Tuesday, October 17, 2017

of polygraphs, registries, minors...and everyone else

Let's talk about Zach Anderson again. He's the unfortunate and unwise young man who, at 19, had sex with a 14-year-old girl who said she was 17.

The South Bend Tribune reports:
The young man, Zachery Anderson, was sentenced harshly by a Berrien County judge who preached about the immorality of meeting partners online. The sentence included jail time and 25 years on Michigan's sex offender registry, attracted national publicity and was overturned several months later by a different judge.
Zach was days away from completing probation when he was arrested October 11 for violating his probation restrictions.
It was during a recent polygraph that Zach truthfully answered the question that led to his recent troubles: Have you had any contact with anyone younger than 18? Yes, Zach said.
Bam. His honest answer during a polygraph resulted in the arrest.

Courts are not allowed to use results of a polygraph exam because polygraphs are not scientifically reliable. If probation officers were required to treat polygraphs the way courts use them--which is to say, not at all--Zach would likely be off probation.

Instead, probation officers are allowed to mandate polygraph testing.
Elkhart County's probation department has required regular polygraph tests, at $300 apiece, and Zach has taken at least five. 
Zach wasn't arrested for violating parole because he failed the exam; he was arrested because the polygraph was an opportunity for the probation officer and the polygraph examiner to push him to incriminate himself.

Probation officers can use polygraphs to take away the freedom of a probationer. Veracity has nothing to do with it.

Zach's parents have raised holy hell to protect their son from the perils of the sex offender registry. What parent wouldn't do the same? Through their efforts, their son's story has been told far and wide.

It is easy to sympathize with Zach's situation and recognize that his punishment for unwise behavior has been far out of proportion to the crime he committed. It is also easy to wonder if a 19-year-old having consensual sex ought to even be a crime.

Nevertheless, their son is still mired in the criminal justice system.
Les [Zach's dad] has written a letter to President Trump that he intends to also send to Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. senators, asking for "Zach's Law," which would protect young people from sex laws that have such unintended consequences. 
It is worth remembering Radley Balko's suggestion that laws named after victims are usually an emotional response, not one based on reason.

Young people do need protection from draconian laws. The Tribune continues:
Tough laws on sex offenders don't take into account their calamitous effects on young people unwary of the electronic age and its consequences, said Amanda Anderson, Zach's mother. 
Absolutely. Inarguable.
"Has there been life lessons learned? You bet there has," Amanda said of her family's experiences. But "we will continue to pursue the rescue of minors under the draconian image of the sex offender registry law."
The one lesson the Anderson family seems yet to learn is that the registry is bad for everyone. 

Bad for families on the registry, bad for communities funding a registry quickly growing unwieldy, bad for law enforcement agencies who  squander resources enforcing registry laws that protect no one.

Leaving people on the registry because they committed crimes worse than teenage sex means that children of registrants are still at risk.

Every family living on the registry worries that their kids will suffer because of it. Too many kids do suffer.

Some families are torn apart by probation restrictions that prevent the registrant from contact with his own children, even when the children were not victims of the crime. Some families struggle financially because of the cost of probation. See above where Zach paid at least $1500 for junk science polygraphs.

Financial struggles continue after probation and parole are completed because employers are often reluctant to hire registrants.

Childhood friendships can be difficult when parents won't allow kids to visit the home of a registrant or when kids learn to taunt children who live on the registry. Schools can be willing to humiliate the children of registrants by refusing to treat their family as all the other families are treated. Places of worship are too willing to restrict the ability of a registrant to attend services with his family.

The registry inhibits a family that wants to overcome the trauma of a family member committing a crime.

After serving the sentence handed down by the court, a person deserves to return to be welcomed back into society. The registry prevents that.

Families in which someone committed a violent, non-sexual assault are better able to return to life as it was before that crime because information about that crime is not easily available. Families of those on the registry deserve the same dignity and respect.

The  Andersons would do much more good by advocating for the abolition of the sex offender registry.

