Wednesday, June 26, 2013

eradicating child porn, take 2

In one of my favorite comments ever on my blog, gleakk holds my feet to the fire:
I'm not sure I understand, are you saying this is a BAD thing? I disagree with a lot of your opinions but I can usually see the logic behind them, not in this case though. Firstly, the arson analogy doesn't work, looking at pictures of a fire isn't a crime, looking at pictures of child porn is. Also your comment about increasing the value of images seems to fly in the face of your strong assertions the principles of supply and demand don't apply to child porn. This measure isn't a cure all by any means but I can't see how it could possibly hurt the situation.
gleakk is right: I did not write the post well. I wrote it over several days while traveling, editing it in a series of motel rooms. I finally said "enough!" and posted it. 

The arson analogy does work. The "one's legal, one's not" distinction is just silly. Of course child porn images are illegal; this blog questions whether those laws make sense, whether those laws do what they are promoted as doing. It makes as much sense to say that looking at a photo of child abuse IS child abuse as it does to say that looking at a photo of a fire set by arson IS committing arson.

I'm saying that knee-jerk celebrations about eradicating child pornography aren't taking into consideration the fact that we don't really know what the unintended consequences will be. The motivations of those who produce child porn and those who use it are not well understood--probably because each producer and viewer has his/her own motivation. 

I have no objection to Google doing this--the internet corporations can do as they like, within the bounds of the law. The timing of the announcement, though, makes me go...hmm. Google recently came under heavy criticism for cooperating with government spying activities and now Google is offering itself up as the consummate good guy because it is working against child porn. 

People who go ballistic when I defend child porn users (from the excesses of the justice system) say we need to protect children and they also like to use the supply/demand argument. I didn't do it well, but I was trying to point out that their enthusiasm for making child porn just go away ignores those two arguments. 

If someone believes child porn users (the demand in that argument) are responsible for the producers creating child porn (the supply), the elimination of existing child porn should make them wonder if this will increase the value of new images.

If someone believes that we should protect children from abusers, they cannot argue that it is also a good thing to eliminate evidence of that abuse.

The push to "eradicate" child porn ignores what is happening when the images are created. Why would anyone think that is a good thing?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

eradicating child porn images

The headline says, Google builds new system to eradicate child porn images from the web, but what does it really mean?
The new database, which is expected to be operational within a year, will allow child porn images which have already been “flagged” by child protection organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to be wiped from the web in one fell swoop.
Farther down the article, it says something different:
Scott Rubin, Google’s spokesman, said: “We are creating an industry-wide global database of ‘hashed’ images to help all technology companies find these images, wherever they might be. 
“They will then be blocked and reported.”
And at the end,
“Recently, we have started working to incorporate these fingerprints [codes that identify illegal images] into a cross-industry database. This will enable companies, law enforcement, and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing child abuse images.” 
They won't be eradicating child porn images in "one fell swoop," they will be making it easier for Google and other companies to block access to illegal images. They will also be taking on the task of reporting illegal images to law enforcement.

Eradicating child porn is an interesting idea--knees jerk everywhere in favor of it--but don't forget the law of unintended consequences. What else could happen when child porn is driven further underground?

Seeing the images is the best way to identify the people responsible for the abuse recorded in them. If we can magically make these images disappear, are we eliminating the chance that someone would recognize the people in the images? 

And don't kid yourself--the images wouldn't go away. They may not be easily available anymore, but they will be out there. Google doesn't index every website--many websites are coded so that Google cannot "see" their content. 

Making child porn images harder to find--will that increase the value of new images? There will be new images; that's about the only certainty in this plan.

Destroying pictures of a fire does nothing to stop arson. 

UPDATE: Response to gleakk's comment here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

fathers' day

Here's to all the dads who made mistakes and then did everything possible to make things right. It is agonizing to face the world while exorcising personal demons, especially when the world demonizes those dads.

Here's to the incarcerated dads who stay in touch with their families and set an example of honesty and goodness even behind bars.

Here's to the dads who work hard to make a good life even with the sex offender registry hindering their every effort.

Bless the dads who are succeeding; bless those dads who struggle. Bless the families who stand with those men.

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 14, 2013

child porn laws are out of whack

A Nebraska man faces charges of third degree sexual assault of a child and one count of creating child pornography.
 [He] faces one count of third-degree sexual assault of a child, a felony that carries up to five years in prison if he is convicted.  
He is also charged with one count of visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct (involving a child), which carries a possible prison sentence of three to 50 years.
For touching the boy, he will serve--at most--five years in state prison.

