Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? -Juvenal (Literally: “Who will guard the guards themselves?” modern usage: “Who watches the watchmen?”)

Neil M. Cohen‘s connection with child pornography first broke in July 2008. Cohen was a Deputy Assembly Speaker in the New Jersey statehouse. NJ.com reported on his case and said that

Among the more than 100 laws Cohen has sponsored is one that created a 24-hour hotline for members of the public to report computer crimes, including child pornography.

Cohen’s case has made its way through the legal system and the Associated Press reports on this. Two things stand out.

Neil Cohen, 59, acknowledged viewing and printing images meant for sexual gratification from a computer in his former legislative office.

The text “meant for sexual gratification” is interesting. It should be irrelevant whether Cohen was aroused or repulsed by the images. If we take into consideration how a defendant felt about an image in determining whether that image is or is not child pornography, then we are really trying him for his feelings and not for his actions. Also it’s interesting how neither this article or any others I’ve see about Cohen allude to how the images he had were the worst imaginable kind or had infants being raped. Is it Cohen’s high profile position that caused the police to withhold such statements, or were such statements not representative of the images Cohen viewed? Could it be that Cohen’s images and interests were in little more than teenage girls shaking their boobs?

The Associated Press article also includes this

“Mr. Cohen, through his actions in viewing and distributing child pornography, linked himself to an abhorrent industry that preys on children,” Attorney General Paula Dow said in a statement. “Every single person who willingly enters the criminal network of suppliers and users of child pornography becomes part of the tragic exploitation and abuse of the innocent victims.”

I wish Dow would clarify how “an abhorrent industry that preys on children” and “criminal network of suppliers and users of child pornography” and “innocent victims” all relate to the teenage girls who are threatened with child pornography prosecution for “sexting” racy pictures of themselves to their boyfriends?

Dow’s statement is suspicious, especially her use of the terms “industry” and “criminal network”. I’ve just finished Philip Jenkin’s Beyond Tolerance, and already a relevant passage comes to mind.

The non-commercial nature of the {child porn} trade deserves emphasis, because so many writers on the topic still make highly inaccurate remarks about the supposedly profitable nature of the trade and its organized-crime ties: this image is reinforced by the misleading word industry for the child porn world. 1

Jenkins knew this back in 2001, and in the last three years I’ve found nothing to contradict his earlier findings. Dow should know this too, so her use of this inflammatory language smacks of a deliberate lie and an intentional distortion of the reality of the child porn world.

1 Philip Jenkins, Beyond Tolerance, (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 91

This is the first post of a new project I’m starting that I call ‘Their Side of the Story’. The news is filled with tales of investigation, arrest, conviction, and sentencing of those suspected of accessing child porn. The stories often quote a police investigator, sometimes a coworker, sometimes a family member. When these stories are posted on the website of a media outlet that allows reader comments, the comments are almost uniformly hostile even when the case is at the stage of the initial arrest or accusation, with few daring to even suggest that the accused could possibly be innocent. The crimen exceptum reigns.

Almost never does the accused get to say anything. But now a few of them are going to get a chance to tell their side of the story. In a free society (and it’s an open question if the United States can any longer be considered a free society) all should be free to express their views and to answer their accusers. I’m proud to be helping these people do this.

The names or initials they use are probably pseudonyms. I don’t ask them for their real identity. My only contact with them is through anonymous e-mail.

So, without further ado:

A child porn offender, this is my story

Hi, I’m a convicted child porn offender, this is my story. For about 5 years I indulged in CP. I surfed the web many countless hours looking for the free stuff. At the turn of the century there was a lot of it available for free. I also purchased memberships to the pay sites because this is where the good pictures were. I probably joined at least 50 of these sites in that period.

