Tuesday, November 27, 2012

always more to the story

A man is charged with distribution and possession of child porn. All I know is what is in the article but a couple of things jumped out at me.

School administrators expressed shock earlier this month when discussing the case during a news conference, saying Merrill had never displayed troubling behavior during his time at the school.
I hope school administrators can remember this about their colleague: he had never displayed troubling behavior. 
While being questioned by investigators, Merrill said he was sexually assaulted as a minor and "wanted to know if child pornography was as repulsive as he had read about," according to the affidavit.
I have been told that child porn is the "crack cocaine of the porn world." If this man's story is true, I'd say the adage could be, as well. We all know someone who is "addicted" to Facebook or to video games. It follows that an addiction to child porn is a possible result of simple curiosity. Especially for someone who was sexually assaulted, perhaps.
O'Neil said — with the federal charge filed — he expects Isabella County prosecutors to drop the local child porn distribution charges against Merrill. 
"I still have not seen any evidence of distribution or sharing," O'Neil said. "Right now, all the evidence is reviewing this child pornography in the four corners of his home and office, which is serious enough."
So, no evidence that he distributed child porn and yet he is charged with distribution. Favorite trick of prosecutors: Charge him with everything possible, even if they have no evidence for some of the charge. This pins the defendant between the very long mandatory minimum sentence likely after a trial and the merely long sentence offered in the plea agreement.

Monday, November 26, 2012

let the debate rage on

With judges dissatisfied with the current U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines, there is much debate about sentencing for child porn offenses.

On one side of the debate, many federal judges and public defenders say repeated moves by Congress to toughen the penalties over the past 25 years have badly skewed the guidelines, to the point where offenders who possess and distribute child pornography can go to prison for longer than those who actually rape or sexually abuse a child. In a 2010 survey of federal judges by the Sentencing Commission, about 70 percent said the proposed ranges of sentences for possession and receipt of child pornography were too high. Demonstrating their displeasure, federal judges issued child porn sentences below the guidelines 45 percent of the time in 2010, more than double the rate for all other crimes.
This sounds encouraging. If it is recognized that looking at child porn can be punished with sentences more severe than those given to people who actually sexually abuse children, then the conversation has begun. It simply is not logical that looking can draw a longer sentence than doing.
On the other hand, some prosecutors and members of Congress, as well as advocates for sexual-abuse victims, oppose any push for more leniency. At a public hearing in February, the Sentencing Commission received a victim's statement lamenting that child pornography offenders "are being entertained by my shame and pain."
"They need to be taught how much pain they inflict and a greater term of imprisonment will teach them that, (and) will comfort victims seeking justice," the victim said. "I don't believe that short periods of imprisonment will accomplish these things."
I have said it before and I will say it again: To experience sexual abuse as a child and to know that images of that abuse are still floating around the Internet must be excruciating. As in every painful circumstance we encounter, each victim deals with the abuse in his or her own way, so there must be as many reactions and coping methods as there are victims. The feelings of these people must be intense, no matter how they choose to deal with those feelings. 

Do we sentence defendants based on the intensity of the victim's reaction? One problem with that approach is that in most cases, matching defendant and victim in child porn cases is impossible. Identifying the children in the videos is rare. The children could be anywhere in the world and the abuse could have happened decades ago. Another problem is that ascertaining the intensity of the victim's feelings is subjective. There is no logic in this kind of thinking; it is all emotion.

Thinking that all victims feel the same way about their victimization and about punishment seems presumptuous. To hand down a severe sentence because we assume that the victims will feel better when that happens, is like shooting in the dark. How can we be sure we know the feelings of the children in these particular images?

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."
And there lies the problem. Sex offenders, no matter what their offense, are easy to ignore and easy to treat badly because almost no one wants to stand up for them. No one wants to be seen as sympathetic to the sex offender, today's pariah. Elected officials have the added difficulty of wanting to win the next election, making it "impossible" to speak out in favor of more lenient sentences.  

