Thursday, October 31, 2013

villains we love to hate

A Halloween story making the rounds recently drew much online ire: a woman planned to hand letters to overweight children instead of candy. The letter said:
You [sic] child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season.
My hope is that you will step up and parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits.
People were outraged. How cruel she is! What a witch! I bet her house gets egged! People like her are just evil!

People love a good villain and this woman is Cruella DeVille with children instead of puppies.

To be a good villain, he or she must be guilty of something totally reprehensible, completely beyond the pale. Killing puppies for their fur? Withholding candy on Halloween? Criticizing children's weights? Definitely reprehensible and beyond any pale we ever met.

Other good villains include bullies and sex offenders. Everyone knows that those people are very, very bad. 

I wonder, though. How does it feel to see the billboards and TV commercials and Facebook posts that tell us to Stop the Bullying! Do kids see those and think I must stop bullying in its tracks, or do they feel shame and think, I hope no one thinks I'm a bully. How does a kid feel to be labeled a bully? I'm thinking she must feel as if someone is bullying her.

And sex offenders. Sex offenders are very bad people. Why else would law enforcement make them register unless they were all very dangerous? Think. Everything rational says the dangerous registered sex offender is extremely rare and yet...coming down harshly on all sex offenders is accepted. You can't list people on the Internet, tell us what crime they committed, and then tell us that the list is to keep us safe from those people without encouraging the pointing fingers and the cry of Shame! How does it feel to be labeled a sex offender? I'm thinking he must feel as if someone is bullying him. 

Shame is a hard rock to live under. We should encourage those who did wrong to take their punishment and then go back to life as usual. If we label them, restrict where they can live, and hold them up as an example of bad we have made it impossible for them to come out from under that rock. We can't label someone a bully and think that won't stick for a very long time.

The lady with the letters for chubby kids? Probably a hoax. Not so scary after all....just as bullies and sex offenders aren't as scary as you are led to believe. Do you feel let down? 

The anti-bullying programs and the sex offender registry have been letdowns, too. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

bad thing doesn't define her

A six-year-old was kidnapped and molested in 1999. This is almost the worst thing parents can imagine happening to a child. Not the worst, surely. We've all known parents who have lost children to death through illness or accident. Some of us know parents who have lost children to murder or suicide. Ranking terrible events on a scale of 1 to 10 is a pointless endeavor.

A child kidnapped and molested, though. I can only imagine the parents' terror. 

The kidnapper was never caught.

What happened when she was home again?
For the most part, Chris and Mindy [the parents] tried to keep life as normal as possible.
“We thought it was best,” said Chris. 
“I wanted her to be Haley Who Went to School and Was a Dancer and a Cheerleader, not Haley the Girl Who Was Kidnapped,” said Mindy. 
They didn't treat their little girl as if she was forever damaged. They kept life as normal as possible.
Some people were critical. They thought Chris and Mindy should have kept a tighter leash on their daughter.  
Yes, there is always someone who thinks they can see more clearly while standing outside. 
But the Herzogs were so grateful, they ignored the criticism and went on with life. 
Haley went to school. She ran the neighborhood. She threw herself into a million activities at Millard South. She was a cheerleader, a thespian, sang in show choir. She played violin in a local youth symphony and she wrote for the school newspaper.
Terrible things happen but we don't have to stay stuck in terrible. Learning how to recover can help us the next time life serves up something awful. Teaching our children how to recover--without labeling them as damaged goods--is a wonderful gift.
Haley, like the others at Millard South in 2011, found a way to cope after a fellow student shot and killed a beloved assistant principal, injured the principal and then turned the gun on himself.
I'm only guessing but perhaps her earlier experience of a terrible event followed by life as normal as possible helped her to deal with the school shooting twelve years later. Perhaps she was able to help other students when that happened.
And here's what she wants you to know: A bad thing happened to her. But it doesn't define her. 
Nope. She and her parents have made sure of that. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

if porn is addictive, do we ban it?

At The Public Discourse, Morgan Bennett writes,
Internet pornography is a “monstrous injustice,” and the time for its abolition has come.
She makes some excellent points in a pair of articles though I disagree with her conclusion.

In The New Narcotic, she talks about the addictive effects of repeated viewing of pornography. Viewing pornography can be more addictive than hard drugs like cocaine or heroin. Because pornographic images, once seen, stay in memory and can be recalled consciously or unconsciously, porn addictions can have a more lasting effect than using drugs that do not remain forever in the user's system.
...internet pornography does more than just spike the level of dopamine in the brain for a pleasure sensation. It literally changes the physical matter within the brain so that new neurological pathways require pornographic material in order to trigger the desired reward sensation. ...
Pornography, by both arousing (the “high” effect via dopamine) and causing an orgasm (the “release” effect via opiates), is a type of polydrug that triggers both types of addictive brain chemicals in one punch, enhancing its addictive propensity as well as its power to instigate a pattern of increasing tolerance. Tolerance in pornography’s case requires not necessarily greater quantities of pornography but more novel pornographic content like more taboo sexual acts, child pornography, or sadomasochistic pornography.  [My emphasis.]
Powerful stuff. The idea that this is all freely available--and can be used in privacy and anonymity--is worrisome. Kids who happen onto, or search out, porn have no idea what they may have started. For that matter, neither do adults. An addiction to legal pornography can lead a regular viewer to more novel content, images of more taboo sexual acts. The easy availability of porn on the internet inevitably leads to more people looking at illegal images.

