December 15, 2007

"Sending people to prison for five or 10 or 15 years for looking at pictures is killing an ant with a sledgehammer."

"These people are being put on sex-offender registries, they are being ostracized from the community, for looking at pictures."

"There are a large group of individuals whose lives and families are absolutely being devastated because they looked at these images. They had absolutely no idea how severe the consequences would be and had no interest in doing anything other than viewing images."


rhhardin said...

Guggenbuehl-Craig, ``The Myth and Reality of Sexual Abuse of Children,'' on the hysteria he seeks to explain

Remembering these antecedents, it seems to me that sexual abuse of children encompasses more than at first meets the eye. It has to do primarily with the concrete activities against children which I meet so often in my psychiatric practice. Today these tragic occurrences are very much in the public eye. In addition to the actual concrete events, we are also dealing with collective psychological phenomena which are in some way linked to sexual offenses against children. These phenomena are difficult to describe. They have to do with the psychological attitudes of the collective as well as those of the individual's conscious and unconscious. In other words, they have to do with the individual, with society and a combination of the two at the same time. As I have pointed out in Chapter 2, whenever we are dealing with a theme which is a focus of public attention, we have to examine it on two different levels. We need first to look at the phenomenon itself which interests us. We also have to consider the psychological background of the individuals and the society which have taken an interest in the theme in question. _From The Wrong Side_ p.53-54

Child abuse is fairly recent (like the 1960s) and became child sexual abuse in the 70s, according to Ian Hacking. I'd guess it was found to have legs as a public problem, and so attracted groups interested in taking political ownership of it, like drunk driving at about the same time.

GC thinks it's society's change to a matriarchy, and an ignorance of archetypes.

I think it's gradual control by crazy people myself.

Gahrie said...

What is child pornography? How young does the child have to be? Remember Britney's first video? She wasn't dressed that way to appeal to teenaged girls.

Men have always, and will always, be attracted to young girls...some of which modern civilization considers children.

Remember it used to be quite common for older men to marry barely teenaged women. It's still that way in less "modern" societies.

The why doesn't really matter, but it may have biological origins. (younger women were more likely to survive child birth, so men who had sex with younger women were more likely to pass their genes's not that long ago that a leading cause of death for women was childbirth and its complications)

Childhood itself is a fairly modern invention, especially in its current, prolonged form. (can you imagine the average family 200 years ago allowing children to live a life a leisure and supposed scholarship up to the age of 18?)

All of that being said, anyone having sex with, or engaged in pornography of, girls below a certain age should be imprisoned to protect society.

However what should that age be?

Should pornography involving CGI be treated the same as real children?

George M. Spencer said...

If an ant needs to be killed--and it does--and the only tool you have at hand is a sledgehammer, then it should be used.

Honza said...

If the selections Ann chooses from an article to reprint is an indication of her personal views (and the history of her posting generally indicates as much), then I am shocked at her selectivity. Is she implying that only those caught viewing once or twice shouldn't be punished -- that it's just "looking at pictures" -- or does she view most people who trade in the stuff as just "lookers at pictures"? If it's the latter, I'm shocked.

I've worked on the enforcement side of this issue, and the reality is as the prosecutor in the article said it is: "You can't wrap your brain around what we're talking about here. We're not talking abot a 16-year-old who looks like she could be 19. We're seeing prepubescent children who are being raped, babies, toddlers being tied up."

Child pornography is the visual depiction of child abuse, and it is produced in response to the demand to view it. The greater the demand to view it, the more chld abuse will occur.

The peddling and viewing of such should not be tolerated by a society that cares at all for its young (or its future). And even if the percentage of those who view child pornography and who also abuse children is 30%, that is an intolerably high number.

Much more to be said, but the idea that those who view child pornography are just "looking at pictures" demanded a response.

And I'm even more shocked by gahrie's belief that sexual abuse of children is a social construct created by crazy people who want to control behavior. The ignorance staggers me. Either the commenter has never taken the time to research the reality of child sex abuse and the effect it has on the child, or he/she willfuly ignores it for his/her own reasons. The reality of sexual abuse of children, and the lifelong effects it has on the child, more than warrant society taking an interest in it and punishing the wrongdoers. It is not a myth, and it is not about crazy people wanting control.

Honza said...

I'm sorry -- I meant rhhardin.

rhhardin said...

Honda, what do you think about drunk driving? Which had a parallel rise.

Ann Althouse said...

Honza: The punishment should fit the crime, not a related, much worse crime that it reminds you of. And to articulate that fundamental principle of justice is not to minimize the importance of the other crime. For example, I have read that serial killers all or nearly all were cruel to animals when they were young. That doesn't mean that a person who is cruel to animals deserves the death penalty.

Honza said...

I fail to see the logic whatsoever. So because the public decides to do something to address a problem it makes it an illegitimate exercise? Is the problem that organized groups lobbied for the governmental response? Is your problem with democracy? Do you also have a problem with governmental responses to wetland loss, air and water quality, seatbelts, food and drug regulation . . . Is the argument that because a problem has existed in the private sphere that it should not move to the public sphere?

"Child abuse is fairly recent (like the 1960s) and became child sexual abuse in the 70s," you say. Ummm, no. Child abuse and child sexual abuse have always been what they are. Once they were viewed by society as intolerable problems, you're right, they "attracted groups" who lobbied government to do something about it. That is how a democracy works, and it says nothing about the legitimacy of criminalizing the conduct.

Which is why it seems to me that your ultimate argument is that the underlying conduct, child sexual abuse, has some redeeming value. Otherwise, your argument makes zero sense.

Honza said...

Ann: I agree with you. I guess our disagreement rests with what an appropriate punishment is. For someone who has stockpiled millions of images of children being sexually abused, I don't see 5 to 10 years imprisonment as an inappropriate response. That person created a market for visual depictions of the abuse, and thus directly contributed to the actual abuse.

rhhardin said...

Honza, the problem is that there's a group dynamics to it, and if that can't be brought out and made part of the discussion, then democracy isn't going to work out. It becomes rule by the craziest group.

Sociologist Joseph R. Gusfield (_The Culture of Public Problems : Drinking -Driving and the Symbolic Order_ and later books) talks about the process whereby something becomes a public problem - rather than a personal moral failing, as drunken driving used to be - and the the rhetorical techniques that go into achieving ownership.