For taking the photograph, he could serve up to 50 years in prison.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

sesame street goes to prison

 writes in Time about something new for the Big Bird set:

Nearly 2 million American children— one quarter of them too young to go to kindergarten— now have a parent in prison or jail.  To help the littlest ones cope, Sesame Street has just released a toolkit for families faced with losing a parent for what can be years or even decades, including a video featuring a Muppet whose father is locked up.  It is titled “Little Children Big Challenges:  Incarceration.”
Imagine! Two million children have a parent in prison or jail. Prison is becoming normal. Do we really want this for our country?
Research shows that incarceration does incredible damage to families, doubling the odds that children will later be homeless, increasing the risk for aggressive child behavior problems by 33% and the risk for severe psychological distress such as depression or anxiety in childhood by 20%.
It can hinder school performance and induces all of the trauma of other separations like divorce, but with the added element of shame, guilt and stigma.  Not to mention the financial strain losing a parent indefinitely imposes and the massively increased odds of winding up in foster care it causes.
Don't forget that the financial strain is caused by more than the income reduction when a wage-earner goes to jail or prison. If the family wants to stay in touch and communicate with Dad or Mom in prison, the family has to pay for the communication. My husband's prison paycheck for a month's work--a little over $5--would pay for a couple of brief phone calls or a book of stamps. Not both. Email costs extra. A family trying to get by without Dad's income also needs to send him money in prison if they are to stay together as a family.
But maybe ... what we really need is a rethink of our entire criminal justice system, one that has become not only the nation’s biggest holding cell for people with addictions, but also its largest psychiatric system— albeit one that only rarely provides evidence-based treatment for either addictions or other mental illnesses.
We now lock up 10 times more people for drug offenses than we did in the early 80s; and while some drugs have gotten less popular, others have become more so, leaving us with roughly the same rate of severe addiction. Further, 48% of all state prisoners are nonviolent and at least half of their crimes are either drug crimes or directly related to drug use.  92% of all federal prisoners are nonviolent, with a full 48% sentenced to federal prison because of drug offenses.
Ninety-two percent of federal prisoners are nonviolent! Even I wouldn't have guessed it that high.
A tremendous amount of this incarceration is unnecessary and could easily be reduced by decriminalizing drug possession, legalizing marijuana, sentencing nonviolent offenders to house arrest and monitoring and only using prison to lock up those whose crimes genuinely warrant it for appropriate amounts of time.
It isn't enough to stand back and say if you can't do the time, don't do the crime. It is necessary to consider what should be a crime, why it should or shouldn't be a crime, and what appropriate punishments should be.
It isn't enough to let the legislators, Congressmen and Senators sort it all out. They are the reason we are at the point where Sesame Street has to send in Big Bird and Grover to clean up after the SWAT teams, federal marshals, and corrections officers.

UPDATE: I can't believe I missed the opportunity to use the heading, "Big Bird goes to the Big House."

Friday, June 7, 2013

everything is a gateway

Commenter Tom Joad gave me something to think about:
Wow, utterly amazing. You (both) are amazing!!! I don't care if the image is two days old or twenty years old...that little child was still the victim of a terrible crime and continue to be a victim!!!
Again with the once a victim always a victim thinking. No matter how many exclamation points you put on it, it is cruel to insist that someone will always be a victim and can never overcome what happened.
I can't believe to are trying to minimize someone looking at pictures of children in sex acts. Everything is a gateway, don't you understand? Marijuana (can) leads to other (and more harmful) drugs. Just looking can lead to actively participating or manufacturing child porn. Just because it doesn't happen every time doesn't mean we should wait until that person acts out their peverted fantasies; we stop them before they can victimize anyone else!  
His idea of a gateway intrigued me. He thinks child porn is a gateway to actively participating or manufacturing child porn. Could that be true?

If looking at pictures can lead someone to act out something in the images, it must happen in areas other than child porn. Maybe first-person-shooter video games are a gateway to mass killings. Do people who play FPS games eventually end up acting out the images in which they have immersed themselves? With the numbers of people who enjoy those video games, we would certainly have seen the resulting carnage if that were true but mass killings are not on the rise. If a person were inspired by video games to commit mass killings, that person would be only a tiny percentage of the millions who play FPS games.

Is looking at adult porn a gateway to sexually abusing adults? Some evidence actually shows a correlation between increased availability of porn with a decrease in sex crimes. It is possible, again, that someone could be inspired by pornography to do something terrible. Porn is easily and widely available and used by such large numbers of both men and women, the person so inspired would be only a tiny percentages of those who look at porn.

Why would looking at the images in child porn affect the viewer differently? The vast majority of viewers would not move from viewing to acting out the images. Again, if someone did move from viewing to criminal activity because of what he saw in the CP images, that person would be a tiny minority of child porn users.

Tom Joad said,
Just because it doesn't happen every time doesn't mean we should wait until that person acts out their peverted fantasies; we stop them before they can victimize anyone else!
Does the commenter honestly believe that perverted fantasies are limited to those who look at child porn? 

The rest of his emphatic sentence makes as little sense. Do we put video gamers in prison before they commit a mass shooting inspired by the images they saw? Do we put adult porn users in prison before they commit a rape inspired by the images they saw? Do we put window-shoppers in prison just in case they are considering a smash-and-grab?

If the gateway idea were a valid means of deciding who goes to prison, we would be incarcerating young men who look at the Victoria's Secret catalog because the catalog is a gateway to adult porn which is a gateway to child porn.