Just as not everyone who has a beer ends up an addict, not every porn consumer will end up addicted to child porn. Some will and the numbers will increase over time.

In Internet Pornography & the First Amendment, she makes a persuasive argument that internet pornography damages both society and personal relationships. The pervasiveness of pornography, freely available and available at all times, is bound to have an effect on society.

If I could, with a stroke of luck or genius or my pen, make all pornography vanish, I would do it. Alas, I cannot. And neither can legislators.
First, local, state, and federal governments should enforce the current obscenity-related laws already on the books. Nearly every state has anti-obscenity laws. The enforcement of those laws would send a message that the production and distribution of obscene material is unacceptable in a civilized society. Second, local and national groups should run billboard, TV, and internet advertising campaigns to expose the harms of internet pornography to the public. 
Looking beyond those “first steps,” I would argue for the eventual enactment of new laws that would censor obscene internet pornography.
Pornography is too easily created, too easily distributed, and too appealing to the curious for it ever to be successfully abolished. Did the prohibition of alcohol stop people from drinking booze? Has the prohibition on marijuana made pot unavailable? Has the ban on child pornography stopped production or downloading?

Have we truly learned nothing from those efforts?

What the ban on pot and other drugs has done is put millions of people in prison and vacuumed over $1 trillion out of taxpayer pockets...all without reducing drug use. Putting thousands and thousands of people in prison for possessing illegal pornography has done nothing to reduce the amount of child porn available.

Another effect of prohibiting child pornography has been to make it impossible for child porn addicts to ask for help to stop. Morgan Bennett, in The New Narcotic, nicely outlines how addictive pornography can be and in Internet Pornography & the First Amendment she wants to penalize those with that addiction. Compassionate, she's not.

Imagine those efforts applied to currently-legal porn as well. How many more would we incarcerate? How many more families would be torn apart by the justice system? How many breadwinners would spend years in prison when therapy or 12-step groups would have served them better?

Her suggestion that we educate the public on the dangers of porn is sensible. Something related has been suggested before.

Censorship or abolition of any kind of pornography is, quite simply, impossible. To attempt to do that will destroy more families than the porn itself does.

Friday, October 18, 2013

persecution leads to suicides

Five recent stories, eight deaths:
When the threat of crushing public humiliation looms, too many decide suicide is the only way out or the surest way to keep from embarrassing their families and disappointing their friends.

How do we reduce that threat? Stop the public humiliation. Abolish the sex offender registry so offenders have a shot at a normal life when they finish serving their sentences. Stop treating sex offenders as if they are irredeemable. Stop treating sex offenders as if they are the most dangerous of all criminals. Speak up.

Churches should put their teachings about mercy and redemption into action by welcoming sex offenders. City councils should decrease the residency restrictions for sex offenders. State legislators should stop using sex offenders as the easy way to prove they are tough on crime. We should stop using the phrase "sex offender" to label a huge variety of offenses as if they are all equally bad.

I'd like to see people fight back when comments like this are made:
adios pervert .. now america dont have to pay for your prison life ..
I'd like to see a flood of responses to those comments, defending sex offenders. Yes, defending sex offenders. 

When the law encourages hatred and vigilantism, that law is wrong.

Laws that deliberately make life difficult for sex offenders are wrong.

When a law pretending to protect children results in fatherless children and a child dead of suicide, that law is wrong.

Abolish the sex offender registry.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

when embarrassing pictures go viral

In his comment on the arousal is not the crime post, Ethan included a link to a Salon article by a young woman who tells what it was like when a photo of her went viral.

Not just any photo. An embarrassing photo.

On Facebook, she had posted a photo of herself dressed as the sexy Lara Croft for Halloween. Unfortunately, she had neglected to check her Facebook privacy settings, leaving her photo open to the public. Someone saw the photo, re-posted it and then the re-postings snowballed. Cruel comments were posted wherever the photo was posted. And it was posted everywhere, it seemed.