There's a field there, that ought to be factored into the debate.

One of the techniques is to say that the debate has already taken place and has been decided.

Ian Hacking is apparently a social constructionist; I haven't read anything of his except the article I referenced, so I can't say. But the historical question seems correct. You didn't hear about child abuse in the 50s. What led to its turning up?

The WSJ's Dorothy Rabinowitz won a Pulitzer for her debunking of the various child abuse prosecutions in the 80s ; for which the perpetrators, as far as I know, are still in jail today.

No governor can release them without crazy people demanding his head.

Anonymous said...

AA said: "The punishment should fit the crime..."

That seems to be the guiding principle. The problems arise, typically, when an easily accepted principle is put into practice and codified into law. What we have is a system wherein professional politicians, many or most of whom are lawyers, pass legislation that was probably drafted by staffers who are also lawyers. So...

My basic question would be, Who best decides the practical issues: politicians, lawyers, special interest groups, none of the above?

When engineering a bridge, the end result has to conform to relevant laws of physics or these will be an obvious and dramatic failure of intent. Laws, unfortunately, don't have to be rational or conform to immutable rules - often to the detriment of society and its affected members.

Jason said...

My God! How stupid do you have to be to assert that child abuse didn't exist prior to the 1950s, and the sexual abuse of children didn't occur until the 1960s?

Mark Twain wrote clearly about child abuse in Huckleberry Finn. And Charles Dickens was even more graphic!

The Bible mentions a number of cases of incest, and also the murder or contemplated murder of children (Isaac, for example, and King Herod's hunt for the infant Jesus).
And Plato describes Socrates expounding approvingly on the deep and pure love that can exist between men and young boys in Symposium.

That's why I believe in a strong foundation in literature.

Fiction serves as a reality check against stupid social scientists.

Let's not minimize the issue by pretending we just invented it a couple of generations ago.

rhhardin said...

Jason, doesn't that rather just prove it?

It's the category of child abuse that's in question (came up in the 60s as a medical syndrome, meaning bruises, as I recall; and became taken over by child sexual abuse in the 70s, if I remember Hacking right).

The freedom to classify seems to me to have something to do with ``Sending people to prison for five or 10 or 15 years for looking at pictures.''

The authors I've read will first deplore child abuse, trying to get past that; before getting to what they want to talk about, which is how do the social dynamics work here, and wanting to ask whether they are they out of control, and if so, why.

SGT Ted said...

I'm not talking about of-age girls posing as cheerleaders here.

If a person has such a lust for pictures of children being sexually assaulted and abused that he goes online and actively searches for it, rather than getting help for what he knows is criminal, that person deserves to rot in jail. Tough shit about it. These perverts are enabling it and paying others to supply it. And it ain't akin to people smoking weed.

Now they have twits like psychologists trying to blame society for it; "psychological attitude of the collective" what stupidly enabling, behavior excusing bullshit.

Quite frankly, I think they should be weeded out of the gene pool. I'm not kidding. If society won't do it, dad's will.

Gahrie said...

No one is denying the behavior has existed in the past. The question is, when (and perhaps why) did the behavior become classified as abuse and then evolve into a major societal issue.

Sex between men and boys during the time of Socrates was not abuse, no matter what we think of it now. Marriage between 40 year old men and 14 year old girls was not considered abuse in most of this country until fairly modern times. (Among our unassimilated Hispanic brethern, it's still not.)

I would argue that much of the drive to emaciate supermodels is part of an attempt to make them appear younger, pre-pubescent.

And how about my question about CGI? Couldn't it be argued that CGI pictures will satisfy the lust for this type of porn, and thus help to protect real children?

Again I am not defending the real predators. In fact I would argue that they should be isolated from society for life, because I don't think they can be cured.

rhhardin said...

Sgt Ted : and the question is how does society decide that.

Ann Althouse said...

Sgt Ted: What would you do to the people who go to see torture movies like "Saw"? Isn't it horrible that some people are entertained by watching the depiction of grisly torture murders. Should they be imprisoned for not having sought help for their prurient interest?

Beth said...

So people who just want to look at some pictures should do less time than the people who produce those pictures for them? They don't actually fuck small children themselves, they outsource production to people who don't mind fucking children and filming it and making it available for the "just want to look at some pictures" consumers.

I don't see that they deserve less time than the actual child fuckers. For these passive viewers to look at the particular type of pictures they enjoy seeing, children had to be filmed being fucked by adults. It's a system, not a series of discrete crimes. From production to consumption, the responsibility is the same. Less consumption, less production. More demand, more production.

Beth said...

Isn't it horrible that some people are entertained by watching the depiction of grisly torture murders.

Ann, child porn isn't a depiction, it's a recording of actual events. It's not mimetic. "Saw" isn't a snuff film.

To compare, hasn't the Court ruled that virtual child porn is not illegal, that is, animated images of child-adult sex with no acts involved, simply created through digital or hand illustration? Isn't the point behind all of the charges with child porn that an actual child is made to have sex with an adult? No child having sex, no porn, no charges. Same with "Saw"-no person murdered, no crime.

People who enjoy the idea of sex with children are free to draw such images or imagine them all they want. But they can't be excused for just looking at pictures when the pictures were produced with the involvement of an actual child.

Hey said...

There's a difference between child pron and torture pr0n: nearly all torture pr0n is fake (like Saw) or is comprised of consenting adults who enjoy it (like, whereas child pr0n is real and uses non-consenting participants. Where torture pr0n is real or purports to be real (snuff films), it is illegal.

This seems to be a good balance, with extra protection given to the underage. The idea that child abuse was invented in the 60s is just as insane as the idea that sex was invented in the 60s.

former law student said...

To me, the path seems simple: Demand creates supply creates child abuse for the purpose of filming. Could this chain be broken by creating synthetic child porn? That would depend if it satisfied the consumer or not. Are any consumers of adult porn satisfied with synthetic porn? It seems to me -- from "XXX hardcore" conventions like the money shot, etc. -- that porn consumers want to see that real people are really having sex. If they could use their imagination they would be reading stories and not watching.

Kirk Parker said...

"I would argue that much of the drive to emaciate supermodels is part of an attempt to make them appear younger, pre-pubescent."

Yuck on both counts.

Make that, double-plus yuck.

rhhardin said...

