Sunday, April 30, 2017

Is porn a public health issue?

Several states have passed resolutions proclaiming pornography a public health crisis. Adult porn, not child. 
The Arkansas General Assembly has declared that "pornography has created a public health crisis," leading to a broad "spectrum" of public health "impacts and societal harms." The Assembly also stated that pornography can increase "the demand for prostitution and the sex trafficking and slavery of children and young adults, primarily girls." 
The Resolution, HR 1042, is an official recognition by the Arkansas government. It is not a law. It reflects the official view of the legislature and a copy of the Resolution is sent to the director of the Department of Health in Arkansas. Similar resolutuions [sic] have passed in South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia, and in the State Senate in Tennessee. The Arkansas resolution passed the Assembly on March 28. 
It's only an official recognition...it isn't a law, but how does government respond to a public health crisis?

One idea is a porn tax. David Oliver writes in US News and World Report:
It's called the Human Trafficking Prevention Act and it proposes a tax on porn – and lawmakers from approximately a dozen states are mulling it over. 
If passed, consumers would have to pay a single $20 tax to access pornography on any new computer or phone. States like South Carolina, Georgia and Texas are looking into variants of the bill, while North Dakota and Wyoming, for instance, have squashed it.
Advocates contend porn is a public health issue. In their minds, taxing it could help curb sex trafficking, for example. According to the act's website,"The temptation to hire a prostitute to deal with one’s emotional challenges will be reduced tremendously by this act."
Porn causes plenty of trouble, no doubt, but not for everyone. Vices are not universally addictive.

What would a porn tax do? Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason.com explains:
A cabal of legislative cheerleaders from Alabama to Wyoming has embraced the idea that we should require manufacturers of computers, tablets, iphones, smart TVs, and the like to equip devices with the anti-porn filters and require consumers to pay to remove the filters from their devices. South Carolina state Rep. Mike Burns, who co-sponsored one bill in his state, told the Beast that they "do not want more taxes. Period. But we are trying to make a statement, and $20 ain't gonna kill anybody." 
But of course it's not only monetary costs to consumers that are are a concern. The porn-filter proposal would also impose costs on product makers, and even steeper costs on U.S. civil liberties. "The way it's written, it would cover your router. It would cover your modem," said Electronic Frontier Foundation researcher Dave Maass. "Plus, now Best Buy is sitting on a database of people who wanted their porn filters removed." 
And then there's question of how the filters would decide what is and isn't porn—content filters designed to catch explicit content have historically been harsh on all sorts of sexuality-related content, from educational websites to news to art. 
Conservative lawmakers seem to support anti-porn proposals like this one because they please certain segments of their electoral base, give people easy fodder against lawmakers who vote in opposition (how does it look at a glance to be against the Human Trafficking Prevention Act?), and aren't generally a political dealbreaker for those who oppose the plans. The porn-filter laws might irk some or seem silly, but like Rep. Burns said, "$20 ain't gonna kill anybody." 
This justification might make sense if the idea was simply a tax on porn consumers. But the porn-filter bill is explicitly packaged as a response to porn being a "public health hazard" and "cancer on society" that "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment" in America, normalizes violence against women and children, "portrays rape and abuse as if such acts are harmless," promotes "problematic or harmful sexual behaviors," and "increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography." 
If Republican lawmakers really believe that online pornography is a public health crisis that directly contributes to human trafficking, isn't $20 to access an unlimited quantity of it a bit low? Why shouldn't such a scourge just be banned entirely? [My emphasis.]
 Pornography is a target -- a target for tax opportunities, a target for public outrage.

A "simple" tax on access to porn might not kill anybody but what comes next? When legislators identify an issue that generates public outrage, legislation follows. The porn tax will not eliminate pornography so something else will be suggested. How far will the outraged public let legislators go?

When sex offender registries began, who would have predicted that public urination would land someone on the registry for life and who would have predicted that nine-year-olds would be listed? This is what happens when an issue is so toxic that legislators dare not vote against legislation that promises to save the world from the scourge of the day.