The sites I was purchasing memberships were called Lolita or Loli sites. The free stuff I downloaded was classified as erotica. These sites generally had girls posing with cloths on or nude. Not a single site I joined had sex play or simulated sex. They were similar to Playboy or Penthouse. Each girl would do a series of photos generally showing 20 to 50 pictures in varies stages of dress and undress. The quality of the sites varied greatly. From blurry barely distinguishable to HD quality. The girls appears to be happy, healthy, and they looked like they were enjoying themselves. None of the content was the worst ever you hear the LEO’s and D.A’s talk about. Other then a few nasty true CP I saw while downloading the free pictures I seldom ever saw the horrible pictures that are talked about. The billion dollar CP industry is nothing but lies. I spent 5 years looking through many CP sites and there’s no possible way it would add up to a billion dollars. Sites cost anywhere from $29.95 to $59.95 to join. A few cost $99.99. Do the math and see how many memberships it would take to add to a billion..

The content was from simple nudity you would find in nudist magazines to very erotic. What ultimately lead to my arrest and conviction was the lascivious exhibition of the genitals. In plan English. Spread eagle shots. An interesting footnote on this during the sentencing faze of my ordeal my lawyer showed me the pictures that the D.A. was using against me and it was from a magazine from the 70’s which was legally produced at the time. The picture was a girl about 8 years old doing a spread eagle pose. At the time this was produced she was a model who was payed very well to pose for pictures like this.

The way I was caught was my credit card was traced. I bought a few memberships which were apart of Operation Falcon. These sites were nothing more the nude pictures of girls between 8 yrs old to about 15.
The pictures were very similar to the L.S. model agency which were popular at the time. The LS studios were a part of the Ukrainian CP raids in 2004.

On the day I had the “visit” I was sleeping, early in the morning I heard a very loud banging on my door. The cop who was knocking banged so hard he cracked my door. To this day loud knocking freaks me out. Even people shutting their car doors outside makes me edgy.

The whole ordeal felt like a home invasion, the only difference is I had no legal recourse. The cops looked through all my stuff with very little respect. They took my computer, and any pictures I had of girls. They took about 10 Kirsten Dunst autograph pictures which to this day I never got back.

There were 3 cops, Two of them played the bad cop good cop game. The other just did her job. She didn’t say hardly a thing. After they left I had to quickly get a Lawyer, I lucked out and got one of the best ones in town, but he came with a fairly high cost. It cost about $15,000 total for him to do his job. Plus another $1000 for a psychologist to evaluate me. Without the shrinks opinion the Lawyer would have had very little to defend me with to recommend a minimum sentence..

After dealing with the Lawyer the next 6 months or so were some of the hardest moments of my life. The waiting to see what happens was very stressful. At first I slept about 13 hours a say. I had no ambition to do anything, sleeping was my only comfort.

Then the big day finally came, my Lawyer did a fairly good job and I got sentenced to 20 days of work release and 3 years probation. By today’s standards I basically got nothing.

After the sentencing a new Hell began. The first slap in the face was the massive amount of restrictions my Probation officer gave me. I had about 60 rules to follow. Other then the usual can’t drink alcohol rules I could not have a Playstation or a cellphone. There were a number of them relating to Jonbenet Ramsey. I could not have cable television. I could not have a VCR or DVD player. The P.O. basically took any form of entertainment from me. Which I had to endure for 3 years. I did follow the rules imposed on me and I was one of the few who wasn’t put on a P.O. hold. (thrown in jail while the DOJ investigates you) My P.O. told me this.

My stay in jail while short was miserable. Nobody messed with me and very few people even asked what I did, the ones who asked I told them I was there for drunk driving. My fellow inmates were ok in general and the staff was professional. The guards could be assholes at times but in most cases was because most of the inmates were too lazy to keep the place clean. The food was mostly bad. There were a few meals which were ok but most were just edible. Sleeping wasn’t very easy. We all were in a big dorm room with bunk beds. We slept on a solid steel frame with a hard mattress. We could not have pillows. It was uncomfortable and loud. People snoring made it tough to sleep. When you are used to being alone being in a dorm room with a lot of guys is not a good environment for rest.

