Warnings

I was watching a movie last night and there was not one, but two, dire warnings about the seriousness of piracy and the severe legal penalties you can face if you do engage in it.

Now, I realize that doesn’t stop people from pirating things. But, at least they try. I can’t help but compare the difference between how many warnings we give people about the seriousness of piracy–especially compared to how few people are actually prosecuted for it–versus the near-ignorance most people are in regarding the seriousness of internet-bases sex offenses–and how many people are prosecuted for them each year.

My husband was aware, of course, that if he actually had sex with a 15-year-old girl, as a 25-year-old man, he’d be breaking the law. He also figured that talking about setting up such a meeting would probably be breaking a law, although a minor one. He figured it was a slap-on-the-wrist offense, like possessing a fake ID or drinking while underage. And, he wasn’t exactly wrong for thinking that, given that in many states, if these sting operations are done at all, they don’t result in arrest or prosecution. (That’s one of the strangest things about the whole To Catch a Predator show–in some states, the men arrested would be threatened with long prison terms, in other states no arrest was made at all.) 

He was absolutely shocked when he learned that if he went to trial and was found guilty, he could face 20 years in prison. To put this in perspective, if he had actually had sex with a willing 15-year-old girl in real life, the maximum penalty would have been significantly less severe.

He had no idea. He knew he was doing something he shouldn’t be doing; to some extent, I’m sure the “taboo-ness” of it made it more fun, the way that people seem to find binge-drinking much more exciting at 19 than 29. He liked the idea of the danger of it, of knowing that he might indeed be corresponding with a cop. It seemed like a game, a mystery. And, he figured that, at worst, he’d get arrested and get a slap in the wrist, a small misdemeanor. He had no idea.

Many men, I think, have no idea. Why would they? Who could possibly imagine that flirting and talking about sex with an eager post-pubescent teenager in an adult chat room would not only carry penalties far greater than the penalties for actually having sex with a willing teenager, but would also land you, at least in Michigan, on a sex offender registry for 25 years? If my husband had known that, he wouldn’t have been willing to take that chance in the name of some stupid “fun.” I’m sure many men wouldn’t. If the penalty for speeding were  being thrown in jail for five years and having your licensed suspended for a decade, and we all knew it, none of us would speed; if the penalty for drinking underage was advertised widely as being a felony carrying a fifteen-year maximum and two-and-a-half decades on a public list of dangerous drunkards, very few teens would drink. We skirt the edges of laws we think aren’t very serious. If we’re honest, we enjoy skirting the edges of laws we think aren’t very serious.

Same with possession of child pornography. Again, we have totally out-of-proportion penalties: the guy who downloads a free torrent containing child porn faces penalties exponentially more severe than what people who actually molest small children face. And, we have a lack of awareness of those penalties. Sure, people know child pornography is illegal. I’m sure that’s part of the attraction for many people, especially those with compulsive pornography issues. Given that, in the U.S., the most vile, degrading, violent types of pornography are totally legal, of course the taboo of child pornography is going to be something that some men–even those who have no sexual interest in children–will take pleasure in breaking. Because, when it comes to sex, breaking taboos often does bring pleasure. (I can’t imagine that anybody actually enjoys, in an objective sense, somebody urinating or defecating on them. Both sound completely disgusting. But, there are people who apparently enjoy both, and that would only be because of the pleasures of taboo-breaking.)

What these men don’t understand is how serious the penalties for what they are doing are. They don’t realize they could be facing a lifetime in prison for having a few images on their computer.

It just seems unjust and wrong to have these kinds of incredibly harsh penalties for internet-based sex offenses without a corresponding public awareness campaign. We have signs on the highway warning people of the penalties they will face if they don’t buckle up; we have warnings on DVDs enumerating the penalties they will face if they pirate; we have PSAs on TV letting people know the legal penalties they may face if they are caught driving drunk. We have no corresponding public education about the penalties that internet-based sex offenses carry, despite the fact that they carry penalties far more severe than any of those crimes.

If we are going to be locking people up for decades for possessing child pornography, or putting them on sex offender registries for a quarter century for setting up a meeting with an undercover officer pretending to be an eager, willing, sexually-experienced 15 year old in an adult chat room, then we have a duty, I’d say, to inform them of that. 

Certainly if we were interested in actually deterring these crimes–if we believed that these were serious criminal problems and we needed people to stop engaging in them–that’s what we’d do. We’d have commercials running during sporting events warning men of the penalties they can face for engaging in these kinds of online behaviors; we’d have health classes in school cover the legal dangers of online sexual activity; we’d put warnings up before people entered certain websites, reminding them of the penalties in their state of engaging in certain activities.

But, we aren’t doing that. Why? Because these are crimes the police are interested in creating, not deterring. If we actually believed that scores of guys in their 20s and 30s and 40s were meeting horny teen girls in adult chat rooms and meeting up with them for sex, you can be sure that we’d have campaigns designed to deter such behavior. But, it’s not happening (probably mainly because actual 15yo girls who really want sex with older guys don’t need to resort to skeezy chat rooms to find it, and aren’t doing so). There is nothing to deter. There is, however, money to be gained from creating the crime and arresting people for it.