We need to push them to do the right thing, even when it makes re-election difficult.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

20 years or a life sentence for possession of child porn

In November 2011, a Florida judge sentenced a man to life in prison for possession of 454 child pornography images.
But the severity of the justice meted out to Mr. Vilca, who had no previous criminal record, has led some criminal justice experts to question whether increasingly harsh penalties delivered in cases involving the viewing of pornography really fit the crime. Had Mr. Vilca actually molested a child, they note, he might well have received a lighter sentence.
I need to do more research on this but I wonder if contact offenses get shorter sentences because they are less frequently prosecuted at the federal level. Tracking down people who download child porn is easy to do for the feds; tracking down individuals who sexually abuse children is probably more often investigated at the local level. 
Mr. Hollander said Mr. Vilca had consistently said he did not know the images were on his computer. He refused a plea bargain of 20 years in prison, after which the state attorney increased the charges. The sentence will be appealed, Mr. Hollander said.
Notice this: The prosecutor was willing to let this guy off "easy" with a 20-year sentence but when the defendant chose to go to trial, the prosecutor increased the charges. Why? Because he could? If 20 years was going to be enough to keep the world safe from this young man, why the extra charges that would increase his sentence? If the prosecutor really believes that the life sentence is appropriate in this case, why did he offer a 20-year plea agreement to begin with? 

I don't know how prosecutors and judges like this can sleep at night.
Troy K. Stabenow, an assistant federal public defender in Missouri’s Western District, noted that most people assume that someone who looks at child pornography is also a child molester or will become a child molester, a view often mirrored by judges. 
But a growing body of scientific research shows that this is not the case, he said. Many passive viewers of child pornography never molest children, and not all child molesters have a penchant for pornography. 
“I’m not suggesting that someone who looks at child pornography should just walk,” he said. “But we ought to punish people for what they do, not for our fear.” [My emphasis.]

Monday, November 19, 2012

some cops DO protect and serve

I don't usually have much good to say about law enforcement because I have come to expect the worst of them. Today, I am happy to report that there are some good officers out there.
Four Omaha police officers plunged into frigid Carter Lake on Sunday afternoon to save two people whose boat had capsized.
The boaters and one of the officers suffered from exposure and early stage hypothermia... 
Officer Kelly Murphy, who was on patrol in the area, happened to see the boat capsize and called for help. Four other officers — Mark Kiley, Bryant Wheatley, Jake Bettin and Nick Andrews — rushed to the lake to help. They swam 50 to 60 yards from shore to help the boaters... 
The two could have died without the officers' quick response, said Sgt. Jeff Baker. He called their actions "exceptionally brave and decisive."
Not only did the police officers rescue the two boaters from the cold water, they also rescued Buster, the dog belonging to one of the boaters.

Kudos to these four officers for risking their own safety to help others.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

child porn images are not like peas in a pod

Ah. Another site where people are freaking out over my situation. Three samples of what some of the commenters think about me: 
Vile. That woman is completely vile. Can not comprehend how she is defending him. 
I think that her children should be taken away and she should be institutionalized because this is some sick sh*t.  
This "lady" is not standing by her man, she is supporting his horrible crime. She is as sick and disgusting as the pig she married.
Oh, my goodness. So much vitriol directed toward someone they have never met. So much certainty that they know the whole story and they know what should be done about it. One commenter is sure that she knows the depths of my husband's depravity:
OMG that guy is gonna rape a kid someday, and it will probably be one of his own!
Not only do they know what I should do and what the "authorities" should do about me, they know exactly what they would do if their husband were to get into trouble because of child porn:
I love my husband with all my heart but if he had child porn I would throw him under the bus myself, possibly literally. 
"With all your heart"? I don't believe that for a moment if you would leave your husband when he faces the worst trouble he's ever seen. If you love your child "with all your heart", will you abandon him just as quickly if he were ever to face child porn charges?

I have never blogged about the kind of child porn found on my husband's computer, so readers don't know what he was looking at. Images classified as child pornography fall in a wide range. I have found descriptions of images that I am unable to finish reading because they describe such unspeakably cruel acts. Naked pictures of a girl a week before her eighteenth birthday are considered child porn. Two weeks later, and it isn't child porn. Images of naked teenagers in front of a webcam are considered child porn. The images are not all alike. It is crazy to pretend that they are. Disapprove of what my husband did (as I do), but don't pretend that you know what he was looking at.