How long before there is legislation that creates new felony offenses related to pornography?

The US already has 2.2 million people incarcerated in overcrowded prisons. Do we really want more behind bars?

When lawmakers pass bills making something illegal, even something that we really, really don't want to be available, we have to accept that someone will be punished and families will suffer.

When something is made illegal and yet is still in demand, that product goes underground.

Underground is where there are no rules.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

advice about how a church should treat registered citizens

This piece is from 2014 but still worth reading and thinking about whether you want to belong to a church like the one Boz Tchividjian wants you to have. He tells the story about a church who hired a senior pastor knowing the man's status as a registered sex offender, and the pastor's eventual arrest for sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy. He says, "This church just doesn't get it."

He gives us four pieces of advice.
1. “The allegations were false”: At the time he was hired, the pastor informed the church of his past conviction and claimed the allegations were false. Despite the fact that a court of law found sufficient evidence to convict this man of a sexual offense against a child, the church preferred to believe his words. I have seldom encountered child sexual abusers who did not claim that the allegations made against them were false. I even prosecuted cases where the defendant gave a full confession to law enforcement as he maintained his innocence to friends and family.
It is true that some people lie about their charges. This is true of drug offenders, wire fraud offenders, bank robbers, murderers as well as sex offenders. It can be true of people who are deeply ashamed of what they did, as well.

It is also true that innocent people sometimes give full confessions and true that some innocent people have been convicted in a court of law. A court of law is not a holy temple to infallibility so reminding us that someone was convicted there carries less moral heft than it ought.

It is worth noting that Boz Tchividjian is a former child abuse chief prosecutor, someone who certainly understands how easy it is to convict someone--anyone--charged with a sex offense. Since the majority of defendants accept a plea agreement instead of going to trial, a former prosecutor certainly knows that there is no need even to prove a case in order to convict.

He offers suggestions for ferreting out the truth about the offense:
  • Review the court file....
  • Speak with the investigator....
  • Meet with the probation officer....
Does he offer the same advice for people who encounter other former criminals?
2. “Everybody has a past”: All too often scripture is distorted in order to justify the blind embracing of those who have sexually victimized children. Though the interim pastor proudly states, “We are firm believers in the Bible”, he provides no scriptural basis for his “belief” that past offenses of a sex offender should be forgotten.... 
Don’t be fooled, offenders love a distorted theology that gives them immediate access to the little ones in the church. Whether or not the offender is a “changed” person before God, he/she is the same person who was convicted of sexually abusing a child. That is a past that should never be forgotten by those around him.
All too often churches embrace sex offenders? This will be news to registrants who have a difficult time getting comfortable in churches that will not let them use the restroom.

Tchividjian refuses to believe that someone who is changed before God will improve his behavior to match his changed beliefs. This is interesting because for a guy who quotes the Bible frequently, Tchividjian doesn't seem to believe that Jesus--who set what is generally acknowledged to be a fine example of behavior--wants us to spend time with the scorned.
3. “Don’t judge the worshippers”: In one of the few public statements made about the pastor’s arrest, the interim pastor stated that he hopes people don’t “judge” the worshippers. A church hires a known sex offender who then sexually abuses a child in the church, and its primary concern is the reputation of the church? Perhaps its primary concern should how best to serve a 14-year-old boy who trusted his pastor and was repeatedly violated. Perhaps its primary concern should be cooperating with the police to identify other children who may also have been victimized by this offender. Perhaps its primary concern should be ways the church could serve other abuse survivors in their congregation who are likely being re-traumatized by this scandal. Perhaps its primary concern should be for the church to publically acknowledge that it was complicit in the abuse of this child due to its inexcusable decision to hire a known convicted sex offender. Perhaps its primary concern should be to reach out to experts for help in becoming educated on this issue so that this horror is never repeated. There is no lack of primary concerns for this church – its reputation certainly isn’t one of them. This church doesn’t get it.
At first, I thought the writer was on to something good here, but he never quite gets around to talking about how to create an environment where proper boundaries are encouraged. Instead, he is all about action after the abuse has happened. Laying blame is a popular pasttime, and easier than figuring out how to prevent sexual abuse.

