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Possession of loli is illegal under federal law if two conditions are met:
First, the anime depiction of an underage person is obscene or lacking serious value.
Second, the anime was either transmitted through the mail, internet or common carrier; was transported across state lines; or there are indications that the possessor intends to distribute or sell it.1
Otherwise, simple possession of loli is not illegal under federal law. But if a person possesses a large amount of loli, prosecutors will likely infer that he/she intends to sell or distribute it. And unless the defendant created the loli images him/herself, prosecutors may have an easy time proving that the defendant received the loli over the internet or through the mail.
What is loli anime?
Loli is Japanese manga or anime that is sexually explicit and involves cartoon characters that are underage. It is a form of hentai, which is a genre of Japanese manga that focuses on sexualized characters and plots.
Loli depicting underage girls is known as lolicon. The word comes from Vladimir Nabokov’s book, Lolita, in which an adult man is sexually attracted to a girl who is 12 years old. When loli depicts underage boys, it is known as shotacon.
In Japan, loli is widespread. However, its legality has been controversial and attempts to regulate it have increased since the 1990s.
Are loli materials considered child pornography outside Japan?
Different states and countries have taken drastically different approaches towards loli materials and manga. Some criminalize it as pedophilia. Others do not want to infringe on freedom of expression.
In the United States, federal law forbids the possession of child pornography. After the passage of Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today, also known as the PROTECT Act of 2003, child pornography includes any obscene images that appear to depict an identifiable minor.2
The PROTECT Act was passed in the aftermath of a Supreme Court case that had held that completely virtual child pornography was protected free speech under the First Amendment, so long as it was not obscene.3 A key component of this ruling was that, because the pornography was not a visual depiction of an actual child, it was a victimless crime.
After this case, Congress passed the PROTECT Act to prohibit virtual child pornography that was obscene and that was transmitted through a common carrier, transported across state lines, or of an amount that indicates an intent to distribute.
Court cases and other countries
At least one person has been charged in the U.S. with possessing pornographic material transported in interstate commerce under the PROTECT Act. In 2008, Christopher Handley pled guilty to obscenity and child porn charges after buying a comic book featuring pornographic manga.4 He was sentenced to 6 months in jail, but was not required to register as a sex offender. He had been facing up to 15 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.5
Some countries, like the United Kingdom, have obscenity laws that make it a crime to possess pornographic images of children under 18, even if they are not photographs or do not depict real children.6
In other countries, like Germany, fictional depictions of sexual acts involving children are not criminal. Because such material is not real life and does not depict real people or actual minors engaging in explicit conduct, it is protected by freedom of speech laws.
California law does not explicitly prohibit loli involving underage characters having sex.
What is the law in California?
Child pornography laws in California do not explicitly cover loli or manga depicting minors engaging in sexual activity. California statutes prohibit the possession of child pornography. Child porn includes material that “depicts a person under the age of 18 years personally engaging in or simulating sexual conduct.”7
The California Court of Appeals has ruled that this means there has to be a “real child” in the depiction.8 This means that anime and cartoon depictions of children engaging in sexual acts would not break the law.
18 USC 1466A. Note that according to a plain reading of the statute, that simple possession of virtual child pornography seems to be illegal if committed in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or in any territory or possession of the United States – even without proof of it being transported across state lines, transmitted through a common carrier, or in an amount indicated an intent to distribute.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.