A common belief among the hysterics is that looking at child porn means the guy is going to attack a child at some point. If that were true, then all men who subscribe to Playboy magazine should be locked up to prevent all the rapes they are likely to commit. Oh, but adult porn is legal! you protest. Yes, it is. But if looking at child porn makes a person more likely to commit a hands-on crime, that same predilection would be there for those who look at adult porn, too.

My heartfelt thanks to cdnstorelady, the commenter who said,
I didn't read the entire blog but I didn't see anywhere that referenced that she didn't see anything wrong with it.... the blog is all about how a spouse is dealing with a charge that is yet unproven - her husband is innocent until proven guilty and she's trying to deal with the fact that her family is being destroyed in the process of his prosecution. She never said she doesn't feel compassion for the victims. But her children are her priority naturally.
Her compassion is appreciated. Later, she makes it clear that she disagrees with me about how serious looking at child porn should be treated in the courts but she also makes it clear that she was able to listen to me with an open mind and an open heart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

sex offenders are not all alike

Annie's Mailbox published a letter about sex offenders that illustrates the problem with using an all-purpose label such as "sex offender." 

Dear Annie: Dan Peek from Grandparents and Others on Watch, Inc. was right on target in advising "Older Sister" to contact authorities about her brother, the sex offender. 
We live in a tight community. One woman was having sleepovers at her home while her father, a registered child sex offender, was living with her. She was unwilling to recognize the risk, so we contacted all the parents of the children. We could not endure knowing that she was supplying him with potential victims. — Serious in the South About Protecting Kids
The daughter of a sex offender was "unwilling to recognize the risk" so someone took it upon herself to contact parents around town, alerting them to the danger of this sex offender. The worry was that the sex offender would do something to someone attending sleepovers at the house.

The letter makes no mention--as if it doesn't mattter!--what the man's offense was. Why was he on the registry? What did he do? It isn't enough to call him a "child sex offender."  All sex offenders are not alike. Some might be dangerous, the vast majority are not. 

It is also helpful to remember that 90% sex crimes are committed by a first-time offender, so while keeping an eye on this woman's father, are you also keeping an eye on everyone who has not been arrested yet?

Instead of being a busybody and spreading gossip, get the facts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

ICE agent arrested for child porn

If you think I'm going to be sympathetic with this guy, you might be surprised.

A former top law enforcement official who helped lead the local crusade against child sexual exploitation was sentenced Friday to a little under six years in prison on a child pornography charge. 
Anthony V. Mangione, who headed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's South Florida office for four years, possessed up to 150 images of child pornography, some depicting the "extreme abuse of children," according to federal prosecutors.
So, it seems that child pornography is addictive. Even ICE agents (and FBI agents) make the mistake of thinking they can satisfy their curiosity and then find themselves unable to leave it alone. Too bad this man couldn't ask for help to break his addiction without getting turned in to law enforcement. 
The FBI and Broward Sheriff's Office seized Mangione's laptop computer in April 2011 after his Internet provider detected him sending child pornography. He quickly retired from ICE and was arrested in September 2011.
This guy earned his living going after child porn users and, because he "quickly retired" from ICE, he will probably have a nice retirement income earned on the backs of those in prison and on the sex offender registry because of his work. 
How many early-morning raids did he approve? How many families broke up under the stress of those raids and the resulting discoveries? How many families deal with the crazy requirements of the sex offender registry because of his work? How many people live under the  Miami Julia Tuttle Causeway because of his work?
Family members and friends wrote letters describing him as a devoted father of three and a dedicated law enforcement officer. 
As the Special Agent in Charge of ICE's South Florida office, Mangione supervised more than 400 employees in nine counties. He was regularly at the forefront of arrests of child pornography suspects, vowing to see them punished.
My heart goes out to his family. This discovery has to be incredibly difficult to deal with. I should know. My sympathy is for them. To be honest, I have a tiny bit of sympathy for anyone leading the double life he lead--unable to ask for help and knowing the certain horror it would be for his family when he was caught. I can guess that like most addicts he never thought he would be caught. 