I do agree with him that the church reputation should not be a primary concern...unless the church thinks there is value in a reputation as a church that practices what it preaches about redemption.
4. “We did no wrong”: Tragically, instead of acknowledging the grievous consequence of hiring a convicted sex offender, this church has spent the last week defending and excusing its inexcusable actions. All too often, I encounter church leaders whose immediate response to disclosures of abuse within the church is to be defensive instead of wanting to learn where they (or the church) may have failed and what can be learned.
Some day, Tchividjian's church will be rocked with a sex abuse scandal caused by someone other than a registered sex offender and he will be baffled as to how that could have happened in a church that doesn't hire sex offenders--a church that keeps a watchful eye on registrants who attend services.

Let's look at the people he seems to trust: prosecutors, investigators, parole and probation officers--people not on the registry.

Where does he think sex offenders come from? They come from people not on the registry.

Tchividjian misses the irony when he says,
It is time that more faith communities recognize the dark reality that there are predators in our midst and become more vigilant in making sure that they are never in positions to access and hurt little ones.
The dark reality is that there are predators in our midst and they almost certainly are not listed on the registry. Another dark reality is that not all sex offenses are against children. While he worries about protecting little ones (I'd like to know if a 14-year-old likes being described as a "little one") from predators, he pays no attention to sexual assaults on adults.

The registry has provided a focus for fools who refuse to recognize facts. That is all the reason we need to abolish the registry.

Tchividjian doesn't get it.

child porn investigation damages the whole family

...Paul Nader was arrested, charged with seven counts of child pornography and held in the Sarpy County Jail for almost a month. His arrest was reported on TV and online, along with his booking photo. Reporters talked to his neighbors about how he interacted with his kids. 
Then, seven months after the arrest, the charges were dismissed. 
Now the Naders have filed a federal lawsuit against Papillion, Sarpy County, Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov and several Papillion police detectives, citing the anguish and embarrassment of the episode.
 An arrest on child pornography charges would cause anguish and embarrassment to anyone, guilty or innocent.
On March 17, 2015, Papillion police searched the Nader home and questioned Paul Nader. During the search they found chemicals and books on terrorism. Nader said the chemicals were used to polish jewelry. According to the lawsuit, he spent more than 15 years in the Air Force, where he worked in counterintelligence. At the time of the search he was getting his doctorate in strategic security, the suit says, which he said accounted for the books. But police called in a bomb squad before confirming that the chemicals were legal.
Papillion police found none of the images identified by the tips during their search, according to the lawsuit. Nader was arrested based “solely” on the tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the couple’s suit says. He was charged with six counts of possession of child pornography. The charges later were amended to seven counts, then later changed to three counts.
Eventually, the charges were dropped. No harm done?

No.
The Naders’ children were placed with a relative. And after Nader posted bail and left jail, he was denied contact with his children for 79 days.
Nader's wife, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, suspects that she was passed over for promotions because of her husband's child porn charges.
Police seized computers, tablets, cellphones, thumb drives and hard drives, among other items, from the Naders. The seized items included equipment on which Nader had stored his thesis and research, which he spent four years working on. That work was “irreplaceable,” according to a motion he filed in Sarpy County District Court to have his items returned. Much of this property was destroyed, the documents indicate. It is not clear if Paul Nader got his thesis work back.
Think about the data stored on the digital devices in your home: contact information, tax and other financial records, photos, videos, music, business records. How much damage would it do if a tornado or a flood snatched all of that away from you?

For the Naders, it wasn't a tornado or flood that did the damage and it could have been reversed if the investigators or prosecutors had completed the examination of the confiscated equipment quickly and returned the "clean" equipment back to the family. The damage could have been lessened if copies of important files had been returned to the family.

For the sake of argument, let's pretend that Nader was guilty. We could argue about whether he deserves to have the equipment returned to him but does his family? 

