress to child pornography involving actual children or to abuse actual children. Like morphed images, child sexual abuse material using AI-generated images has increased exponentially in recent years, and creators and users are constantly changing their methods to stay ahead of the law. Obscene images are also being used in anime and other publications depicting child sexual abuse.

The Committee introduced S.996 and H.4972, which create the offense of Obscene Visual Representations of Child Sexual Abuse, which would cover cases where the minor depicted in obscene materials has been partially or fully computer generated or cannot be confirmed to actually exist. They also allow law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the creation, distribution, or possession of materials containing obscene child sexual abuse material, such as anime. The bills also add this offense to the sex offender registry.

The Committee and I would like to thank the brave family that shared their experience with us. We aim to prevent other families from going through this traumatic experience. We also appreciate the Attorney General’s leadership on this issue at the national level and the Internet Crimes Against Children unit for educating the Committee on these threats to our children and working closely with us to develop the bill language.

These bills provide the flexibility the Attorney General’s office, solicitors and law enforcement need to investigate and prosecute morphed images and obscene images of child sexual abuse currently and in the future. We look forward to working with the General Assembly and the Governor to prioritize children’s safety. South Carolina’s laws must be updated and enhanced to remain effective in prosecuting those who place children in jeopardy.

Senator Brad Hutto is the chair of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, which is comprised of legislators, Governor-appointed citizens and agency directors. It’s charged with identifying, studying and making recommendations on children’s issues to the Governor and General Assembly. The Committee is the only legislative committee that comprehensively reviews children’s issues and coordinates legislative efforts to address them.