I hope he has used his time between search and imprisonment as well as my husband has. I hope he has come to terms with what he has done--not only the child porn he used, but the fact that he personally put other families through the same hell his family is going through. Crowing over his downfall is difficult for me, knowing that his family falls with him. 

Perhaps he and his family will become supporters of efforts to abolish the sex offender registry. I could live with that.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

names...to publish or not?

If you believe what was reported here, this is a family with some serious problems.

An Omaha Public Schools teacher has been charged with witness tampering and child abuse after being accused of covering up her daughter’s allegations that her older brother had molested her.
The mom's a teacher, the dad's a cop.
Authorities say both [parents] knew of the possible incest. The daughter, now 16, reported that it dated back to when she was 3 and her brother, now 21, was 8.
I wish the family well. Who knows what kind of torment they suffered? Who knows how they tried to deal with the situation without calling the authorities? It is interesting that a police officer declined to call the authorities. Perhaps he knows something.

This is the piece of the article that caught my eye:
The teacher is not being named because it would violate The World-Herald’s policy against revealing the names of victims of sex crimes.
Good decision in this case--the girl is only 16. Other cases, maybe not. In a case involving adults where a false accusation is leveled, the fake victim's name should be published. In this case, the public has no need to know names. 

I have to wonder, though, why the names of men accused of possession of child pornography are published. The families of those men suffer from the publicity. The same rationale, the innocent must be protected, should apply in those cases, too. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

simple words

Simple words: When news got out about my husband's impending incarceration, we received a letter that began, "I'm so sorry to hear of your husband's troubles." The letter went on to say "I can't imagine what this has been like for your family," and "We will keep all of you in our prayers."  I cried.

Simple words: Another friend, when she saw my husband and me at church, said, "How are you two doing?" I said we were fine and I said the weather today was beautiful, wasn't it? If I could have said more I would have, but the note of concern in her voice overwhelmed me. 

Simple words: When I picked up my son from a sleepover, I told the host parents the story. They listened quietly and the husband asked, "How is your husband doing?" I could have kissed that man, I was so grateful that he thought to ask about my husband. So many ask about the kids or about me but they don't ask about my husband. It isn't that they don't care, it is that they don't know what to ask. Most people have no idea what it must feel like and when they try to imagine the prospect of four years away from family, their imagination fails.

My advice is to treat this as if it is an illness in the family. Thinking of it that way makes it a bit easier to decide what to say. When someone has cancer, we are aware that the well spouse is carrying a larger load and we are aware that cancer is a frightening illness. We recognize both when we say to the couple--one frazzled, the other bald, "How are you two doing?" 

When someone is sick, we ask about them. Sometimes we don't know what to ask--is she in the middle of chemo or radiation this week? or was that last month?--so we ask the simple question, "How is she doing?" The question provides an opportunity to talk about the sick spouse and an equal opportunity to slide away from the real answer. The two opportunities are equally appreciated.

Sometimes I feel like talking and sometimes talking is too complicated. The story changes. One day, the story is full of hope: We can do this; we can get through these bad years and come out of it whole. Another day, the story is about worry and terror and confusion. One day, I am angry with him because I don't know where he filed the document I need; another day, I am shattered because I overheard cruel gossip. On any one of those days, I like knowing that someone remembers that I love my husband, that I worry about him, and that the kids miss him.

Compassion is the simple recognition that someone is suffering and the desire to lessen the suffering. A man going to prison is as deserving of compassion as a man with heart disease or a man with a broken hip. Showing compassion is not the same as saying, "Your crime was no big deal" or "We don't care that you committed a crime." We don't hear kind words from you and think you approve of the crime, so go ahead and let us hear kind words.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

vote the cowards out of office

I wasn't able to post this earlier today but it is still important: Vote.

Remember the millions of felons who are not able to vote out the elected officials who:

Vote out the cowards who are too afraid to do the right thing because they will be seen as easy on crime.