His wife and children were not charged with any crime and yet they suffered enormous losses. Removing children from the home without evidence that they have been terribly mistreated--and without evidence that the wife will also mistreat them--is inexcusable. Keeping children away from their father even though none of his charges were for contact offenses, let alone contact offenses involving his kids, is also inexcusable.

Criminal investigations ought to be done while treating innocent family members as if they are innocent.

The government caused great unnecessary damage to the Nader family. I hope they win their lawsuit.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Utah declares pornography a public health crisis

Utah officially passed a resolution declaring pornography to be a public health crisis. Sounds good, right? People need to recognize that using pornography can have lasting negative effects.

S.C.R. 9 Concurrent Resolution on the Public Health Crisis says, in part:
WHEREAS, pornography is contributing to the hypersexualization of teens, and even prepubescent children, in our society;
WHEREAS, due to advances in technology and the universal availability of the Internet, young children are exposed to what used to be referred to as hard core, but is now considered mainstream, pornography at an alarming rate;
WHEREAS, the average age of exposure to pornography is now 11 to 12 years of age;
WHEREAS, this early exposure is leading to low self-esteem and body image disorders, an increase in problematic sexual activity at younger ages, and an increased desire among adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior;
WHEREAS, exposure to pornography often serves as childrens' and youths' sex education and shapes their sexual templates;
Yes, porn can do serious damage.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah, the Governor concurring therein, recognizes that pornography is a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature and the Governor recognize the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation. 
Utah isn't all resolution and no action, though. They also passed HB0155, creating a law that:
  • requires that a computer technician who finds child pornography in the course of the technician's work shall report the finding to law enforcement or the federal Cyber Tip Line for child pornography; ...
  • provides that the willful failure to report the child pornography is a class B misdemeanor;
  • provides immunity for a computer technician who reports in good faith or acting in good faith does not make a report
As if we don't have enough people in our criminal justice system already, now we are going to add computer technicians who don't report images that are or could be considered child pornography.

The law provides immunity for a tech who...acting in good faith does not make a report. How do they decide if the tech is acting in good faith? 

The law says:
good faith may be presumed from an employee's or employer's previous course of conduct when the employee or employer has made appropriate reports
...which means, the more people a tech reports, the safer the tech will be if he or she decides not to report someone.

What child pornography will computer technicians most likely encounter? In a world where nearly every teen carries a phone with a camera and in a world where, as the Utah resolution says, there is an increased desire among adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior, it is probable that computer techs will discover nude selfies of teens.

Yes, that is considered child pornography and someone in possession of those images can be charged with receiving, distributing, or creating child porn. Serious crimes that carry serious mandatory minimum sentences if charged in federal court. If computer techs report the images to the federal Cyber Tip Line, it is likely that the "crime" will be a federal crime.

How badly do we want to punish teens for what is, for better or worse, normal teen behavior? Do we want a world in which teens take nude selfies ... or a world in which teens take nude selfies and have criminal records?

Is criminalization the only way to discourage unwanted behavior? We saw what happened during Prohibition, when criminalization drove the booze industry underground where violence was the only enforcer. We have seen what forty years of the War on Drugs has gotten us: the recreational drug industry is driven underground where violence is the only enforcer and where illicit drugs are still widely available, less expensive than ever, and often more powerful. 

We know what the outcome will be and yet legislators still try the same failed trick of making unwise and unwanted behavior illegal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

did Milo Yiannopoulos really defend pedophilia?

As we have all heard by now, that awful, awful man defended pedophilia. Milo Yiannopoulos lost a plum speaking engagement at CPAC, a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and the tolerance of all decent people when he spoke his mind about you know what. Today, he resigned from his job at Breitbart.

Yiannopoulos, in fact, did not defend pedophilia, though the media didn't let that stand in the way of breathless reporting. Below is an example from the New York Times.
After the video was leaked on Twitter by a conservative group called the Reagan Battalion, Mr. Yiannopoulos denied that he had ever condoned child sexual abuse, noting that he was a victim himself. He blamed his “British sarcasm” and “deceptive editing” for leading to a misunderstanding. 
But in the tape, the fast-talking polemicist is clear that he has no problem with older men abusing children as young as 13, which he then conflates with relationships between older and younger gay men who are of consenting age.
“No, no, no. You’re misunderstanding what pedophilia means,” Mr. Yiannopoulos says on the tape, in which he is talking to radio hosts in a video chat. “Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty,” he adds, dismissing the fact that 13-year-olds are children. [My emphasis.]
...dismissing the fact that 13-year-olds are children. There. That is dishonest and manipulative.