Guggenbuehl-Craig again, on the women who shout him down at lectures :

Sexuality is usually connected with love. Even in cases of sexual child abuse, affectionate, loving feelings frequently play a role between perpetrator and victim. Could there be a better image of the relationship between God and Man? God mistreats us continuously while He apparently loves us at the same time. Perhaps these women are grappling not so much with God as they are with Satan, the dark side of God, and his representatives in the world ... Behind the range of powerful reactions toward child abuse, is not the child archetype at work, an archetype which is much richer and more varied that we generally realize? ... [skipping many pages to the end] When we split the archetype of the child and identify with the divine child, we unconsciously fall into the other side of the archetype : the child abuser or murderer. This is the paradox of the phenomenon of child abuse.

But then he's a Jungian and I'm not much into it.

The intuition is that society is not on the side of the pure here, but is struggling with something else internal to it ; and probably there's a scapegoat aspect for the piling of sins on, which has always been satisfying.

Socrates does not mention scapegoats, in his catalog of pharmakons ; but he himself was one.

Joe M. said...

Pederasty in ancient Greece was far from child abuse as we think about it today. One distinction that should be drawn is that when Socrates talks about "boys," he refers to teenage boys and young men, not prepubescent children.

And it seems to me that viewing the images does encourage abuse, as it creates a demand for such abuse.

rhhardin said...

Put another way, what I am trying to bring out, is there not a certain pleasure in detesting child molestors?

John and Ken on KFI in Los Angeles have run hundreds of hours of high-rated rants against the molestor of the day, over the years.

The source of the pleasure and entertainment, or engrossment that advertisers pay for, is what's interesting ; and is the first thing to be encountered in any political discussion.

The most interesting possibility is that it's about prfectly ordinary sex in fact, with one of its aspects or another unloaded on a scapegoat as a ritual purification or complaint. Actual normal sex is not simple, and falls far short of its billing ; and yet it nevertheless winds up with the guy loving the woman after all, after a few detours and displacements, if it works out.

Which it may not, or even often may not.

There's a motive for you.

John Kindley said...

What about someone who watched one of the terrorist beheading videos online? Didn't the terrorists commit that crime and put it on film and the internet precisely so Americans would watch it and be terrorized? Didn't your watching it (and the terrorists' presumption that you would watch it) therefore contribute to the crime, and potential future crimes of similar nature?

Ann Althouse said...

Beth, Do you think that someone looking at a picture of a crime that was committed in the past is part of a conspiracy to commit that crime?

I realize "Saw" is a simulation, but I was responding to the statement by Sgt Ted: "f a person has such a lust for pictures of children being sexually assaulted and abused that he goes online and actively searches for it, rather than getting help for what he knows is criminal, that person deserves to rot in jail." I was trying to test the conclusion about people who feel that lust.

Obviously, people watching "Saw" know that it's all fake, and most of them wouldn't enjoy it if they thought it was a real murder. Nevertheless, the point was that this lust to look at transgressive pictures is much more widespread than the motivation to commit real crimes.

Meanwhile, some people do watch snuff films (or films they believe depict real murders). That's horrible of them, but would you give them the death penalty for it?

John Kindley said...


Great minds think alike, and apparently at the same time.

TMink said...

Gahrie asked: "No one is denying the behavior has existed in the past. The question is, when (and perhaps why) did the behavior become classified as abuse and then evolve into a major societal issue."

Perhaps for the same reasons that most cultures came to find slavery reprehensible.


Cedarford said...

If looking at simulated child porn is to be an imprisonable crime, then half the male population of Japan, one of the lowest crime rate countries on the planet, need to be locked up.

Seems that GGI animation, Manga comics should not be lumped in with actual child abuse with draconian penalties in America, simply because hysterical special interest groups exist.

The same groups campaign to keep the public ill-informed about child abuse by conflating pederasty and pedophelia into the same crime of "child molestation". And they exaggerate the "serious lifelong emotiona trauma" of a 17 year old gal banging her 20 year old boyfriend. Trying to put it on par with the 20 year old raping a 6 year old girl.

And the public is being led to believe that "a major child molestation crisis" exists because gays like many Catholic priests do what gays traditionally do historically - have a strong propensity for pederasty. Or guys that oogle a 17-year old with a mature filled out bod that most 25-year old women envy - are unspeakable pervs for doing so.

Common sense:

1. Punish actual child molesters harshly.
2. Reach a consensus that lighter penalties, decreasing the closer age 18 is should be the norm for pederasty cases - and in fact making a huge issue out of it and disrupting and strssing the life of a promiscuous 16 year old in court prosecution of her BF, adults she willingly screwed - may be more damaging to the kid than treating censensual pederasty and "statutory rape" with benign neclect. And no charges of statutory rape should ever be filed if the boy is within a year or two of age of the consenting girl.
3. Punish importation of pedophilic porn with enormous financial penalties. Pederastic porn, with lesser but still significant fines - because that demand fuels actual exploitation of children and adolscents in producing it .
4. Abandon the "any offense qualifies" registered lifetime sex offender label with that classification only for violent adult rapists, rapists of kids under 12. With the power to remove rapists from the registry if they are "clean" and living a solid good citizen life for 15 years or so.
5. Abandon the stupid housing and work prohibitions stipulated into law that no ex-rapist or kiddie predator can live within 1500 feet of a school, a park, a liquor store, a toy store, a gun store, a pet store, a mall with an arcade in it. And other vapidly dumb "verboten zones". We can be smarter than that in monitoring the creeps.
6. Force the dumb little ghetto 'hos getting knocked up from age 12-17 to name the father, have it confirmed by DNA, or they get no welfare or custody of the kid. And make the equally dumb ghetto daddy-boy have to pay for that kid by court-assigned work and garnishment of his checks until the kid is 18. Ghetto daddy-boy doen't want to do demeaning low skill work? Fine. He goes to jail for contempt.
7. Do as other countries do, even "enlightened democracies" like Singapore, Poland, Spain do and screen incoming internet communications and data for child porn, "snuff stuff" and other 1st Amendment exceptions. Trace where it comes from, work with international law enforcement agencies to root out sources while demand is handled with penalties of heavy fines and public embarassment.
8. Know where to draw the line. The Japanese have Manga, internet tentacle Hentai violating CGI-generated nubile prefect cheerleaders, sex dolls dressed like schoolgirls, bukkake parties with part-time prostitutes and imported sex workers dressed up baby-doll.