Rescuing minors is shortsighted.

Previous posts about Zach Anderson:

bad for kids, bad for all; abolish the registry!
The sex offender registry is a bad idea for anyone. No matter how guilty or how unsympathetic, no offender deserves extra-judicial punishment long after serving the sentence handed down by the court.
Families torn apart are all too common when sex offenses are involved, even when the offense used to be something for which parents grounded the kids and law enforcement was only rarely involved.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Elizabeth Letourneau talks about non-offending pedophiles

In her TEDMED talk, Elizabeth Letourneau talks about a humbling experience: while developing a program to prevent adolescent pedophiles from offending, she was surprised to learn that adolescent pedophiles were already not offending, even without benefit of a program like hers.

Letourneau, director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Professor at the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said:
The peak age for engaging a pre-pubescent child in harmful or illegal sexual behavior is fourteen. Fourteen years old. So that's the first important fact, that about half of all sexual offenses committed against pre-pubescent children are committed by other children.
If we think back to our own childhoods, many of us can remember times when something happened that, today, would be labeled child sexual abuse and many of those instances involved child perpetrators. The same is true today.
Second. How likely do you think it is that a child who has one conviction for a sexual offense will get a conviction for a second sexual offense? In reality, 97 to 98% of children convicted of a sexual offense are never re-convicted of another one. Ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent do not reoffend with a new sexual offense.
With rare exceptions, the childhood perpetrators we can remember did not go on to a lifetime of sexual offenses.
My research shows that sex offender registration and public notification do nothing--nothing--to prevent juvenile sexual offending or to improve community safety in any way. Instead, these policies cause harm. We surveyed 265 therapists who treat children who have sexually offended. Almost all of them linked registration and public notification to serious harmful outcomes.
Even children who are not on the registry themselves are harmed by the registry. When a parent or a sibling is on the registry, other children in the home are left to deal with the all the difficulties imposed by the registry. The family may need to relocate to a home that meets residence requirements, others in the neighborhood may shun the family. Imagine growing up and either not being allowed to invite friends over or not being able to live with the sibling on the registry. Imagine a parent who is not allowed to be alone with you or not allowed to attend your school events.

The registry and its rules damage families. Is it worth doing that to families in our community when everything points to the likelihood that the registrant will never re-offend? If we are trying to prevent child sexual abuse, the registry isn't doing that.

Letourneau develops programs to prevent sexual abuse of children.
Decades of research shows that we can prevent every other kind of child victimization--child physical abuse, child neglect, bullying, peer-on-peer physical violence. We can prevent these forms of abuse because we know why people offend in these ways. We've designed policies and programs to address those risk factors.
Well, we know why children engage in harmful and illegal sexual behaviors.... Risk factors include sheer ignorance, impulsivity, inadequate adult supervision, risk-taking, delinquency, and sometimes--rarely, but sometimes--sexual interest in young children. These are just some of the risk factors associated with adolescent sexual offending.
If it can be prevented, we need to learn how. Educating people on who is at risk is a start.

If pedophiles--those who have a genuine sexual attraction to children--can avoid offending, so can those who aren't pedophiles.

Letourneau says,
We rightly stigmatize and punish adult sexual violence but children are not adults. It is appropriate and it is just to treat them differently.
She is right that children who offend need to be treated differently from adults. Punishing adults for sexual violence is proper. Stigmatizing sexual violence is proper.

Stigmatizing those who have served their sentence by putting them on the registry, though, is wrong. As Letourneau said,
...sex offender registration and public notification do nothing--nothing--to prevent juvenile sexual offending or to improve community safety in any way.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

polygraphs: liberty interests and the rule of law

The Pueblo (CO) Chieftain published a bold, important statement about the use of polygraphs:
All uses of polygraphs in the legal system should be abolished.

Earlier, the Denver  Post reported that the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board includes the owner of a polygraph company and when the use of polygraphs are discussed, that man recommends the use of polygraphs. The Denver Post said the use of polygraphs "borders on a scam."