The SOT (sex offender therapy) group I had to go to were at times bearable and other times very difficult to deal with. The shrink was the type of guy who loved to intimidate people. The bad thing is the offender was put in a situation were all you could do is take it like a beaten dog and go in the corner. If you argued or tried common sense logic you were kicked out of the group and you could go to prison to serve your whole sentence. With that hanging over our heads we all went along with the program. There was no choice.

My family was supportive, they do not believe the type of pictures I looked at should be illegal and have such grave consequences. But they are very hard to talk with about the subject. My dad always tried to change the subject matter. My parents are very ashamed of anything dealing with sex. While they don’t believe I should have been punished for what I did they are not advocates of child/adult sexual relations. They do not believe in them and told me so. My brother who lives in another state from me never talks about it. He gave some advice to my parents early on about the situation but that was it.

As for my friends, one of them thinks it’s bogus I got in trouble. He thinks people are too sex phobic. He does not believe people should get in trouble for looking at pictures. He said I should have taken my case to trial. But when you are looking at up to 18 years in prison a plea bargain of a short jail sentence with work release and probation didn’t seem to bad. The people who I worked with were friends of mine at one time, but because of this they are no longer. One of the guys who works there told me one guy said he would kill me if I went anywhere near his daughter. While I would physically destroy him he’s loony enough to use a gun on me. The other people who are apart of this so called group don’t say much to me. I’m basically an outsider at work. The only solace I get is I’ve been promoted so I tell them what to do.

Right now I’m still paranoid of loud knocks and people closing their car doors. I really have only 1 friend left. But I don’t worry about it to much. I work out and keep myself busy.

A writer for The Atlantic, Megan McArdle, did a piece on non-offending pedophiles. She dragged child porn into the piece, and demonstrates a limited and simplistic understanding of the subject, stating “because the man who purchases child pornography is encouraging its manufacture”. The unstated premise of that statement is that child porn is typically purchased, which is completely unsubstantiated.

In a brief follow up, she publishes an e-mail she received from an anonymous prosecutor. Part of the prosecutor’s e-mail says:

I have seen a good number of men go to prison for child pornography that is found on their computers, and I must say that I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it. During my first few years as a prosecutor I wanted them locked up for as long as possible for two obvious reasons: first, they may very likely act out on their desires and victimize a child (who will of course be likely to victimize another child when they reach adult age). Second, as a way to deter the manufacturing of child pornography by removing the possible market. I’ve come to realize that the second reason is about as hopeless as thinking that by locking up drug users I can stop drug dealers. The market will always be there.

The prosecutor’s first reason is really outside the scope of CP Explosion, so I’ll only say that I’m unaware of any study purporting to show a link between child porn viewing and sexual crimes against children that isn’t crippled by sample bias. The second reason though is eerily reminiscent of the position held by LEAP regarding drugs.

There are no scientific studies I’m aware of, but all the anecdotal evidence suggests that no “penalty” will discourage people from seeking out child porn. A combination of factors including long prison sentences, extreme ostracism, and a feeling that there’s little hope of even getting a fair trail if accused have completely failed to deter people from seeking out child porn. I don’t think that even implementing capital punishment for child porn possession would make more than a minor impact on the child porn trade. The use of the term “trade” rather than “market” is intentional and almost certainly more accurate.

Interesting Quotes

April 26, 2008

“Child porn prosecutions have become the modern-day equivalent to McCarthyism, the Spanish Inquisition, or the Salem witch trials. Once accused, it seems that there’s no defense that can save you, not even innocence.” -Me, in a comment I left to Megan’s Flaw.

“That is a very scary statement, and exactly how the witch trials were conducted.” -The blog author’s comment back to me.

“When the possibility of child pornography consumption is raised, the court system slips into some sort of guilt-until-proven innocent trance.” -David Berlind, an Executive Editor at ZDNet, in Beyond a shadow of a pornographic doubt, don’t rush to judgment.