If someone looked at pornography involving minors, does he have to go to jail?

Last updated on October 6, 2020


Hello Minister,

I’m a 16 year old Christian. I was asked a question by a friend at school. He asked that if another teenager watched porn of another underage teen (which is a crime) and they asked God for forgiveness. Would God forgive them if they didn’t go to jail? I don’t really know how to answer his question. Also, can you provide some verses?



Pornography is a sin because it creates a lust for committing sexual sins in the viewer. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5). Thus, from God’s point of view, looking at all pornography is wrong, not just pornography of underaged participants.

Pornography involving people who are underage adds an extra layer of sin. It is acknowledged by the world that children are innocent and should be protected from the sinful actions of others. To involve a child in sexual sins (and record it), is particularly wrong. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Viewing pornography involving minors is an indirect form of encouraging others to act sinfully.

It is too complex to determine if a child has physically and mentally matured enough to make well-reasoned decisions about sinning or not, so the government’s laws are based on age. It doesn’t matter if the underaged person did whatever he or she did willingly, it is declared wrong by law (or statute). What lawmakers are particularly concerned about is an older person manipulating a younger person into doing sexual acts. Let’s say that the government decides that someone under the age of sixteen cannot give consent to sexual acts. If a person over sixteen talks someone under sixteen to do sexual acts, then that becomes a statutory rape. It doesn’t matter if it was willing or not. By statute (law), it is regarded as rape. Recording such a statutory rape also becomes a crime, along with distributing it.

“If an adult takes a sexually explicit picture of a minor and shares it via social media or text message, that adult will likely have run afoul of some child pornography laws. But what about a minor who takes selfies and sends them discreetly to another teen? What if the receiver then forwards the photos to others? Have they violated any laws? In many states, the answer is yes.

Though their laws were created to protect minors from exploitation caused by others, states are prosecuting minors under child pornography statutes for sending nude or otherwise lurid self-portraits, even when the minors sent the selfies without coercion. The common quirk in the laws is that there is no exception for taking or distributing sexually explicit pictures of oneself. Thus, a high school student sending a racy seflie to a boyfriend or girlfriend could subject both themselves and the receiver to prosecution for child pornography. If the picture makes its way around other social circles through online or direct sharing, anyone who received or distributed the photo could also find themselves open to charges.” [“Child Pornography and Selfies: What You Need to Know”, FindLaw.com, 2016].

The purpose of punishment is to stop people from committing crimes. One law many countries have is one that says a person cannot be forced to admit to his own crimes. It has to be proven by the prosecutors of a crime. Thus, when a person something wrong, there is no requirement in civil courts for the person to turn himself in.

From God’s point of view, the goal is to rescue people out of sin. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). The truth is that those involved have already been “turned in” and convicted of sins by the highest court in the universe. What God asks is for people to admit they had done wrong. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). And they have to make major changes in their life. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter” (II Corinthians 7:10-11). The change is so radical that people who meet you later would never guess that you used to be involved in those sins.

If sin caused you to profit from it, such as stealing, or if it caused harm to other people that you know, then a part of repentance is an attempt to undo the damage that you caused. In this case, proper repentance would include erasing all pictures or videos and blocking the source of these pictures. If it was a picture of someone you know and they are aware that you have the picture, then tell them it was destroyed and that you are sorry that you looked at it.

Turning yourself in is an attempt to punish yourself, which is not right. If a person was caught with pornography, the proper thing to do is admit his guilt and accept whatever punishment the court gives. But when that doesn’t happen, the proper thing to do is change yourself and attempt to fix the problem.