It is good to see polygraphs exposed as the junk science they are. I blogged about the Post stories here.

In the Chieftain, an opinion piece by Dennis Maes, a retired chief Pueblo district court judge, calls out...
...the involvement and participation of the judiciary, probation and the Department of Corrections in perpetuating the use of polygraphs. Why is this revelation significant? Because the Colorado Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals have both condemned and prohibited the use of polygraphs in court proceedings. 
Good point. If courts have prohibited polygraph results, why are they still mandating their use for sex offenders? It is hard to explain any better than Maes does:
According to existing Colorado law, the results of polygraph examinations are per se inadmissible for any purpose in criminal and civil proceedings in Colorado courts because they are scientifically unreliable. Simply put, they are worthless because they have zero evidentiary value and are, therefore, irrelevant. [My emphasis throughout.]
If they cannot be used, they obviously should not be ordered by the court. To order a useless report paid for by taxpayers is not only fiscally irresponsible but unconscionable. 
Despite established law, the judiciary, probation and DOC continue to require polygraphs. This practice is a clear assault on the Rule of Law which embodies the belief that the law applies equally to all individuals and institutions, including the judiciary, with no exceptions. The Rule of Law is a cornerstone of a free democratic society.
The supervision of a sex offender on probation requires the sex offender to sign terms and conditions of probation. which can only be ordered and changed by the court. A stock condition is the requirement to submit to polygraph examinations. Failure to comply with the terms and conditions subjects the sex offender to punitive sanctions, including the loss of liberty interests.
The argument will be advanced by probation and others that probation will not be revoked based solely on the results of a polygraph examination. There are those who would disagree. Nevertheless, current probation standards, approved by the court, provide that a sex offender may be regressed in treatment if the offender produces a deceptive polygraph. The regression may obviously be based solely on the results of a polygraph.
Regression? The practice of making someone back up to a previous point in his treatment. More time in treatment can affect how much freedom the parole or probation officer allows the offender.

Liberty interests.
A further dilemma faced by an offender occurs when a provider ignores an objection registered by the offender or offender's attorney to submit to a polygraph based on existing state law. Many, if not all, providers and probation officers treat the proper objection as obstruction and a violation of probation either threatening to or filing revocation proceedings. Said behavior is a violation of due process.
Many, if not all, providers will refuse to treat an offender who refuses a polygraph. To exacerbate the problem, many providers treat the refusal as a violation, which subjects the offender to punitive action even in the case when the court might not require the treatment.
Read that again. Treatment providers can impose punitive actions on an offender for refusing to submit--or objecting!--to a polygraph, even when the treatment is not required by the courts.

When a treatment provider can punish a client for questioning treatment requirements, the treatment provider is clearly not a part of the therapeutic world.
In the interest of full disclosure, concerns about the current polygraph practice and public funding for polygraphs have been shared by way of protest with Chief Justice Nancy Rice, Rick Raemisch, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and the chief judges of each judicial district. The responses submitted by the Supreme Court and DOC appear to carve out exceptions to the law where none exist and certainly not recognized by state law.
Maes is impatient:
It is perplexing why the judiciary has been so resistant to ridding the courts of a practice condemned by its own appellate courts.
He says that if the courts will not follow established law, the Legislature should tackle the subject. One suggestion from Maes:
First, the Legislature immediately could suspend any state funding for polygraph examinations. Said action would not only be a firm confirmation of the significance of the Rule of Law but the fiscally responsible thing to do as stewards of the taxpayer's money. To continue a practice that has been debunked by the courts simply defies logic.
This is truly a breath of fresh mountain air.

Maes does not question the utility of polygraphs because that question was settled long ago when courts called the tests scientifically unreliable. He is angry that courts ignore those findings.

He lays the blame for the continued use of junk science at the feet of the judiciary, probation, and the Department of Corrections.

