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April 27, 2013

"Passive Pedophiles: Are child porn viewers less dangerous than we thought?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary by Emily Bazelon at Slate. Here are excerpts:

Making child pornography is abuse.  What about possessing it? As a group, these offenders — the ones who look but don’t abuse children to create new images — are serving increasingly long prison sentences. In 2004, the average sentence for possessing child pornography was about 4 ½ years. In 2010, it was almost eight years.  Child sex offenders may also be kept in prison beyond their release dates through “civil commitment” if the state deems that they’ll have “serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.”

It’s hard to feel concern for people (mostly men) who prowl the Internet for sexually abusive images of children, some of whom are very young.  Their crimes aren’t “victimless,” as defense lawyers sometimes argue.  These men create the market for new images.  They are the demand behind the supply.  I’ve written about how hard it is for women who were abused and photographed as girls to know that men are still viewing, and taking pleasure in, the record of their suffering — and about the victims’ efforts to win restitution from these men.

But the main reason Congress has upped the penalties for men who possess child pornography is the deep-seated belief that many of them physically abuse children and that they are highly likely to keep doing so because they can’t stop themselves.  Is that true? I’ve heard it so many times it’s hard to think otherwise.  Yet that premise is contested in a new 468-page report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (the body Congress established to advise it about federal sentencing law).  The commission did its own research.  It says the federal sentencing scheme for child pornography offenses is out of date and argues that this leads to penalties that “are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders.”...

This isn’t an easy subject.  Punishments for sex offenders move only in one direction in this country — they get harsher.  But the Sentencing Commission’s critique should get a serious hearing.  Prison comes with a cost for taxpayers as well as the people it incarcerates.  And if there’s increasing hope for effective treatment, as the commission suggests, investing in it could save kids....

Maybe men convicted of possessing child pornography probably reoffend more than the researchers can measure because they don’t tell.  Surely they commit more new crimes than the number they get arrested for, as the commission is careful to say.  The question is how many more.  Do they really pose a different risk in this regard than other criminals do?  The Justice Department “takes issue” with the commission’s conclusions about recidivism and the link between viewing pornography of children and molesting them. These questions won’t be resolved any time soon.  In the meantime, Congress could fix the aspects of child pornography sentencing that both DOJ and the Sentencing Commission see as broken.

April 27, 2013 at 04:11 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I don't know why Bazelon doesn't bother reading the Wikipedia summary of the research, as an 8th grader might start a project.

She would find multinational studies showing a decrease in the sexual abuse of real children after the legalization of child porn.

She would learn, the laws themselves subsidize the production of child porn by keeping prices high, making child porn more profitable.

This federal subsidy of the production is compounded by the government's subscriptions to these cites, providing production financing.

The evidence of this reverse effect, of worsening child abuse of real children? More reports of child sexual abuse (perhaps an artifact of more reporting). The explosive growth of the number of child porn sites to over 4 million.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 27, 2013 4:47:01 PM

Its hard to get past the ignorant title of the article.

Posted by: Brian G. | Apr 27, 2013 7:43:31 PM

"But the main reason Congress has upped the penalties for men who possess child pornography is the deep-seated belief that many of them physically abuse children and that they are highly likely to keep doing so because they can’t stop themselves."

That is simply wrong. The number one reason Congress has upped the ante is because "These men create the market for new images. They are the demand behind the supply." Has the lady even bothered to read the Congressional testimony??

So here is the deal. She doesn't want to admit she was wrong. So she invents a straw man and attacks that instead. There is no one who has ever seriously believed that what Emily claims they have believed.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 27, 2013 9:01:38 PM

I think the main reason Congress has increased the penalties has nothing to do with fear of contact offenses. It has to do with an extreme disgust with this group. If God told guaranteed to Congress that he would allow no CP viewer to commit a contact offense, it would not decrease the penalty in one ounce.

Nor do I think that Congress is really doing this to decrease the "market" for CP. There is little evidence that it does, in part because this is not any ordinary market. Most of the CP out there is decades old (Misty, Vicky), and is re-traded over and over (and mostly in passive format, by making them freely available from one's file-sharing account). The vast majority of CP viewers obtain CP that is freely available and for nothing in return.

Congress has the right to increase penalties because it finds a particular person or crime detestable, and I won't address the merits of that view. But this nonsense about markets or fear of contact offenses has little to do with Congress's views.