They are world-class pervs.

But the Japanese have rock-bottom crime rates of actual child molestation and exploitation of kids in porn. (of course, Nipponese money and businessmen's impact in poorer Asian countries for their sex hobbies is another matter) - But all in all, it suggests that a culture can be permeated with youth-focused porn without the stuff causing actual crime on persons. So maybe with fake pederast stuff, or boy love gay literature, the sensible thing is to have law enforcement not get involved, but for private sector to strongly discourage facilitating it or tolerating employees that surf to such shit.

My two cents.

TMink said...

Beth has nailed this one.

The research I have read suggests that child porno has a kindling effect on the viewer acting out themselves.

Orgasms are a HUGE neurological event. It is naive to think that repeated sexual use of images is a neutral act, whether the image is legal or not. The learning that occurs during and around the time of orgasm is profound and neurologically intense.

I am not sure what the implications are for people who view legal or even wholesome (heh heh) images, but I think that the implications are being ignored and (maybe dangerously) underestimated.

Isn't it VERY safe to say that using child pornography is like smoking in a fireworks factory for people who are so inclined as to view children as potential sexual partners?


rhhardin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

Tmink, well, normal porn works to take away interest in women for a time, which perhaps is its attraction if you're a normal young guy thinking about sex about 23 hours a day.

You get some relief.

In fact that effect of orgasm, which instantly takes away sexual desire, is the reason for the joke that you don't pay a prostitute for sex, you pay her to go away afterwards.

So porn is a way of getting rid of a bothersome obsession, in the usual case.

It also works against the interests of women, for that reason. It's competition.

Rousseau found it a scandal that it works better than women.

Beth said...

Beth, Do you think that someone looking at a picture of a crime that was committed in the past is part of a conspiracy to commit that crime?

Ann, good question, but it's too general. Obviously, under the broadest interpretation of your wording, we would all be guilty as some point, just from viewing TV news that rebroadcasts a convenience store's security tape of a robbery.

But with child porn, the picture is part of the crime, not just an image of a crime committed in the past. The picture is the product, and it can be marketed, sold, distributed.

If I buy stolen property, I'm not guilty of the original theft, but it's not like I have some innocent artifact of a crime. I'm guilty of a crime myself. And if you found a roomful of stolen stuff in my house, it would be clear that I wasn't some innocent dupe who didn't know what she was doing. I'd be part of a chain of criminal events, and I'd be providing an incentive for the thieves by giving them a market for their stolen goods. People who collect images of children being raped are participants in the production of those images by providing a market for them. They know someone had to suffer for them to have their opportunity to "look at some pictures." They're not just stumbling over an image of a crime committed in the past.

blake said...

The Supreme Court did strike down the "virtual child porn" laws.

Which I guess is good. If I understood them, a 20-something pretending to be 16 was violating the law. To say nothing of all that Japanese stuff. I think you can still go to jail for viewing Traci Lords movies, though.

Anyone seen any of that HBO show, "Tell me you love me"? It's got fake porn! Not softcore but fake hardcore.

I would imagine, that, after a certain investment, it could be easier to produce fake, convincing porn. Possibly cheaper, too. In the '80s, I would have guessed the computer-driven porn would supplant traditional video.

It never has, though.

I've come to believe that the person watching the porn has to believe it's real as a vital part of the experience. The antithesis of most people who go see Saw and their ilk whose experience would be ruined if they knew there was real harm being done, those who watch porn need the acts to be real or their experience is ruined.

Simon said...

I agree with Beth, FLS and Trey, but I'd add two things. First, it doesn't advance the ball to say that "[t]he punishment should fit the crime" - no one disagrees with that, so saying it smuggles in an assertion that in this case, the punishment doesn't fit the crime. Second, as was discussed by Schafly and Prof. Koppelman earlier this year, the trouble with pornography is that has the capacity to condition: what was once repulsive or even unthinkable becomes not only thinkable, but even desirable, and can cross from private avocation into actualized behavior: "what was once mere fantasy becomes reality, and thus conditioned and stimulated by pornography the user seeks a victim." If there's any subcategory of pornography that this concern would apply to with outstanding force, it's surely child pornography. From this perspective, it's of less relevance whether or not the materials depict actual abuse, as Beth has discussed, because the concern is impact on the consumer's behavior. So to my mind, the key question with regard to what policy on child pornography should be is whether, so far as we can judge, punishing anyone involved with any aspect of its supply or demand is a net benefit to the predominant goal of reducing actual violence towards children. If digitally-created child pornography, on balance, acts as a pressure valve for those inclined towards pedophilia, reducing the chances that they prey on real children, then we shouldn't be too worried about it, and although it should still be illegal, should perhaps be punished relatively lightly. If, on the other hand, we think that on balance it actually exacerbates the danger of predation, which I suspect it does, then we should suppress it.

rhhardin said...

The trouble with pornography in general is it's able to take over all the terrain, and itself become the obsession. One justification for keeping porn from children is given as just this. They ought in any case to hear the warning, for every young male has his porn collection in any case.

Take a very broad definition of pornography, so it includes news magainze shows and their audiences, and taking over all the terrain is what visibly happens in fact.

blake said...


That's a big claim. Got any evidence to support that? I've seen similar claims made of video games but nothing even remotely approaching science.

Ann Althouse said...

"it smuggles in an assertion that in this case, the punishment doesn't fit the crime"

No, it doesn't. It's plainly obvious that a person doesn't deserve to go to prison for a decade for looking at a picture.

Ann Althouse said...

And how about my animal cruelty point? Want to lock up people who do that? Put them away for life? People who do it are "conditioning" themselves to ignore the suffering of fellow human beings and to take pleasure in causing pain.

And whatever happened to the observation that we are all sinners? This certitude coming from Beth and Simon, and maybe some others, evinces a belief that there are evil people out there who can be detected and isolated, so that we good people can live in peace. But life isn't that simple. Isn't your willingness to throw people away also inhumane? Maybe you should be isolated...

Unknown said...

I say we need more sledgehammers! 10-15 years is too lenient as far as I am concerned. This is one crime that there is no punishment that is severe enough.

As to them being registered sex offenders, so what. They sould be ostracized. Who in their right mind would want to associate with such a person anyway.