He recognizes what families of sex offenders already know:
To be certain, there will be many who have little or no concern whether sex offenders are treated fairly.
...and delivers a final blow at those who continue to treat sex offenders as less than worthy of treatment that follows the law:
What is important, however, is that society ensures that the sanctity of the Constitution be safeguarded by protecting the rights and protections it guarantees to all without exception.

Readers: Make sure that probation and parole offices and treatment providers read Maes' fiery blast. If you are still awaiting sentencing, make sure your attorney sees this and raises a protest to any polygraph requirement.

Polygraphs are not just a waste of money and time. They may not be allowed in court but they are currently being used to revoke parole or probation.

Liberty interests. Rule of law.

what happens when a molester moves in next door to his victim?

A man molested his niece when she was a little girl and 12 years later when he was released from prison, he moved in with his mother next door to the victim.
“I was pretty outraged, but I have channeled that rage into a more positive outlet, which, for me, is sharing my story and empowering other victims of sexual assault,” [the victim] says, adding her parents researched state laws in the hopes of blocking the move, only to learn they had no legal recourse.
I am no psychologist but this sounds healthy. This young woman's story can help other families to recognize what may be happening in their own homes. Some former victims may not be comfortable telling their story and we must respect that.

We must also respect the discomfort caused when her uncle moved in next door. When we remember that child sexual abuse most frequently happens within a trusted family circle, we can see that a great number of victims must have to deal with encountering their former abuser.

A family--and any counselors--would do well to help the victims learn to deal with those encounters and to help the former abuser understand how to respect the victim's boundaries.
“I was coming back from class and he was out mowing in my grandmother’s backyard, and it made me uneasy just being home,” Dyer tells PEOPLE. “I go to school in Edmond so I’m only home half the time, and I think twice before going home now. I have a very close family, so it’s hard for me to not constantly be with them.”
Her unease is easy to understand.

It is also easy for legislators to jump on board the outrage train.
[...the victim] and her family have been meeting with State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, who tells PEOPLE he is committed to introducing fresh legislation to bar offenders from living within a certain distance of their victims.
Hilbert's legislation will not be engineered narrowly to this particular victim and offender. It will apply across the board to all offenders and victims, even those who want to find a way to reconcile, and even those who simply want the offender to have a place to live.

Again, most child sexual abuse happens inside families, or inside the circle of trusted friends. There are many families who see the value in keeping the family whole and not burdening the victim with a trail of broken family relationships.
Dyer says she no longer wants anything to do with her grandmother because of her decisions; when she was in high school, her uncle was released and lived with her grandmother until he violated probation and “went right back” to prison.
“She is supposed to protect me, she is supposed to take care of me,” Dyer says, “so for her to turn on me like this, she obviously doesn’t care about me.”
This victim has already (understandably) lost a relationship with her uncle and now her grandmother.

The criminal justice system should try to disrupt families as little as possible and yet Hilbert's legislation will cause more disruption for families and victims who have made choices different from Dyer's family.

Child victims will go through several phases of understanding what happened to them, depending on their ages. A small child with no understanding of sex may know only that the molester did something wrong and has to go away.

As the child approaches adolescence and begins to experience his or her own sexuality, understanding of the crime will shift. The new understanding will answer some questions for the child and will almost certainly bring up new questions.

When the victim has children, the understanding of the crime may change again...and yet again when her children get into trouble and need her protection. At that point, the victim may understand her grandmother's actions much differently.

Legislators need to see that what a victim feels today will change over time. The legislation will almost certainly not account for those changes.

Each family will deal with victims and offenders in its own way. Some family members will let their own outrage frighten the child; some will make every effort to let the child deal with events at her own level of understanding. Protecting the child from the adult understanding of what happens is essential to some, though some are unable to accomplish that.

Legislation that tries to solve a complicated situation like this will almost surely make things worse for some families. When a family wants the offender to come back home and live a law-abiding life, finding a residence for the offender is the first priority. In some cities, it is nearly impossible for an offender to find a place to live. If his mother's house is where he can live, why should legislation get in the way of that?