Posted by: Subethis | Apr 28, 2013 4:12:34 AM

The thing I don't understand about the "demand" argument is that, increasingly, the men being prosecuted are downloading the images (and then passively uploading them, because of how file-sharing programs work) via free torrents.

The music and film industries have argued that people accessing and sharing their products that way costs their industries lots of money and harms the market by killing demand, and have justified massive fines on people based on that reasoning.

How is it that downloading things for free via file-sharing programs will kill the film and music industries, but keeps the child porn industry (if such a thing even exists) alive?

I think it goes beyond disgust, and toward the government wanting to justify domestic surveillance of the internet. Child pornography in particular, and the idea that the internet is swarming with sexual predators in general, is a way to do that. People charged with internet-based sex offenses are usually facing far more serious charges than they'd face if they'd have committed the same offense in real life, against an actual person. The guy in his 20s who has sexually explicit chats with an undercover officer pretending to be a 15 year old in an adult chat room is charged with a more serious felony than a guy in his 30s who meets a real-life 15 year old at the mall and has sex with her. The man who downloads free images of naked teens faces more time in prison than the man who molests a prepubescent child. I'd say that what really motivates these sorts of counterintuitive (and counterfactual) policies is a desire to control and monitor the internet.

Posted by: Lori | Apr 28, 2013 9:36:21 AM

LOL BINGO!

We have a WINNER!

"I think it goes beyond disgust, and toward the government wanting to justify domestic surveillance of the internet"

this is what it all boils down too!

The excuse of "it's to save the children" has allowed the few rights we have left to be stripped.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 28, 2013 11:02:30 AM

Erika: Lori makes excellent points. I would add, feminists are on a witch hunt for the productive male, to take his assets.

Do you have a reply to Lori, about those icky people?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 28, 2013 12:00:23 PM

Subethis.

Congress did pass various bill regulating child pornography precisely because they bought the "market argument". This doesn't make it a good argument; I agree that it is a bad argument. But as a matter of historical fact the elimination of the market for child porn was one of the major reasons Congress gave for passing the bills. The major reason Congress did this, which many people fail to understand, is that actual physical abuse of children is a state and not a federal crime. Thus the only way to defend the intrusion of the federal government into the arena of child sexual abuse is via the Commerce clause. The government is regulating the "market" for porn. If there is no interstate market then then there is no basis for federal regulation.

This is why Lori is wrong to use the word "increasingly". It has always been the case that most people prosecuted for this crime have utilized peer to peer file sharing networks. Because if they were not it would be, in most cases, a state crime and not a federal one.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 28, 2013 3:08:50 PM

Daniel,
I don't know what makes it a federal crime or a state crime in most cases but in my husband's case it was federal because 1) the image was sent from another state and 2) the components of the computer itself were assembled either in another state or country.

Isn't it odd that the same congress who passed these bills is the same congress composed of men who solicit sex from strangers in the bathrooms of airports and send pictures of their underwear to strangers via twitter?

Posted by: Obvious | Apr 28, 2013 5:13:02 PM

Actually Daniel according to the numbers i've seen over the years. If the govt and congress really really wanted to control the CP market and stop a big part of it. All they really have to do is pick up a phone and order the head of the FBI to show up.

Then order him to pull it. as a majority of it on the web is there as bait from the FBI

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 28, 2013 8:10:20 PM

Daniel,

You raise an interesting point about federalism and federal CP legislation. Thanks for that.

Perhaps I spoke too broadly. Some legislation is given the market rationale (and I appreciate your agreement that it is generally a bad argument, given the way the CP market works). But, to my knowledge, some legislation is given no rationale. Some is just appended to other legislation, without any record explanation. This latter category is especially troubling to me.

Posted by: Subethis | Apr 29, 2013 1:47:28 AM

Lori, the flaw in your reasoning is that you take the RIAA and the MPAA's word for it and ignore their actions.

There is no contradiction - the music and film industries are lying about downloading harming their industries. Most artists will tell you that their main - and often only - objection to illegal downloading is not due to harming their market share - but instead due to the lack of quality control. Much illegal downloading is by dedicated fans of a group who already buy all of their official releases and go to their shows but want more. Those downloaders want everything they can get from an artist even if it is a low quality bootleg recording.