I have no pity for those who view child porn, produce child porn, distribute child porn, or are in any other part of the business. If you get caught, slam the cell door and lose the key. You are not fit to live in a human society.

Trooper York said...

I would pluck out thier eyes.

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"[That comment] doesn't [smuggle in an assertion that in this case, the punishment doesn't fit the crime]. It's plainly obvious that a person doesn't deserve to go to prison for a decade for looking at a picture."

I respectfully disagree. What you said was that "[t]he punishment should fit the crime, not a related, much worse crime that it reminds you of." That can mean one of two things, it seems to me. It could mean only what it says on its face, viz. that a punishment, in the abstract, should fit a crime for which it's applied, in the abstract. But that's a proposition that absolutley no one would disagree with; only a complete kook would argue that in the abstract, punishments shouldn't fit crimes; where you'd find disagreement is over wheter a specific punishment fits a specific crime. And it's in that context that the other, more plausible reading of your comment arises: that you meant that this man's punishment should fit his crime, and implicitly, that it doesn't. That's a much more plausible interpretation of your comment, not least because it leaves it with coherent content as a rejoinder to Honza's comment.
Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with your point, on that reading, you have a point: in context, the statement asserts an unwritten point that in this case the punishment doesn't fit the crime behind an agreeable and uncontroversial remark.

Even on your own terms, you're asserting the judgment that "a person doesn't deserve to go to prison for a decade for looking at a picture" even if that judgment's couched as an appeal to commonly-held judgment. And to address that point, if you frame it in those terms, of course it's hard to argue. It would make not much more sense to say that someone should be jailed for looking at a picture than it would to say that they should be jailed for firing a gun. But that seems a myopic way to look at the activity being punished: we don't jail people for firing a gun, we jail them when the result of that action is harm to others, and likewise, one might rationally reject your framing and say that at issue isn't jailing someone for "looking at a picture" in the abstract, but what the picture is of. It's easy to conclude that someone shouldn't be jailed for looking at a picture if we don't inquire what the picture is of; somewhat harder to say that someone shouldn't go to jail for participating in a conspiracy to abuse minors.

Ann Althouse said...

Simon, could you put in one clear sentence what you disagree with me about? I think I've been perfectly clear, yet you accuse me of being sneaky. And you yourself aren't being clear. Your main point seems to be that you think that people who participate in a market are in a conspiracy to produce the the product they acquire. Do you think the people who look at the video of an al Qaeda beheading should be treated the same as the people who did the beheading?

Ann Althouse said...

Do you think someone who knowingly buys stolen goods should get the same punishment as a burglar?

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"[W]hatever happened to the observation that we are all sinners?"

Well, I'm not a Christian, but even within that rubric, as I said in a reply to you the other week, I had always construed the point of the sermon on the mount to be that we all need salvation through the intercession of Christ, not that sin is okay.

"This certitude coming from Beth and Simon, and maybe some others, evinces a belief that there are evil people out there who can be detected and isolated, so that we good people can live in peace. But life isn't that simple."

Do you mean that life isn't that simple because there aren't evil people or because it isn't so easy to detect them? I don't think anyone doubts the latter point, and while I think there's broad agreement on a slightly weaker version of the former, i.e. that people are often complicated, that isn't an all-purpose pass.

John Kindley said...


Sounds like you're picking nits over common ways of saying things rhetorically. Ann's meaning was clear enough. It was obvious from the get-go that she was saying that looking at pictures, even of horrible things, is in a different moral category than committing the crimes depicted in those pictures, and deserves to be punished quite differently.

Beth states quite well, with her example of someone stockpiling stolen property, what can be a crucial point in this context. I understand Ann not to have been addressing this point in her statement of an important principle, which is fair enough.

Intent is critical when it comes to punishing people as criminals, and locking them up in a cage like animals. The intent to conspire to commit or to materially assist actual crimes against children should be proven beyond a reasonable doubt if you want to put someone in prison for possessing images of such crimes. If some pervert is in the habit of meeting some organized crime character in a clandestine location and trading him cash for pictures of child abuse on a regular basis, a case might be made that that pervert is paying that character or someone in his chain of command to commit crimes against children and take pictures of it, and if you could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt he should be punished just as harshly as the person who commits the crime. If someone is regularly making payments online to obtain such pictures, I think the case is harder to make. Some people are just stupid and not necessarily thinking about the fact that they're creating a demand for such things and therefore contributing to their production, and therefore don't have the requisite intent to punish them to the tune of 10 or 15years in prison. The pervert doesn't know where the website is getting the pictures. Some criminal penalties might be warranted, but not 10 or 15 years. And I think it would be very hard to make any case for criminal prosecution of someone who had somehow obtained such images for free over the internet.

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"Simon, could you put in one clear sentence what you disagree with me about? I think I've been perfectly clear, yet you accuse me of being sneaky."

"Accuse" is I think too strong a word; no offense was intended. I just think that your 8:37 AM implicitly asserted more than it said on its face. I meant only to verbalize a couple of thoughts that sprung to mind coming in late and reading through the comments, and as John says, in hindsight, it may have been merely nitpicky.

"And you yourself aren't being clear. Your main point seems to be that you think that people who participate in a market are in a conspiracy to produce the the product they acquire. Do you think the people who look at the video of an al Qaeda beheading should be treated the same as the people who did the beheading?"

That needs some unpacking. The hypothetical is in any event inapt, because I think incomparable market forces are at play to the extent market forces are in play at all, but even setting that aside, it's not so much a question of merely "looking at." If CNN posts the video, or someone puts it on YouTube, and you click on it, then it'd be absurd to suggest that you "should be treated the same as the people who did the beheading." But on the other hand, if you affirmatively take steps to build a collection of such materials, using it to gratify certain urges, and evidence suggests that in some cases consumption of this material exacerbates the likelihood of actualization (that is, if this material inflames the desire to go out and kill infidels), then that becomes a problem. Do we treat it the same as people who did the beheadings? Of course not; do we usually treat accessories to a conspiracy to commit a substantive crime the same as those who actually commit the substantive crime (compare, for example, 18 U.S.C § 1117 with 18 U.S.c. 1111(b)).

Gahrie said...

Who gets to decide who is evil and should be isolated?

Isn't it quite clear that in the U.S. today about half of the population thinks the other half is living in sin and corruption and vice versa?

