What's behind child sex panics? The Bill Henson scandal

Steven Angelides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When a nation-wide scandal erupted over Australian artist Bill Henson’s exhibition incorporating photographs of teenage nudes, public debate centered on the following kinds of questions. Are the images art or pornography? Are the ‘child’ models sexualized? Can the public circulation of the images result in a potentially harmful exploitation of childhood ‘innocence’? Can child models consent to being photographed nude? Rather than adjudicate these debates, this article interrogates that which they evade. It argues that the overt concern about protecting children from sexualization, exploitation, and abuse has been masking and obscuring a latent and equally (if not often more) palpable anxiety that Western societies are having extreme difficulty grappling with, let alone adequately acknowledging at this historical juncture: children’s agentive sexual subjectivities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-125
Number of pages24
JournalLambda Nordica
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Bill Henson
  • teenage nudes
  • photography
  • harmful images of children
  • exploitation of childhood innocence
  • children’s protection
  • moral panic
  • children's sexual subjectivity


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