The fact that most music labels, musicians, and studios have for the past decade released tracks (or trailers) on the internet for free as a promotion tool suggests that far from hurting the market the music industry is aware that free material does in fact built a market. Just remember that the music industry used[?] to pay radio stations to get their music played on the radio - quite simply, people aren't going to buy music they can't hear. The main objection that the major labels/studios have to internet downloading is that it removes their monolopy on access to the public's eyes and ears.

Erika :)

Posted by: Erika | Apr 29, 2013 9:39:38 AM

So many guys in prison because someone's adult porn sharefile also contained child porn. They weren't techno savy enough to understand that all of it gets downloaded to their computer, want it or not. Why is it that all of the videos we hear about with certain girls names seem to be the ones that everyone is being thrown in prison because of? If Child Task Forces are so concerned they would have come up with a way to remove these particular videos from the internet by now. Perhaps it is their "bait", fishing for the little fish in hopes it will lead to the big fish. We all know that you're supposed to throw the little ones back, not put them in prison. Just because someone viewed CP one time, should they be in prison for 5-10 years? No, but that's exactly what's happening. Guys who have never been in any kind of trouble, never had any interest in CP, make one mistake and end up in prison with child rapists and murderers. Alot of these guys have no more interest in sex with kids than you or I, they eiter mistakenly downloaded stuff, or they were curious and looked. That's all. They never solicited anyone, chatted with anyone, had physical contact with anyone, nothing. Time for Congress to get on the ball, review all the findings from the USSC and make the appropriate changes to sentencing guidelines, and make them retroactive for those already incarcerated. Peoples lives are being ruined forever by this insanity. And it's also time to stop ordering restitution, funny how people who find the whole issue so disgusting and damaging seem to have no issue with making lots and lots of money off of it.

Posted by: kat | Apr 29, 2013 9:55:47 AM

Sadly Kat it's pretty much reached the point in this country that the only way this criminal stupidity will stop is when enough citizens get fed up and hold a pistol up the nose of those chickens on the USSC and probalby get finished hanging on a lampost most of the Congress.

MAYBE!

Unfortunately i think the dumbing down of america via the public school system has been a smashing success. I think even if that happened the retarded sheeple of this country will still continue on thier present course no matter what.

once we hit the bottom of the cliff we fell off about 60 years ago and go BOOM!

Then we can work on rebuilding in the new smaller multiple states that will be the result

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 29, 2013 2:18:38 PM

Just on Bazelon's claim that "Punishments for sex offenders move only in one direction in this country — they get harsher." This is untrue without some specification as to time frame. Consider, to take one fairly obvious example, Coker v. Georgia. Or the fact that President Carter didn't take too much of a negative PR hit for giving a presidential pardon to a PBS-favorite show biz celebrity who'd been convicted of taking "indecent liberties" (as they used to say) with an underage girl. Now, maybe the trend has been all in the other direction since the hazy lazy crazy days of the late 1970's (and even then one can perhaps see the first swing of the pendulum in Roman Polanski jumping bail and fleeing the country), but that's not a phenomenon unique to sentencing for sex offenses. And my impression is that criminal prosecutions (and thus associated sentencing exposure) of people involved in the non-child side of the pornography business have become rarer and rarer over the same run of decades, with some suggestions that the Ashcroft-era DOJ might try to heighten enforcement in that area turning into a PR debacle that didn't lead to all that much in practice.

Posted by: JWB | Apr 29, 2013 2:35:32 PM

The market argument was valid when these laws were passed.....in 1976. Back then there was no internet and producing and duplicating videos and photographs required special equipment so the majority of material was produced and distributed for profit among close-knit groups. Nowadays, as the Internet Watch Foundation (UK's NCMEC) states, the majority of material is distributed anonymously by peer-to-peer networks with no pecuniary exchange. They're actually concerned due to the lack of traceable payments and organized groups.

They also state that 25% of the pornography on the internet is of children. I'm actually concerned that lawmakers can look at something that 25% of the population does on a regular basis and consider it a societal evil.

Posted by: NickS | Apr 29, 2013 2:45:11 PM

Feminism is to 2013 what the KKK was to 1913, a lawyer founded and manged movement to take the assets of productive males. That theory explains all anomalous results described above. The business model is that of the Inquisition. An infinity of rules for everyone to violate. Then plea bargains to enrich the lawyer profession. Does anyone really think those fabulous Vatican buildings were constructed from plate collections? They were financied by this great business model. it lasted 700 years. I tended witht the beheading or expulsion of 10,000 church officials by the French patriots. Sex rape. No one may peer at the female form of the Virgin Empress without getting boiled alive. It is worth $millions. All false pretexts to plunder the productive male's assets.