We don't put people in prison for something we think they might do in the future. We actually are supposed to wait until the crime is committed before we punish someone. 

America is funny that way.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

looking at pictures

A note from my husband:

There was a suicide Tuesday. A 75 year old took his cellmates medicine. He had a 15 year sentence and knew he was never going to get out. Same charge.
Fifteen years for looking at pictures! Using that phrase is seen as minimizing the crime and avoiding responsibility and our attorney hammered home the message that we should never say those words. It is impossible to avoid that phrase because looking at pictures was the crime.

Looking at pictures is what this man did and he paid with his very life. That's inhumane. Putting him in prison didn't decrease the supply of child porn images, doesn't stop the production of more. If there were a direct line between his looking and the people who produce the images, prosecutors would show us that connection but they can't. Because that line, that direct connection, is not there.

Someone out there will read this and scream supply and demand! Supply and demand does not work in child porn the way it works for iPods. If it did, prosecutors would be drawing diagrams in courtrooms, showing how this man looking at pictures motivated someone else--years ago!--to produce the pictures he looked at. There is no way to connect this man's Internet habit with someone who--tomorrow, next month--molests a child and makes an image of the molestation.

There are no diagrams. 

He was looking at pictures.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

FBI, distributor of child pornography

This is troubling.
The FBI seized and ran a child pornography service late last year as investigators worked to identify its customers...
The Bureau ran the service for two weeks while attempting to identify more than 5,000 customers, according to a Seattle FBI agent's statements to the court. Court records indicate the site continued to distribute child pornography online while under FBI control... 
Operating a child porn website is illegal. Distributing child porn is illegal. Possessing child porn is illegal. The FBI did all of this themselves in order to catch those who do the same.
According to the agent’s statement, investigators were unable to identify “Website A” users through the service’s records. Allowing the site to continue to operate – allowing pedophiles to continue swapping photos and accessing images stored on the site – was necessary to identify the customers.
Ah, so here it is. Identifying those who used this particular site was hard, so the FBI decided to change the rules for themselves. They decided that their ends justified their means. Shutting down the website wasn't enough?

Law enforcement officers are not above the law. If people can be incarcerated for years for possessing a few mild images, why is it okay for the FBI to run an entire website distributing even worse images? There is no foolproof measure of character that determines that it is okay for some people to distribute child pornography and not acceptable for others to distribute the images. 

When my husband was arrested for possession of child porn, no one evaluated his character to see if he is one of the special ones who can look at child porn. There was only the fact that investigators found child porn images on his computer; that was enough to send him to prison. He didn't run a website; he didn't distribute any images. 

FBI agents did, though. The FBI distributed thousands of images. The FBI is responsible for every one of the images that was distributed or downloaded during the time they ran the site.

A moral evil such as child pornography isn't something law enforcement--anyone--should play with. And running a child porn site is playing when you are also telling people how bad child porn is.
In what has become a disturbing legal cliché, federal prosecutors often assert that each time an image of rape or molestation is shared, the child is abused again. 
That was among the arguments offered by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Marci Ellsworth last year when she sent a Seattle child molester to federal prison for child pornography crimes unrelated to the Nebraska investigation. 
Ellsworth opined that Pinson’s crimes were not, as the child pornography consumers sometimes argue, “victimless.” 
“Distributing of child pornography – images and videos of real children experiencing the worst moments of their young lives – is not a ‘victimless’ crime, and the heinous nature of this offense should never be diminished by referring to it as ‘just pictures,’” Ellsworth told the court.  “The children portrayed … suffer real and permanent damage, for the rest of their lives, each and every time their exploitation is shared over the Internet.”
If that is true--that the people in the child porn images "suffer real and permanent damage, for the rest of their lives, each and every time their exploitation is shared over the Internet"--why shouldn't the FBI be held responsible for what happened while they ran the site? 

Perhaps plumping up the number of arrests is more important than actually protecting the children in the images because if law enforcement truly wanted to find the people who are producing the images, they should stop putting people in prison for looking at the images. Looking at the images is the only way to identify those responsible.

Driving child porn further underground has only made it more dangerous. When no one dares to admit looking at child porn, who will come forward to identify the children or adults in the images? 

The article also quotes some of the more abhorrent comments made on the site, detailing what the commenters imagined doing with and to the children. Ugly, repulsive, stomach-turning, frightening comments...comments protected by the First Amendment, nonetheless. When commenters are anonymous, they will say things they would never say in the presence of someone who knows them. 

What is the difference between an anonymous commenter who talks about hurting a child and a commenter who wants to shoot my husband? Both are talking with some pleasure about doing something illegal, both are talking about very real people--the children in the images and my husband. While it is possible that someone could put action behind their anonymous chatter and hurt a child or shoot my husband, it is not likely. 

What is likely, is that if the FBI faces no consequences for distributing child pornography, the agency will continue on that course. 

Which laws will they break next?