Debating Sentencing for Child Porn? Really?

I ran across a USA Today article about how people who are in possession of child pornography are being handed harsher sentences than people who sexually abuse/rape children. Being debated is whether or not the punishments are too severe. Here’s a bit from the article:

In a recent article for the journal of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and former federal prosecutor Linda Dale Hoffa criticized the approach by Congress.

“The fact that child pornography offenders can be given longer sentences than child abusers or violent offenders reflects a lack of care by Congress,” Specter and Hoffa wrote. “In the rush to prove itself hostile to individuals who possess or distribute child pornography, Congress has obscured the real distinctions between different offenders.”

Hoffa doubts Congress will be eager to ease the guidelines.

“If you vote against these harsher penalties, the sound bite is that you’re protecting child pornographers, and that could be the end of somebody’s career,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s a political radioactive hot potato.”

Why is it that any time we start talking about child sex abuse cases and child porn the question of ruining someone’s life or career always comes up? Anybody ever consider the children and their lives? Just curious…

More from USA Today:

As opposed to focusing on the quantity of images collected by an offender, the experts said revised guidelines could take into account the length of time the offender has been involved with child porn, the degree of sophistication of measures taken to avoid detection, and the extent to which the offender communicates as part of a network.

One such network, called Dreamboard, was unraveled by investigators last year. In all, 72 people were charged with participating in an international, members-only Internet club created to trade tens of thousands of images and videos of sexually abused children.

There’s one point of agreement in the sentencing debate: All parties agree that penalties should remain severe — or be toughened — for those who produce and promote child pornography.

I couldn’t agree more that penalties should be severe for producers/promoters of child pornography. I also happen to think possession should carry stiff sentences, regardless of how often it was viewed/downloaded or the person’s history.

It’s true that in the earlier days of the internet, you could click on something that looked like an ad or a link to an article and wind up with a pornographic image sitting in front of you. About fifteen years ago my husband and I got a call from an eighty-year-old preacher because he suddenly found himself confronted with some pretty raunchy stuff and he had no idea how it happened or how to get rid of it. All he knew was that he had gotten an email from someone he didn’t know and when he clicked “remove my name from mailing list” at the bottom it sent him to really nasty porn. The worst part was that it was one of those websites that would insert a tiny piece of HTML code that removed any viable means of leaving the website without completely shutting down your computer. My husband got him back up and running (minus porn), with a warning not to click on those kinds of links because, in reality, they were just verifying your email address to start filling your inbox with more of the same. But that was back in the mid-90s.

Here’s how you access internet porn these days: you either Google it or you’re one of those “in the know” people who frequents the underground child porn world either in members-only clubs or on websites that use an anonymous network routing service that hides a browser’s location, making it difficult to track users of child porn sites. Getting it via spam email isn’t as common anymore, either. Most email systems have spam filters in place, and the CAN-SPAM Act clearly outlines what is and isn’t legal to send through email, as well as the penalties for each violation (up to $16k, if you’re wondering). The act hasn’t completely eradicated spam, but I think it’s safe to say that even when spam does slip through filters and wind up in your regular inbox, it’s pretty obvious that’s exactly what it is. We’ve all learned in this golden age of the world wide web that you don’t open messages from someone you don’t know, and we all know how to recognize when something is a potential virus based on the message or subject line and the number of people to whom it was sent. So I don’t buy into the I didn’t know what it was when I clicked on it excuse. These people either requested it, or they got some kind of thrill from opening something they knew they shouldn’t have. In other words, they knew what they were potentially getting themselves into, and I don’t pity them one damn bit.

I also have no sympathy for the but the website said she was 18 folks. Those are sites that advertise women as “barely legal” or “just 18”. Although these sites require users to verify they are eighteen and claim the women are also, the words used to draw people to their websites are “young”, “barely legal”, “only 18”, etc. Users of those sites know exactly what they’re looking for when they click through.

Here’s the thing about child pornography: anyone who thinks looking at a child being sexually abused isn’t hurting the child because you aren’t the one abusing him or her, or because the child doesn’t know it’s happening is dead wrong. Every click on a pornographic image is validation to the individual posting it that there is a market for it, to go ahead and keep abusing children and filming it and posting it on the internet. I don’t know why that’s so hard for people to understand. Economics 101. Supply & Demand. Simple.

Child porn does revictimize children again and again. They are sexually abused for new pictures or videos. When the person creating the images is done with those kids, he finds new ones to abuse. Victims of sex trafficking will often find themselves dolled up and forced to pose for pictures that are used for ads, as well as for pornographic websites, before they are sent to work. And yes, looking at a picture rather than the real thing is abuse. if you use a child for your own sexual gratification, you are sexually abusing that child. Doesn’t matter if it’s in person or not.

My biggest problem with this whole idea of inequity in sentencing is not that viewers of child pornography are getting harsh sentences. In this day and age, they know exactly what you’re getting themselves into. It’s the idea that the sentences should be reduced to match the next-to-nothing sentences handed down to sex offenders. The sex offenders should be getting harsher sentences. A year or two or even three does nothing to match what a child victim of sexual abuse faces down the road. Allowing a sex offender to plea down to a few months because the child got a single detail wrong is a travesty.

I think I’m just really sick of hearing so much about the rights of the accused and so little about the children who have been changed and will forever be affected by what was done to them.

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