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.

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. suggests in a recent column that “maybe we should legalize drugs.” I suggest maybe we should legalize child pornography.

Then there’s the collateral damage. ”When somebody gets arrested,” says Cole, ”it’s not only that person whose life is crippled. It drags down their whole family.” This, because the conviction makes it nearly impossible to get a job, go to college, even rent an apartment.

With child porn, the collateral damage also affects whole families. Increasingly, the child porn witch hunt is ensnaring the very people the anti-child porn laws are supposedly meant to protect.

If the girls are charged and convicted of child pornography violations, the plaintiffs contend, they would have a felony record and could be subjected to state Megan’s Law provisions, which would require them to register as convicted sex offenders.

What warrants such punishment? The rape of a child? No. The sexual abuse of an infant? No. How about:

The first image shows two teenage girls lying side by side in their bras. One of them is talking on a phone, while the other makes a peace sign.

In another picture, a third girl is seen just as she emerged from a shower, wrapped by a towel but with her breasts exposed.

There’s more on this case at a Wall Street journal blog post. That is what the child porn witch hunt has come to. I’m sure some hard core child porn does exist, but over-zealous police and prosecutors and lawmakers are no longer content to go after those responsible for the real abuse of children. Now children themselves are the targets.

Pitts writes more:

And for what? This ”War” has been an exercise in futility. In 1970, says Cole, about 2 percent of the population over the age of 12 had at some point or another used an illegal drug. As of 2003, he says, that number stood at 46, an increase of 2,300 percent — yet we’ve spent over a trillion dollars and imprisoned more people per capita than any country in the world in order to reduce drug use?

The laughable “war” on child porn follows the same trajectory. More police, more resources, more prosecutions, more time in prison, more sacrifices of our civil liberties, and what do we get for our efforts? A problem that is “exploding”.

How many hundreds of billions of dollars will we spend, how many hundreds of thousands of men will we imprison for decades before we realize the uncanny similarities between the “war” on drugs and the “war” on child porn? How long before we realize that when there is a demand, and when there are people (suppliers) able and willing to meet that demand, the demand will be met?

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)?