Child porn‘s consumers share guilt
What's worse: raping a child or paying someone else to do it?
The U.S. Sentencing Commission might not see it that way, but that's the question it faces as it reviews federal criminal penalties for consumers of child pornography.
Some federal judges and defense attorneys are pushing to lower the recommended minimum sentences for people convicted of downloading or possessing child porn. In 2011, according to The Associated Press, the median sentence was seven years and the mandatory minimum for many such crimes was five years.
Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and former federal prosecutor Linda Dale Hoffa recently criticized the current guidelines as too harsh. "The fact that child pornography offenders can be given longer sentences than child abusers or violent offenders reflects a lack of care by Congress," they wrote in the journal of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Many federal judges seem to agree. More than 40 percent of the time, they give convicted defendants lighter penalties than the guidelines call for.
Guidelines are exactly that: guidelines. Based on the facts of the case and the particular offender, a judge may have reasonable grounds for going below the minimum. That's why we have human beings sitting on the bench, not computers.
But when it comes to the more vicious varieties of child porn, viewers are hardly less culpable or dangerous than child molesters.
Many in fact are molesters, suggest federal prison studies done in 2008 and 2000. In those studies, researchers found that large majorities of inmates who'd been convicted of "mere" consumption acknowledged they'd also committed physical sex offenses.
Whether or not they physically rape children, child porn consumers perpetuate an industry that preys on innocents, right down to toddlers. If not for these voyeurs, there'd be no market for images of child rape and no profit incentive to stage the rapes in the first place. The guilt spreads seamlessly across the industry and its customer base.
Child pornography is now almost exclusively an Internet phenomenon, which means that every child photographed remains a digital hostage indefinitely.
Testifying to the Sentencing Commission in February, forensic pediatrician Sharon Cooper described their predicament:
"Many children and young adults who were victimized as minors speak of living a 'double life' ... they struggle to appear well-adjusted, but inside they report remaining always vigilant and fearful that any interaction with a computer might lead to exposure of the images of the sexual abuse that they have endured."
Anyone complicit in supporting this most despicable of industries deserves to be taken out of the predatory loop for years. Whatever time child porn consumers do, it won't match the lifetime of violation their victims face on the Internet.
This article was published and distributed by Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).