So I laughed it all off at first — but then, I read the comments. 
“What a waste of space,” read one. Another: “Heifers like her should be put down.” Yet another said I should just kill myself “and spare everyone’s eyes.” Hundreds of hateful messages, most of them saying that I was a worthless human being and shaming me for having the audacity to go in public dressed as a sexy video game character. How dare I dress up and have a good time! 
We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you. But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded — and took my heart with it.
LisaMoore commented after Ethan posted his link:
The Salon article is interesting and I showed it to my kids to reinforce not to put anything online that could be embarrassing. It is not the same as child porn pictures though. She was an adult.
True, the Lara Croft photo is not the same as child porn but there are similarities worth noting. She lost control of an image of herself, an image that she did not want the world to see. 

This must be a tiny slice of what it feels like to know that strangers on the internet are seeing, sharing, downloading photos of oneself in a sexual situation. For children, who were coerced or outright forced into sexual situations, to learn that there are photos of those experiences out there...I can't imagine what that must feel like. Embarrassment and humiliation must be the least of it.

This young woman, though, took action.

I called my friend Terri Jean, a photographer. She reminded me that I was beautiful, and told me I would get through this. And then, like any kick-ass heroines, we came up with a plan. [My emphasis.]
The photo was of her and she wanted as much control over it as she could get. She used her paralegal training and experience to fight back. She began contacting people who had shared it on Facebook and asked them to take down the post. Most of them were surprised to hear from her.
And of course, they hadn’t really thought of me as a person. Why should they? These images are throwaways, little bursts of amusement to get through a long workday. You look, you chuckle, you get some ridicule off your chest and move on to the next source of distraction. No one thought about the possibility that I might read those words. Far less, that I would talk back. 
Next, I began the monumental task of sending out copyright violation notices to the websites hosting the image — I would have to issue hundreds of them. My work as a paralegal had given me some training in this regard, but it was tedious, like pulling weeds out of the planet’s largest garden. I had to seek out each instance of the image and sift around until I could find contact information. 
No wonder this woman chose Lara Croft for her Halloween costume! She and Lara are both determined, resourceful, and smart.

The story for child pornography images is different. The law does not allow people to fight back the way this young woman did. Parents who want to remove images of their children from the Internet or children, now adults, who want to track down their own images--what can they do? 

If families go looking for child porn images, even with the purpose of fighting back the way this young woman did, they are likely to end up in trouble with the law. If an adult finds the pornographic image of herself as a child, she will herself commit the crime of possessing it.

Because the images are illegal, the websites on which they are available are driven far underground, making the job of tracking much more difficult.

If you are thinking--But the woman in the Lara Croft costume wasn't able to remove the images from the internet. She lost the fight!--I cannot argue with that. There is no way for her to remove all the images of her from the Internet. Ultimately, she did lose but not without putting up a fight, and not without making some of her tormentors aware of what they were doing. Being able to fight back felt good.

The children in child porn images never have the opportunity to fight back. Law enforcement is not trying to remove the images from the internet. No one is trying to confront those who re-posted the images to ask, "Why are you posting pictures of me?" The children are left with the possibility of receiving court-ordered restitution payments with which they can afford therapy. 

Is therapy the best we can do? What if fighting back would do more good than therapy or if it would make therapy a little less necessary? 

Reading this woman's story makes me see how powerful she felt when she found a way to fight back.

And while my self-confidence took a large blow from the experience, I’m getting over it. My photographer friend Terri did a photo shoot with me after it all went down. She’s a retro pinup photographer, and I’ve been posing for her for a while now, but that particular shoot felt great. Just to be seen a little bit more as I wanted to be.
But I refuse to disappear. I still go jogging in public. I don’t hide my flabby arms or chubby ankles for fear of offending someone else’s delicate sensibilities. I dress in a way that makes me happy with myself. And this Halloween, I’m thinking of reprising my role as Lara Croft just to give all the haters the middle finger.
Criminalizing child porn denies its victims the chance to fight back. Instead, they are in limbo, waiting for law enforcement to punish the people who downloaded the images. 

Waiting for someone else to do something. They aren't even waiting for someone to save them because that's not going to happen. They are stuck waiting for something to happen which doesn't affect them much at all. Arresting people for possession doesn't rid the Internet of the images, nor does it give the child (or family) any control over, well, anything.

They are relegated to the role of victim, a role some refuse to let them abandon. Tom Joad is not the only commenter to think once a victim, always a victim:
 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!!!
Some people seem to like the idea that children in child porn images will never be able to recover from the experience. Those children are not all alike. They each have their own way of recovering from bad experiences. Some of them would certainly prefer to be able to take action.

Do I really want child porn images popping up on my Facebook news feed? Certainly not. Society has a very strong taboo on sex with children and anyone who dared to post something like that would immediately come under fire from those who know how wrong it is. Wouldn't you protest? Wouldn't you demand that your Facebook friend remove the image? Wouldn't you do something to help any child you might recognize in the images? 

I hope it would work like that, though perhaps I am wrong and the world would come to accept the images. Would you? Freedom poses difficult problems. 

