Dost test

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The Dost test is a six-factor guideline established in the case United States v. Dost in 1986. The case involved 22 nude or semi-nude photographs of females aged 10–14 years old. The undeveloped film containing the images was mailed to a photo processing company in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.[1]



In order to better determine whether a visual depiction of a minor constitutes a "lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area" under 18 U.S.C. § 2256(2)(A), the court developed six criteria. Not all of the criteria need to be met, nor are other criteria necessarily excluded in this test.[1][2]

  1. Whether the focal point of the visual depiction is on the child's genitalia or pubic area.
  2. Whether the setting of the visual depiction is sexually suggestive, i.e., in a place or pose generally associated with sexual activity.
  3. Whether the child is depicted in an unnatural pose, or in inappropriate attire, considering the age of the child.
  4. Whether the child is fully or partially clothed, or nude.
  5. Whether the visual depiction suggests sexual coyness or a willingness to engage in sexual activity.
  6. Whether the visual depiction is intended or designed to elicit a sexual response in the viewer.

Case law

Concerning the lascivious display of clothed genitalia, the Department of Justice described use of the Dost test in child pornography and 2257 documentation regulations in a 2008 rule, writing that the precedent United States v. Knox, 32 F.3d 733 (3d Cir. 1994) did not prohibit ordinary swim team or underwear model photographs, but "although the genitals were clothed in that case, they were covered by thin, opaque clothing with an obvious purpose to draw attention to them, were displayed by models who spread or extended their legs to make the pubic and genital region entirely visible to the viewer, and were displayed by models who danced or gyrated in a way indicative of adult sexual relations."[3]

Briefs submitted in late 2009 for Brabson v. Florida, a case in which girls were secretly videotaped during the "innocent conduct" of changing into swimwear, differ concerning the nature of "intent" in the Dost test. At issue is whether "Cases applying Dost hold that the focus in determining whether an image is lascivious should be on the objective criteria of the [image's] design, not the 'actual effect' of the images on a particular defendant."[4][5]


The test was criticized by NYU Law professor Amy Adler as forcing members of the public to look at pictures of children as a pedophile would in order to determine whether they are considered inappropriate. "As everything becomes child pornography in the eyes of the law—clothed children, coy children, children in settings where children are found—perhaps children themselves become pornographic."[6]

See also