Who should be isolated homosexuals, or those that think homosexuals are a perversion?

Those who use drugs, or those that support the war on drugs?

Gahrie said...

middle class guy:

What is child porn?

Was Britney's first video child porn?

Why or why not?

Simon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon said...

Gary, there are certainly some issues on which the American people are very deeply divided, but I don't think there is a deep or wide division over the point that child abuse is a bad thing. Now, of course many of the more subtle issues that orbit the major issue - this being one of them - aren't quite so clear cut, but I think you would still find a significant majority in support of harsh measures against those who are involved in child pornography, even if their involvement has thusfar extended only to consumption engendering demand. For one reason to suspect such a majority, consider that Beth and I seem to be in agreement on this issue. But that's astonishing: I like Beth a great deal, but I wouldn't generally expect to find myself on the same side of a debate as her, which sugests that unless she an I are just being idiosyncratic on this issue (not that I'm not habitually idiosyncratic), this isn't a debate that splits along lberal-conservative lines.

Trooper York said...

It splits between right and wrong.

Gahrie said...

My points are thus:

1) The definition of both child porn and child abuse is not static. It changes over time, and from place to place. It even changes among different populations in the same place. Many examples of what were once considered fine art would now be considered child porn.

2) The roots of sexual atraction to the immature run deep, and I would argue are pervasive. How can you look at Britney's video and not realize that she is cateringto men's sexual attraction to school girls? In fact when the video was shot she was still a minor, and was clearly selling her sexuality, and allowing others to market/profit off of her sexuality.

Go back and look at some of the most popular children's costumes for Halloween this year. Look at the clothing being marketed to young girls in clothing stores.

Look at the increasing numbers of of adults (both male and female) being caught having sex with minors, and minors being arrested for having sex with each other.

3) So on the one hand we are encouraging the sexualization of our youth at increasingly younger ages, and on the other we are attacking those who indulge in these fantasies.

4) I am simply suggesting that issues concerning the sex and minors are not as clear cut as many are suggesting, and that the borders between what is acceptable, and what is a perversion are not that clearly defined.

Beth said...

It's plainly obvious that a person doesn't deserve to go to prison for a decade for looking at a picture.

Why is that "plainly obvious"? It's vague to the point of being meaningless. It's not "a picture" as in any picture, it's a picture documenting a rape. It's not a depiction of a rape, or a re-enactment, it's the actual rape of a child. Those pictures are produced and circulated precisely because people enjoy looking at them. What is inhumane about punishing people for feeding that industry? Without the rape of a child, there is no picture. The picture can't be dislocated from the rape.

If you want to argue that the producers of the pictures should be sentenced more severely, go for it. I agree that their crime is more direct and deserves harsher punishment. But why should I consider the consumers of their product as getting a raw deal with 10 years? When people get that kind of sentence, they're not just indulging curiousity. They've got a stash of the stuff, a hard drive full. They've likely been in communication with people making and distributing the images. It's a crime they've repeated over and over.

I'm not as persuaded as Simon is that there's a causal relationship between viewing porn and going on to commit acts of sexual violence, at least not in people not already disposed toward such acts. The main issue in my mind is that the consumers of child porn are an essential part of the market that makes it appealing for the ones who actually go so far as to rape a child and film it so others can share their experience.

Ignacio said...

Jerry Lee Lewis, the first-ever inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, married his 13 year old cousin, Myra Gale Brown (played by Winona Ryder in the biopic). Do you think they had prenuptual sex?

No one here has yet talked about gay pornography. Some Russian youths who (allegedly) "look much younger than they are" have become legendary. I refer you to Klark Kent and Ton.

What do ugly people do? For fantasies? Do they dream of other ugly people, who might be realistically attainable, or do they fantasize of sex with beautiful specimens they shall never be allowed to touch?

What about Suicide Girls? These are young women with a few piercings and/or tattoos. Anyone can model for them, in theory. It's not like the aristocracy of those chosen by the Ford Agency to be in Mademoiselle or Vogue.

Being a Suicide Girl is "empowering" and "sex positive." You are in control of the male gaze. There is tremendous power in this. The forerunner is Madonna, who at the height of her fame stripped and posed for her bestselling SEX book. Exhibitionism as "empowerment." (That word.) The Suicide Girls talk again and again about how becoming a model has raised their self-esteem.

Often they want to look like the 1950s bondage model Betty Page.

The schoolgirl look, however, is just as much in vogue. The red plaid miniskirt is now standard fare. Oftimes it's also cool to wear such clothes as might be worn by an 8 year old, like green and red underpants with oversized polka dots, or "Alice in Wonderland" dresses so short they display the undercurves of the ass. The dissonance here, created by the natural innocence of the girl who looks 16, dressed so tat at a glance she looks much younger, pubic hair always shaven, juxtaposed with the tattoos (the "Bad Grrl" look), pierced swollen lips or nipples or bellybuttons (S&M, "transgression," pain) -- the dissonance creates the confusing, postmodern ("ironic juxtaposition"), somewhat guilt-inspiring sexy effect.

Too much masturbation makes it more difficult to become aroused. Men who have been in prison and while incarcerated have incessantly masturbated often suffer from erectile dysfunction upon release.

Gore Vidal once said that anyone who in his sexual fantasy life does not become Caligula must not have any imagination at all.

What are lesbians' fantasies? Is it politically correct to make use of a strap-on? Where does fist-fucking fit in, other than mimicking and surpassing the male penis? This seems a long way from Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf cuddling on a couch in Bloomsbury. Oh, but that's right! Vita liked to dress up in drag.

Andrea Dworkin claimed that penetration of a female by a male penis is always rape, and as such has overtones of patriachy and empire and violence.

The Muslim imams ask us why we cannot control our women, and see Western males as feminized ("pussy-whipped") and weak. Yet there is enormous hypocrisy present, for young Muslim males in general are fascinated by pornography (in Pakistan gazing at such images comprises 40% of all internet use). In Baghdad there are theaters which showed pornographic films during Saddam's rule and still do -- these are sacred temples no one, Shia or Sunni, would ever dare bomb.

And yes one can find supposed snuff sites on the web. Also footage allegedly from Saddam's rape-rooms.