Some 13-year-olds have gone through puberty and some have not and that difference is an important division when it comes to pedophilia. Whether we consider 13-year-olds to be children has nothing to do with pedophilia.

Yiannopoulos is correct. Pedophilia is an attraction to children who have not reached puberty, a fact dismissed by the reporters in their eagerness to impress upon their readers that Yiannopoulos must want to have sex with 13-year-olds.

It is clear that he did not defend pedophilia and yet headline after headline tells us he did.

Knowing that Yiannopoulus got this one unpopular fact right makes him more trustworthy than all the reporters and editors who dismiss truth that would get in the way of a salacious story.

Why is this important? The misunderstanding about pedophilia is used to label people who are not pedophiles. It is also used to drum up fear about those who actually are pedophiles but are not dangerous.

Speak up when pedophiles are demonized and when sex offenders are mislabeled by those who are too lazy or dishonest to get it right.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

scared and in danger of bad legislation

A state representative in Missouri wants a new law, one that will bar registered sex offenders from zoos and museums.
Registered sex offenders would be prohibited from being within 500 feet of any museum, zoo or “other location with the primary purpose of entertaining or educating children” younger than 18 years of age under legislation introduced by [state representative] Swan. 
The Cape Girardeau Republican’s bill would expand restrictions in existing state law that bars any convicted sex offender from entering or being within 500 feet of any public park that has playground equipment or a swimming pool, or within 1,000 feet of a school or child-care facility. 
Violators could face prison sentences.
Note that the prison sentence could be imposed on people who did nothing wrong except to be present in an area restricted by arbitrary laws, laws devoid of evidence that they make any one safer.
Swan said she also wants to bar sex offenders from hanging out near children’s sections of public libraries and children’s play areas in shopping malls.
What prompted this hysteria?
...a “known, registered sexual offender came to the Discovery Playhouse unattended. Museum employees called the Cape Girardeau Police Department as the offender “roamed the facility,” [Isaac Venable, president of the museum’s board of directors] wrote.
Roamed the facility.
But police could not remove the person because “children’s museums are not protected” under state law, Venable said. 
“We felt confused and vulnerable,” he wrote. 
Oh, that poor, poor man. Imagine his confusion and vulnerability at the grocery store, a place that welcomes everyone.
“The safety of children visiting our facility is our greatest priority. A child can’t learn and explore the exhibits we provide if they are scared and/or in danger,” Venable said in backing the legislation.
Scared and in danger.

This man leads a museum meant to educate children and he has no idea what children can do when they are scared and/or in real danger. In some areas of the world, communities fight to keep schools open in the midst of war. In those areas, the education of their children is their greatest priority, not their safety.

This man seems to think much less of Missouri children and their abilities to deal with fear.

What fear is he talking about, though? The fear he himself generates by not knowing facts about the sex offender registry. That fear.

The registrant roaming the museum did nothing frightening. There are no reports of frightened children, only the report from a man frightened by his own ignorance.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

living on Mars: the 'pro' column

Scientists prepare for the rigors of space travel. (Warning: turn off your speakers; the website uses annoying autoplay ads. Really annoying.)
Six carefully selected scientists have entered a man-made dome on a remote Hawaii volcano as part of a human-behavior study that could help NASA as it draws up plans for sending astronauts on long missions to Mars. ...
They will have no physical contact with people in the outside world and will work with a 20-minute delay in communications with their support crew, or the time it would take for an email to reach Earth from Mars.
An email can travel from Mars to Earth in 20 minutes.

It took at least a couple of hours for an email sent to or from a federal inmate to reach its destination here on Earth, no matter how innocuous the contents.