That is why I propose the arrest of the entire lawyer hierarchy, an hour's fair trial where only their legal utterances would be presented, then summary executions. Get rid of this pestilence. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 29, 2013 5:35:44 PM

1 thing that suprizes me, is that those of law, can Possess, view it, an distribute it also online as well as reproduce it.
then they charge others who don't wear their badge.
What if The Real Child Sex Predators are actually those who carry the Badge, an the others are used to cover up for their crimes.

Posted by: Anonymous613 | May 24, 2013 6:34:27 AM

After reading the following article, I am amazed at the sentences given to people that "look" at pictures on the internet. My 33 year old son is in jail and facing 3 yrs in prison for doing just that. I don't condone what he has done however, I feel that the time given is excessive. About 4 years ago, a woman had been to a party the night before and at 5:00am the next day crashed into my daughter-in-law's vehicle and killed her and my grand son. She was given 10 years in prison with the possibility of parole in 5 years. Another inmate at the facility where my son is was convicted of statutory rape and given 6 months in prison.

Where do they draw the line? How do they decide which crime constitutes time given? It would seem to me that involuntary manslaughter should carry a much harsher sentence than CP. It seems to depend on whether or not the judge in the case slept badly the night before or maybe his breakfast was what he wanted that morning. In the following article it states that "the CHILD was older than her chronological age" ????

According to the exploitation of children laws, a child is anyone under 15. Is there a difference between a chronologically older 15 year old and a normal 15 year old? Both have been in this world 15 years. What if some of the younger children in CP are chronologically older than they appear? Does that make a difference when you are "looking" at them? If the "child" is 13 years old but "chronologically" 15 years old, does that still constitute CP?

I am not a student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc., just a mother of a man who made a mistake and is going to pay for it the rest of his life and try to raise his only living son (after the car accident that killed his wife and oldest son) in some sort of normal capacity carrying with him a federal criminal record and attempting to gain employment to support that child. I wonder, do the people that carry out these sentences "think" that they have never made any mistakes and if they did, how much did they have to endure to pay for them or are they perfect in every way?

Judge Stands by 30-Day Sentence for Convicted Rapist: A Montana judge is standing by his decision to sentence a former teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student to only 30 days behind bars. The Associated Press reports that Stacey Rambold was sentenced to 15 years, but will only spend 30 days in jail after the judge suspended the rest of the sentence. During the sentencing hearing the judge mentioned that the victim, who committed suicide before the trial began, was "older than her chronological age" and was in control of the situation she engaged in with Rambold.

Posted by: Cathy | Sep 3, 2013 6:59:54 PM

I wish someone with balls of steel could address this situation to Congress because apparently people in Congress think they are philosophers, psychologists, and statisticians. The basis for the possession aspect of the law are: people who acquire it will move on to abuse a child in real life, every time the images is viewed the child is "revictimized" (note this is not even a real word), and the consumption of such images fuels the industry. All of these "truths" are baseless and mythical.

Firstly, everyone arrested on child pornography has abused a child prior, thus correlation does not imply causation.

Secondly, if viewing an images were to victimize the child in that same instance then is law enforcement not hurting the child as well? why are they pardoned for their viewing while everyone else is not? why the double standard?

Thirdly, most of the pictures or videos are found on Kazaa, FrostWire, Ares, etc. and I bet they are all duplicates that have been circulating for decades.

It would be more appropriate to fix the law to prosecute those who possess WITH the intent to distribute or production, but possession itself should not be a crime. After all these images will be on the Internet for eternity and even the DoJ acknowledges this on their website (justice.gov). Arresting everyone under possession and distribution from peer-to-peer sources is shooting fish in a barrel as well as enlarging an image (which can be construed as downloading) on a website.

On top of all this that person will get a life sentence on the SOR for a non-contact offense. My question is how is possession of child pornography a sex crime? when no sexual contact has occurred? or the suspect has had no contact with the victim or any other child for that matter? Out of all the other criteria for the SOR child pornography possession is the only one that sticks out.

Posted by: Rudabin | Nov 30, 2013 9:07:52 PM

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