Meanwhile it has become ever more popular in the West for young women at parties to play at lesbic kissing in order to interest young men. And one 23 year old dyke's favorite pleasure is to fuck "slender, emo-rock guys" wearing her trusty strap-on. This is what, with her shaved head and black-rimmed glasses, she sets out on the weekends in Manhattan to achieve. She loves to hear them cry out in ecstasy.

Beth said...

Do you think someone who knowingly buys stolen goods should get the same punishment as a burglar?

I acknowledge that two related crimes can receive different degrees of punishment, just as two people who commit the same crime but to varying degrees might also receive different punishments. So someone who buys a hot iPod from some guy on the corner would get less time than the guy selling the iPod. But if police were investigating a series of burglaries and found a fence that was party to the operation, wouldn't that fence get a stiff sentence, more stiff than a casual buyer of stolen goods? They'd be considered a burglary ring, wouldn't they? So if there's a person or group filming themselves fucking children, and distributing that product to a regular community of consumers, they all could be considered part of a child porn ring, made up of people with different roles. Someone caught with a few pictures on his hard drive would likely be treated differently from someone with thousands, or than someone not only with lots of pictures, but with an email or chat trail documenting his conversations with child pornographers, perhaps seeking particular scenarios. As you say, life isn't simple, and the myriad ways images of children being raped might end up in someone's possession lead me to believe the issue is not nearly so simple as to dismiss child porn consumers as nothing more than folks who like to look at pictures.

As for your questions about sin, about evil, I might well be missing your point, Ann, but my first reaction is to wonder how sin should figure into our criminal code. Since we all sin and fall short of the glory of God do we stop punishing what we believe to be criminal behavior, or when considering a causal chain of related crimes, punish only that link most directly involved in perpetrating harm to persons or property?

I don't have to believe in evil to believe that it's appropriate to define child porn as outside of our right to speech and expression, and to punish both the people who make it, and those who consume it. I'm open to treating producers more harshly than consumers, but I don't think that means consumers deserve only a slap on the wrist or that it's appropriate to minimize their involvement with such coldly neutral words as "just looking at some pictures."

Beth said...

Gahrie, you raise some distinctions that are important, but I don't think what is and isn't child porn is so mysterious, or at least that it shouldn't be. Britney isn't being raped by an adult in any of her videos. While I frequently refer to her parents as pimps, and I don't like the sexualization of children in our advertising and entertainment medias, I still think that trend is on the far end of the spectrum--it's sleazy but it's not porn. I've opposed defining photography of naked children as child porn, for example. Coffee table books of naked hippie kids frolicking in the woods probably thrill pedophiles, but as long as a child wasn't made the subject of a sexual assault, I don't see how we can call that child porn.

That Simon and I generally agree on the broad strokes here might well be the mark of a sort of consensus.

blake said...

The picture can't be dislocated from the rape.

Making viewing child porn one of the few crimes that law enforcement must repeatedly commit in order to enforce.

I only heard a little about it, but I think Paul Reubens (Pee Wee) was arrested for having antique "child porn".

No matter how horrible the depictions in those photos, I'm not sure how someone viewing them, long after all participants are dead, constitutes a crime or creation of any demand.

Unknown said...

From the article:

""You can't wrap your brain around what we're talking about here," said Bonnie S. Greenberg, a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland. "We're not talking about a 16-year-old who looks like she could be 19. We're seeing prepubescent children who are being raped, babies, toddlers being tied up.""

Ignacio said...

"Hairy" (whic means, on a female, unshaven natural pubic hair) is now, in porn, a specialty taste.

Ignacio said...

Meanwhile, in Oldham, in Northern England, everyone is assumed to be a pervert now.

"A COUPLE were banned from taking photographs of their baby daughter on a swing by a park warden who declared it `inappropriate.'"

Yes, as I've detailed to some extent above, we live in decadent times. But one must avoid overreaction. Newly expanded sex crimes units will seek not only to justify their existence but to expand their purview and receive increased funding, te natural tendency of all bureaucracy. Witness the "War on Drugs." Or MADD.

Ann Althouse said...

Beth: "I'm open to treating producers more harshly than consumers, but I don't think that means consumers deserve only a slap on the wrist or that it's appropriate to minimize their involvement with such coldly neutral words as "just looking at some pictures.""

Beth, first, you have given the impression that the phrase "just looking at some pictures" is mine. It is not!

You also suggest that I think the punishment should be a "slap on the wrist." I most certainly have never said that.

I think this is quite unfair to me.

There is a big difference between 10 years and virtually no punishment at all. I have never said it shouldn't be a crime with a substantial sentence.

What sort of sentences do you generally support for crimes? Are you a big law and order, lock 'em up and throw away the key sort of person? How many years will you give drug dealers? Armed robbers? Second degree murderers? That is, are you consistent, or is this the one crime that makes your blood boil? Would you accept legislatures setting wildly different sentences for things based on feelings such as those you have for this issue? Injustice lies in that direction.

Simon said...

I can't let this go without a little more elaboration; Beth is "not as persuaded as Simon is that there's a causal relationship between viewing porn and going on to commit acts of sexual violence, at least not in people not already disposed toward such acts." I don't think there's necessarily a causal relationship between viewing porn and acts of violence towards women (although I wouldn't rule that out), I think that pornography can stimulate desires that were previously latent, or fan into life a desire that was previously non-existent. That's not a unique feature of porn by any means; all media can have that effect, of course, but pornography has special application to sexual desires for obvious reasons. So a harmless example of what I'm talking about is that you watch a porn flick wherein the couple (assuming it's a couple) try out a given sexual position or activity that you'd not thought of before, think to yourself "hey, that looks fun," and that creates a stimulus for you to try it out with your partner (or as applicable, next partner). That's harmless enough. Staying harmless but getting closer towards the mark would be the same setup, but you're watching stuff that you were aware of but hadn't thought that highly of, and you think to yourself "well, they seem to be enjoying it, so I guess that might be fun after all." The trouble arises when you have pornography that panderings to violence towards women (broadly defined) and particularly child pornography, and these act to stimulate, as Beth hinted at, people already disposed toward such acts. It carries the risk of giving form and clarity to something that had previously been amorphous and ill-defined, and thus increases the chances of actualization, which is a problem whenever actualization involves commission of something that's either illegal or at least highly immoral.