Same with child pornography. If we honestly believed that was a thriving child pornography industry bringing in billions of dollars a year at the expense of the lives and psyches of young children, we’d be attempting to deter it through educational campaigns. But, that’s not happening. There is no child pornography industry; the men downloading free child pornography off of torrent sites are not enriching anybody but the U.S. government. We have no interest in deterring the child pornography industry because there is no child pornography industry; it’s another crime that is being created by the government rather than deterred.

We need to stop letting the government have it both ways. If these are serious crimes that are harming children, then they need to work on deterring them, which would involve public awareness and education campaigns. What they can’t keep doing is running sting operations that involve outrageous penalties that almost nobody in the public is aware of, not for public safety, but to 1) justify domestic surveillance of the internet, 2) seem “tough” on a crime they are woefully inadequate at addressing (actual child sexual abuse), and 3) enrich the prison-industrial-therapeutic complex by pouring even more people into the system.

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2 thoughts on “Warnings

  1. rewdiazepam

    There is no incentive for government or the authorities to stop the crimes of solicitation of a minor over the internet or child pornography. There is too much money to be made by too many groups of people for them to want these crimes to cease to exist.

    If the government really deemed these crimes truly egregious, then they might make a valiant attempt to stop these crimes, but the government is well aware that the people committing these internet crimes are not a threat to society despite the government protestations to the contrary.

    If anybody has been reading my comments on this very blog, or over at DS, they can plainly see that I have said these same things several days ago.

    Just read some of my pervious comments on this blog or over at Daily Strength. I think I may have posted about it on another forum also.

    This also explains why the undercover law enforcement officers not only allow these guys to continue this solicitation up until the point of arrest but these same undercover officers ACTIVELY PURSUE and chase these guys all over the internet to the brink of entrapment until they can arrest them.

    They do not really want this to stop. What they really want is ARRESTS AND CONVICTIONS.

    They want arrests and convictions—-as many as they can get. Why? Convictions bring money—lots of money; convictions are also a propaganda tool for the government, as they bring wanted publicity.

    With convictions they can bring in the media, who they know will jump on this and sensationalize it to the point that it will terrify citizens. They want to show the media and the public that they are doing such an upstanding job of cleaning up the internet and protecting the children from all those nasty “sex predators.”

    With the publicity, these departments receive huge amounts of cash in the form of grants to fight cyber crime. Hell, they would be stupid to cut off their money train; many of them would be out of a job.

    The government always plays up a threat greater than it actually is so that when they do something to stop the threat, they can parade that fact to the media and look like the “knight in shining amour” that came in and saved soceity. I am a great student of the history of law and order in this country. I remember in 1934, the Midwest bank robber John Dillinger, was roaming the Chicago area with his gang. Invariably every bank robbery in that period of time within a 1000 mile radius was attributed by J. Edgar Hoover (a scoundrel of the finest) to the Dillinger gang. Once, Harry Pierpont, a protégé of Dillinger asked John, “Why do they keep blaming everything on us?” Dillinger replied, “So we will be a bigger trophy when they bring us down.”

    The publicity when a young man is caught looking at a naughty picture of a child from a P2P network or talking to a teen on the internet is priceless. They use it to receive money in the form of grants; from the perspective of law enforcement, why stop this threat?

    Another more insidious reason the government has no reason to stop these crimes—to only publicize them—-is that they would like nothing better than to gain more control over the internet.

    As it is, the internet is akin to the Wild West. There is no centralized server and people can do much of what they please, as long as it is legal. In other words the doctrine of FREE SPEECH AND THE EXCHANGE OF IDEAS flourishes on the internet. Free speech and the exchange of ideas between intelligent people are a problem for any democratic society which is slipping into a Police State. Idealistic people are always a problem for a quasi Police State which we have now in this country.

    So, if the government could obtain more control—-or even worse, shut down—–the internet, it would stifle free speech, stop the flow of ideas and increase their power over the people.

    They are certainly trying. If they can put enough fear into the citizens and use the media as a source of propaganda, they might be able to use the fact that all the child pornography is transmitted over the internet or that the internet is just not a safe place for children, using the “for the children” argument.

    It will be a shameful day in American if the citizens of this once great country allow this to happen.

    rewdiazepam

    Reply
  2. Nathan Phillips

    Hi MBR – You might find this article interesting. The people in the comments seemed to miss the point, and just automatically started talking about what monsters sex offenders are. Which I think is exactly his point – people hear “sex offender” and immediately think “monster”. One person even suggested the author himself must be a sexually violent predator who is trying to justify his own actions by writing the article.

    It kind of blows my mind how much knee-jerk vitriol people bring to the topic.

    Why Queers Should Care About Sex Offenders
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-extein-msw/why-queers-should-care-about-sex-offenders_b_3386970.html

    Reply

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