I’m Back

March 10, 2009

After a long hiatus from posting I’ll be making more frequent posts. I’m returning by quoting a paragraph from an online book by John Robin Sharpe, who is the subject of a child porn case that reached the Canadian Supreme Court. The bold text is my doing, not Sharpe’s.

The metaphor of “sending messages” is a favourite of those who advocate harsh penalties including judges. Somehow it is assumed that the intent of the message sent is identical with the meaning of the one received. But what message do harsher penalties send to those who engage or are tempted to engage in prohibited activities? It is true that some, the more timid and less aggressive potential offenders may be dissuaded. Harsher penalties are an escalation of social conflict and lead to violence, murders and more resources and “glamour” for the police. The adjustments to more restrictive laws and harsher penalties favour organized crime, corruption of our police and justice industry, and the use of weapons. We have seen this happen in the case of drugs where the police, courts and corrections, as well as the legal profession are as dependent on our drug laws as any junkie is on heroin. With high taxes we know we can create a similar situation with respect to cigarettes and smuggling. A few centuries ago during a crime hysteria much like the present one hanging was introduced by the “Reform Party” minded of the day for crimes such as theft and robbery. While some would be robbers may have been discouraged others took the logical step of eliminating witnesses to their crime. As a result murders increased. Because of a “tough on crime” attitude it was centuries, and thousands of unnecessary murders and executions later before the penalties were “softened”. Eventually juries and judges often refused to convict despite overwhelming evidence of guilt. The popular theory promoted by politicians, the media and advocate/activist groups is that harsher penalties, with a dollop of “education” will solve problems of crime. It is seen as a sign of moral weakness to acknowledge that the severity of penalties feed back into the type and nature of crimes committed.

The United States seems in the midst of a artificially constructed child porn panic designed to strip its citizens of liberties and funnel money to its law enforcement agencies. All this comes at the expense of its taxpayers, of men who look at legal adult porn featuring youthful looking women, and even of teenagers who make risque pictures with their cell phone cameras. Will child porn become the next vice on which the police, the courts, the prison system, and the legal profession become dependent?

The decades of the war on drugs, which physically exist and must be physically transported from producers to consumers, has been a disaster. Almost all child porn trade would seem to now take place in the virtual world, were it traverses the globe in seconds. We can’t keep drugs, a physical item, out of our prisons, yet people think we can keep JPEGs and MPEGs off the computers of people who want them?

The more I read about the anti-child porn efforts, the more I see similarities between the war on drugs and the war on child porn. We’re throwing more and more money at the child porn problem, characterizing teenagers and comic book collectors as child pornographers, and opening the door to government surveillance of the Internet. And what do we get for all the money, damaged lives, and curtailed liberties? We get a problem that isn’t getting any better, but is getting worse, possibly as a result of our misguided efforts to fight child porn in the first place.

Even someone who recognizes how the scope of materials considered child pornography continues to grow may find such materials repugnant. But repugnant as it may be, do we really want to have control over the production and distribution of such materials left to a criminal underworld, or would we be better off with a legal but tightly regulated marketplace for child porn and child erotica (they’re not the same thing)?