There are of coarse bigger problems with pornography generally that have to do with objectification of women and its coarsening effect on the culture, and the link I posted earlier goes into some of those aspects, but they're not applicable here so I set them aside for now.

Simon said...

Ann said...
"Injustice lies in that direction."

Well, for sake argument, to paraphrase something Frank Easterbrook said about statutes, public policy is a vector not an arrow - it has length as well as direction, and to borrow a related quote from Lino Graglia, "it doesn't follow that if we today ban Hustler we will tommorow ban Hamlet." Even if that's true that such a policy faces us towards a dark place (and I probably agree with you on that, although I probably ought to think more on that before dropping anchor), it's not quite a slippery slope - can take a step towards a place we don't want to go without knocking at the gates?

Omaha1 said...

This is a hard question. Obviously, a desire to view child porn indicates a degenerate impulse. However, merely “looking at pictures” does not necessarily lead to raping toddlers. As many have noted our culture is sexualizing children at younger and younger ages, which I think is wrong (what are their parents thinking?). Making a child who is under your control look like an appealing sexual object is an incitement to others’ lustful thoughts. I do not defend those who seek out child porn on the internet, but long prison sentences followed by a virtual exile from normal society is not conducive to healing or rehabilitation.

I am acquainted with two convicted child molesters. One is imprisoned for “spanking” on bare buttocks – no penetration or genital contact was involved. The other did prison time for instructing teens to masturbate as he observed them, and now counsels pedophiles. In my opinion, both of these men did more good than harm to their “victims”, not by their sexual actions of course, but in other ways. It is difficult to measure the damage done in these situations but judges have little leeway in sentencing.

knox said...

If you come across a pic or video of a child being raped, should you not call the police and at least report it? To my mind, if you don't, you're at least partly complicit: 5-10 years sounds about right to me.

Because, at the risk of sounding like an hysteric, I *do* think this is an exceptionally horrific crime. Don't we hear that the vast majority of molesters were victims as children? People seeking out these images help to create more and more victims. And future abusers.

rhhardin and gharie:
I am NOT happy about the fact that men are often seen as molesters by default in our society today, and not to be trusted with our children.

But don't let your dismay at this cause you to minimize the existence or severity of child rape and molestation. Your comments sound like you are trying to.


just an aside, Althouse, snuff films are an urban legend:


(Great comments Beth and Simon.)

Beth said...

Simon, thanks for emailing me to cue me to your clarification. I did indeed misread your remarks--in such an active conversation I should be more diligent with my attention. I don't think I'm misreading to conclude that we are pretty much in accord here.

Beth said...

Thanks, knoxwhirled. And I'll add my dismay to yours. I don't see that we have to go from being harsh with child molesters and child porn consumers to stigmatizing men.

Beth said...

I think this is quite unfair to me.

Not my intention, Ann. Sorry. The two phrases that I've focused are from the article, and one is highlighted in your choice of headline. I assume you're acting as interlocuter. To be fair to me, though, you have put some emotion into this as well, in labeling me inhumane.

I'm not a big lock 'em up or hang 'em high type, but the crimes I do think deserve serious sentences are those that involve some sort of predatory harm. In the case of child porn, I believe anyone involved in the chain of production and consumption shows a willingness to sacrifice the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of others, others who have no ability to consent, in pursuit of their own self-interest. That strikes me as worthy of our strongest condemnation. I don't like people who prey on others, particularly on others who are inherently vulnerable, the very young or the very young, the physically or mentally weak.

I don't have a grand theory of justice; I have some sense of preferring that victimless crimes be prosecuted in a way that restores balance to the community, that allows restitution and rehabilitation. And I'd like to see an end to the Drug War. It's done no good at all. We've passed 200 murders this year in New Orleans, with a population of just over 240,000 people. Most of those are young black men killing other young black men over drug turf. I don't know what's going to change that, but prosecuting drug dealing doesn't seem to be helping.

Does that answer some of your questions?

Revenant said...

Punishing someone for reading or looking at anything has always seemed silly to me.

rhhardin said...

Beth, the idea though is that you're not doing what you think you are doing.

Vicki Hearne on the banality of evil, to get at it yet another way.

The evil spoken of is not the child molestor.

John Kindley said...

Gee, Beth, you're against the drug war, as am I, but all those addicts that drug dealers prey upon were kids once. It's "good business" for drug dealers to try to hook kids on drugs. Getting addicted to crack or meth or heroin can ruin a kid's entire future life, as much as being the victim of sexual abuse. Moreoever, we all know that the drug business is sustained by murder. On the principles you're advancing, shouldn't we be sure to throw the book at someone caught purchasing drugs, addict or no, on the theory that he or she is helping to create demand for a business which engages in murder and relies for its continued viability on addicting new juvenile consumers, and that much of the blame for those murders and predations should therefore be put on the consumer who creates demand?

TMink said...

What a great thread! Lots of good ideas and discussion.

One difference between drugs and child abuse lies in freedom to act and choose. Children who are sexually abuse do not have the freedom to decline the abuse while I have always had the freedom to just say no.

Child sexual abuse is generally coercive. That distinction is important.

And in terms of who says what is right and what is wrong, well, we all say that selling your 8 year old for drug money is wrong. At least the vast majority of us know that. Coercing or even seducing children into sexual contact with adults is wrong. NAMBLA aside, we know that too.

The coercive elements of child porn should make it illegal and severly punishable because we do all know it is wrong and children are hurt to produce it and it encourages individuals to hurt more children.

Isn't that the bottom line?


Revenant said...

The coercive elements of child porn should make it illegal and severly punishable because we do all know it is wrong and children are hurt to produce it and it encourages individuals to hurt more children.

The problem with that, TMink, is that there isn't a clear cause and effect there, especially given the amount of "free" (i.e., stolen) porn on the Internet. I'd be willing to bet that you could easily acquire tens of thousands of pornographic images that are illegal in the United States -- child porn, bestiality, whatever -- without the people who made it getting anything out of the deal at all.

I can't agree with Simon's opinion that porn encourages and enhances sexual appetites. I think it defuses them -- the guy with the huge porn collection is never the guy with a long list of conquests. I can see porn broadening someone's horizons a little, but we're not talking about a new sexual position here, we're talking about a radically different KIND of sex. I just don't see anyone watching the rape of a little boy or girl and thinking "gee, I'd never considered that before but it looks pretty hot".