Legislators are the ones who create residence restrictions. Without those restrictions, the offender has a better chance of living away from family that doesn't want him around.

That problem cannot be solved by creating even more residence restrictions. Complicating the lives of offenders and their families makes it more likely that former offenders will break laws and be returned to prison, even if the law broken is not another sex offense.

Legislators need to back off and let families make their own way.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

researcher creates virtual child porn

A researcher in Canada is using virtual reality with plethysmography. Interesting work, for those bent that way.
In a maximum security mental health facility in Montreal is a “cave-like” virtual reality vault that’s used to show images of child sexual abuse to sex offenders. Patients sit inside the vault with devices placed around their penises to measure signs of arousal as they are shown computer-generated animations of naked children. 
Patients in a maximum security mental health facility. Not volunteers.
“We do develop pornography, but these images and animations are not used for the pleasure of the patient but to assess them,” said Patrice Renaud, who heads up the project at the Institut Philippe-Pinel.
I must say, so far it sounds nothing like pleasure. Renaud says,
“It’s a bit like using a polygraph but with other measurement techniques.”
Ah. A bit like palm-reading, too, except palm-reading doesn't try to sound scientific.
The patients sit on a stool inside the chamber wearing stereoscopic glasses which create the three-dimensional effect on the surrounding walls. The glasses are fitted with eye-tracking technology to ensure they aren’t trying to trick the system by avoiding looking at the critical content. 
“These guys do not like going through this assessment,” said Renaud, pointing out that the results can be shocking for the patient.
They don't like being treated like monkeys in a lab? Well, there's a surprise.
“It’s not easy for someone to discover he is attracted to violently molesting a kid. He may have been using the internet for some masturbatory activities using non-violent images or videos of children – which is not a good thing. But being tested in the lab and knowing he is also attracted to violence may be something that’s very difficult to understand.”
Is the point to find out what turns people on or to find out whether they will commit a sexual assault?

If they showed VR images of gay porn and aroused someone who previously thought he was straight...would that mean that the guy is likely to commit sex crimes against gays? We had better hope not, since a large number of heterosexuals watch gay porn.

If this study were trying to learn something interesting, it would test a control group of people who have not been arrested and have not suffered from mental illness.

The article discusses the fear that the child porn Renaud develops could find its way into the wild where it could entertain the wrong people.
The lab is under intense scrutiny from ethical committees and the police in Quebec. The computer-generated imagery must be encrypted and stored in a highly secure closed computer network inside the maximum security hospital so that the material doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. 
However, at a time when virtual reality pornography is on the rise, it’s not unreasonable to assume that someone will – if it hasn’t already happened – create virtual reality child abuse images designed explicitly to arouse rather than diagnose pedophiles. 
Thanks to advances in computer graphics, such experiences could be created without ever harming or exploiting children. But even if no children are harmed in the making of such imagery, would society tolerate its creation? Could the content provide an outlet to some pedophiles who don’t want to offend in real life? Or would a VR experience normalize behavior and act as a gateway to physical abuse? [My emphasis, throughout.]
If we are more interested in stopping child sexual abuse than in punishing those who look at illegal images--and that seems to be a big 'if'--then those are good questions. Is there a good application for virtual child porn?
Ethan Edwards, the co-founder of “Virtuous Pedophiles”, an online support group for people attracted to children but who do not want to molest them, argues virtual reality could help prevent real-life offences. 
Edwards believes that, provided the imagery of children is computer-generated and doesn’t involve any real victims, it should be legal, as should life-size child sex dolls and erotic stories about children. 
“I have a strong civil liberties streak and feel such things should be legal in the absence of very strong evidence they cause harm,” he said.

