Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saving Kids From Child Porn -- Possession, That Is

Kids get plenty of advice about how to avoid sexual abuse. Don't talk to strangers. Don't let anyone touch or see your private parts. If anything makes you uncomfortable, talk to a grown-up friend. You never have to keep a secret that you don't feel good about.

When it comes to the internet, never divulge your personal information to people you don't know. Don't get into intimate conversations with strangers.

Those are ways to keep from being a victim of adults who might abuse you sexually.

Today I'll add a new one. Be very, very careful what links you click. Keep you and your family from being destroyed by a government child pornography (CP) investigation.

Kids take risks. Teen boys are notorious for it. You meet people online, you exchange information. Your online friends tell you about cool things to go look at. You're bound to look at porn -- probably lots and lots of diverse porn. So what happens when someone sends you a URL and the people doing sexy stuff look kind of young? It's just another weird thing you're seeing, right? You might consult with your parents but -- no way! What kid is going to consult with their parents about the porn they're looking at? Maybe you get links to other sites, and there are people doing weird and interesting stuff.

If you're looking at porn, the most natural thing in the world is to try to find people like you doing it. Fat people, old people, people of different ethnicities -- there's porn for them. So here's an active and innocent question for an 8-year-old -- is there any porn of kids my age? Porn with kids in it? Child porn?

Here's a heart-breaking scenario: Suppose you are begin sexually abused and want to find out online more about what's happening to you.

Somehow or other, you look at a bunch of CP online.

You have just bought your family a lottery ticket to disaster. Law enforcement has libraries of CP and can spot the digital signature of known files when they are downloaded. When they find a series of hardcore pictures downloaded to a particular IP address, it gets added to their list of cases to investigate. I am told that in some areas, especially rural areas, every such case may be investigated -- you will be investigated. In large urban areas, there are far more cases than resources to investigate them. That is where the lottery ticket comes in -- some friends may have been doing it for years with no bad consequences.

The IP address identifies a household but not the individual person. Police don't know who within the house has downloaded the CP until they investigate. An investigation typically involves police arriving early in the morning, demanding entry, and seizing all the electronic devices in the household. Neighbors will likely find out that your house has been raided for CP possession. They will assume that someone is guilty of molesting kids, since people assume it goes together with CP possession. Your father is the most likely suspect. They may keep the electronics for months or even years, while your family's fate remains in limbo.

Perhaps the police will be able to determine that it was you who downloaded the material. If you are a teenager, you are in deep trouble. <Here's one case>. I don't know what happens if you are 8 years old. Perhaps no charges will be filed. But the investigation has disrupted your family immensely.

I think this should be a matter of deep concern to parents.

From a rather young age, kids have a good idea of the things they can do that can harm others. Don't hit other people. Don't take their stuff, and don't wreck it. Don't poke sharp sticks at their eyes. Don't call them names that make them feel bad. Avoid the name-calling online too. If kids do break the rules -- getting into a fight, bullying someone or stealing their lunch money, they have a good sense of how much harm they might cause and can judge the risk to themselves accordingly if they are caught.

A pretty decent moral rule is that just looking at something online can't hurt anyone. It's a pretty sensible rule for adults and especially appealing to kids. War documentaries typically feature dead people in grotesque positions. Ordinary horror movies and action films portray a great deal of awful stuff. A range of cruel and insensitive sex can be seen in adult pornography. Yet when pictures show children involved in sexual situations, even if they seem happy, the rules are completely different.

For this post today, I want to set aside how much harm is actually involved in those pictures. I want to look instead at how a kid is supposed to know that what they are seeing is totally different from other horrible stuff they may see. We adults may know that the smiling kids are being exploited, but how are the kids who view it supposed to know that? They might imagine doing those same things they see in the videos and find it an interesting idea -- certainly not horrible. Just as kids in the porn may not realize at the time that they are being exploited and harmed, kids of the same age who are watching it may not realize it either, right?

Perhaps when all the facts of the case are clear, kids who have downloaded CP will be free and clear -- no charges will be brought. But the costs of the investigation are enormous. The raid at dawn that feels like a home invasion. The disappearance of the electronics. The uncertainty. The neighbors suspecting your dad is a child molester.

Here's an adult who <lost everything> due to an investigation where no charges were brought: .

The rules kids learn about staying safe from sexual abuse are mostly common sense. The rules to follow to avoid committing felony CP possession are less intuitive and less clear.

Given the world we live in today, parents should be alert to keeping their kids from innocently committing felonies online. But a world that requires that caution is broken. I think it is another argument for why the government should stop investigating simple CP possession.
The disruption of police raids is a price I am willing to pay for terrorism investigations, or in the service of investigating murders and rapes and child sexual abuse -- including the production of CP. But not for clicking a mouse a bunch of times to see pictures, when no one will ever know -- except the police who are listening in.

The Supreme Court wrote in 1969: "If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.” I think they had it right back then. Suppose you disagree. Is it such a serious crime that it warrants armed raids? The fact that a well-meaning 8-year-old can trigger a raid adds another risk that innocent people's lives will be ruined. And to what benefit? It is all in the service of punishing the man, sitting alone in his own house, looking at pictures.

Let me add that some CP is awful and disgusting. If I saw it I would be filled with rage at the people who made it. But that doesn't mean the government should go to great lengths to imprison people who look at it.



4 comments:

  1. Interesting piece. I will add that in most states, including my home state, the age of legal responsibility is based on the common law, and is at age 7. So an 8 year old may still be charged, which I believe is terribly young. Furthermore, for felonies, a child has to be charged as an adult in my home state. Again, I believe that is an injustice. How is a little 8-year-boy supposed to know what child porn is even?

    Concerning how they'd react. I came across pornographic images as a child, though they involved adults. I must have been at least 14, though certain medicines made my sex drive similar to that of a 12-year-old. I was horrified by even the pixelated images in the search engine, because I knew they were wrong. I think an 8-year-old would be horrified by the images. But then again, we both have never seen those images, so we can only guess.

    I think child porn possession should remain a crime. However, I believe in rehabilitating the offender. Don't put them on a registry. Give them therapy and maybe start a twelve-step group. These raids are totally crazy, though.

    I think the fact that kids can find child porn is exactly why those images should be completely removed from the internet. I have seen porn as a kid, and it was creepy.

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    1. It would be great to remove the offending images from the internet, but how can that possibly be done? People should stop stealing and being mean to each other too. I'm most interested in actual policies that would work and not harm innocent people in the process and make everyone nervous.

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  2. Possession should without a doubt be classified as a victimless crime. How many people watch/download videos of live murder, or even the ISIS executions?

    Logically the system as it exists now doesn't work. One the one hand you have a group of people who have no possible way of venting sexual frustration (bar imagination), without being guilty of a crime. And on the other you have a system that treats all guilty of this kind of crime equally. How can they give not even an inch and expect that some people wont go over the edge?

    I believe that any site hosting this stuff should be shut down. And certainly anyone who regularly produces/distributes it should be punished severely. But as for the viewers, what crime have they committed beyond giving themselves a moment of relief?

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  3. Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you.

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