Would decriminalizing child porn create more viewers? I don't know. There seems to be no shortage of new viewers even though it is illegal now. Again, freedom poses difficult problems.

The thought of victims prevented from fighting back is painful. 

Would every family or child want to do what this woman did? Probably not. But for those who have a heart for the battle and who want to feel the power surge that comes with fighting back, why make it impossible for them to do that?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

why suicide?

This is not okay.
A city councilman in central Iowa killed himself only hours after detectives found child pornography on his home computer, a Story County sheriff’s official said Saturday.
This is what comes of the demonization of sex offenders: pointless suicides. Let's not let this one be pointless; let us learn from it.
Investigators also questioned [the councilman] that day about several images of nude boys found on the computer. Most images came from the Internet, but some may have been from local victims, Thomas said. [My emphasis.]
Of course they may have been from local victims! Were they? 

Sheriff's Captain Barry Thomas should be ashamed of himself for smearing the dead man's reputation with an accusation that has not even been made. If local victims turn up, deal with it then. In the meantime, we should remember that Sheriff's Captain Barry Thomas may have been molesting children himself just before he said that.

Why did this man think suicide was the only way out? I don't know. 

Maybe because he has heard the jokes about sex offenders. Why do we test on animals when the prisons are full of pedophiles? That's a real knee-slapper, almost as hysterical as the evergreen Don't drop the soap. 

Prison for sex offenders is more dangerous than for other criminals. Some people celebrate that fact. The irony? 

Inmates who are most threatening to sex offenders--because they think sex offenses are just that unforgivable--are themselves many times more likely to end up back in prison than the sex offenders. The jokes and threats about how sex offenders might be attacked in prison come from people who are more likely to be the victim of a robbery than to be the victim of a sex offender.

Maybe he committed suicide because he has heard people threaten to maim or kill sex offenders and he knows that he will probably be vilified as well. Maybe because he knows that sex offenders have been killed by vigilantes. 

Maybe because he knows that no matter how many years he might spend in prison, the truth is that being added to the sex offender registry is effectively a life sentence.

Perhaps this man committed suicide because he was ashamed of looking at child porn. People who want to stop looking at child porn have no safe way to ask for help; therapists and counselors are mandated to report them to law enforcement.

Put yourself in his shoes. Think of the absolute worst fantasy you've ever had about sex--the dirtiest. You're not the type to do that? Okay, think about even your cleanest fantasy. Now imagine it in a headline. Football coach fantasizes about wearing silky undergarments. Banker fantasizes about meeting the teller in a hotel room over lunch. College professor fantasizes about a steamy afternoon in her office with the student who wears sweater vests. How many of us would find life very difficult if our fantasies were in the headlines?

If this man had known that his suicide was not going to save his family and friends from knowing his humiliation and shame, perhaps he would have gutted it out. Perhaps he would have learned that a life made difficult by others is still a life worth living. 

Perhaps he would have become a better man. Evidence shows, in an article from a less sensational, more respectful article, that this was a good man. The worst thing we know about him--the worst thing we think we know about him--cannot wipe away the good he has done, the good man that he was.

(Updated to add link in final paragraph.)

Updated: Shelly Stow at With Justice for All has related thoughts about another case of suicide.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

arousal is not the crime

A filthy secret about child pornography cases: plethysmography. In this test, sensors are attached to a man's penis to detect arousal while he is shown child pornography images. Though the word is spelled with enough letters to make it sound all science-y, this is a barbaric practice similar to phrenology.

A person prosecuted for owning child porn images is shown child porn images by someone paid to maintain a collection of child porn images. That's twisted.

The good news is that not all jurisdictions use this test and now we have even more good news:
Yesterday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees New York, Vermont, and Connecticut, determined that using an erection-measuring device as part of probation for one sex offender was an “extraordinarily invasive” and a violation of due process. ...
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals saw some problems with the claims of plethysmography's effectiveness. The judges wrote, “We find it odd that, to deter a person from committing sexual crimes, the Government would use a procedure designed to arouse and excite a person with depictions of sexual conduct closely related to the sexual crime of conviction.”
Commenter tarran at the Reason link sums it up well:
The idea was you show people stuff, and if they start to get hard, you know they really like it. 
So, if you show a guy a picture of an eight year old girl and the blood starts flowing to his nethers you know that eight year olds arouse him. 
It doesn't tell you how likely he is going to *act* on the arousal. But if he is aroused by eight year olds, then he is a devil incarnate and can be locked up safely forever. 
I work with some very pretty 25 year-old women... if you ran me through the machine while showing pictures of them cavorting in swimwear, you *would* get a response. Somehow I've managed to avoid raping any of them... as has every other male in my company. That tells you everything you need to know about the usefulness of the machine. 
This case is another tug in the effort to drag accepted thinking about sex crimes into the twenty-first century. Or the twentieth.