Nick Devin, a pedophile and co-founder of the site, called for thorough scientific research. “The answer may be different for different people. For me, doing these things wouldn’t increase or reduce the risk to kids: I’m not going to molest a kid whether I fantasize or not.” 
It’s a view echoed by Canadian forensic psychologist Michael Seto. He believes that VR could provide a safer outlet for individuals with well-developed self control. 
“But for others, such as those who are more impulsive, prone to risk-taking, or indifferent about the effects of their actions on others, then access to virtual child pornography could have negative effects and perhaps increase their desire for contact with real children.”
It’s a risk that concerns Renaud, who describes VR child abuse imagery and child-shaped sex robots as “a very bad idea”.
He says this as he develops VR child abuse imagery.
“Only a very small portion of pedophiles could use that kind of sexual proxy without having the urge to go outside and get the real stuff,” he said. 
Any research to show that this is true?
It’s not just child sex abuse experiences that are concerning to Renaud, but violent first-person sexual experiences including rape and even entirely new deviances “like having sex with monsters with three penises and blue skin”. 
Mr. Renaud has a very active imagination, it seems.
“We don’t know what effect these sexual experiences will have on the behavior of children and adults in the future,” he said.
Maybe he should put on the VR goggles, strap a device around his penis, and see what his own reactions would be.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Denver Post questions use of polygraphs in sex offender treatment

Like many states, Colorado relies on polygraphs to determine how sex offenders ought to be treated. In an editorial, the Denver Post calls for a new plan.
The 25 members of the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board need to overhaul their system for assessing the risk of and providing treatment for the state’s many incarcerated sex offenders. 
Never has that been more clear than after reading how dependent the assessment and treatment system is on the use of lie detector tests, known as polygraphs. 
The Denver Post’s Christopher N. Osher reported that Colorado has spent $5 million over seven years on polygraph tests for convicted sex offenders, used as a key part of determining whether these criminals should be eligible for release, and if so what supervision should look like. Often sex offenders are required to take multiple tests over the same subjects if they fail or have inconclusive results, with both the state and the criminals picking up the tab, and they regularly get tested as part of parole. 
We’re inclined to agree with Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, that “it borders on a scam.”
Courts do not allow polygraph interpretations to be presented in court because lie detectors are unreliable. Why would anyone use an unreliable test to decide anything?

Polygraph technicians, who charge for each polygraph, have a clear motivation to declare test results inconclusive or a flat-out failure. A failed or inconclusive test means more tests when passing a polygraph is required.
We hope that ongoing process will result in new standards that place considerably less importance on lie-detector tests. After all, the 2014 report questioned the very theory that the non-recidivism of sexual offenders was highly predicated on a willingness to admit guilt and take responsibility. [My emphasis, throughout.]
If it isn't clear that admitting guilt and taking responsibility for sex offenses is a way to reduce recidivism of sex offenders, then there should be no pressure on offenders to do so in a polygraph. While some go through treatment in prison, most offenders do so after they have been sentenced and completed that sentence. Their guilt is not in question at that point.
That report also said: “The relevant research literature indicates that the polygraph can attain accuracy of close to 90 percent when testing well-defined single issues. Unfortunately sexual history polygraphs are not well-defined single issues and the accuracy level is likely significantly lower.”
No reason to use a polygraph to force admissions of guilt, no reason to think a sexual history polygraph will be accurate--clearly, it is time to retire the polygraph.

Wait. What's this?

In an earlier article, Osher reported:
Colorado will pay Jeff Jenks’ Wheat Ridge polygraph firm, Amich & Jenks Inc., up to $1.9 million to polygraph sex offenders in prison from 2010 to 2020, according to state contracts.
A couple of million dollars over ten years is nothing to sneeze at, especially for someone selling a test that is unreliable.
Jenks is a member of the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, a 25-member group that writes the rules on how sex offenders are managed. He has defended the use of polygraphs and also voted on polygraph issues the full board decided. Appointed by the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety in 2008, Jenks’ current term runs until 2020.
Jenks recommends polygraph testing and sells polygraph testing and no one else on the board questioned that?

Clean up your act, Colorado, and stop letting the polygraph business clean up at the expense of sex offenders.

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.