Letters to the Editor
Posted Aug 1, 2009 9:30 PM CST
Anyone who thinks the election of our first African-American president means we no longer have any reason to make amends to minorities in this country ought to read Mark Curriden’s “A Supreme Case of Contempt,” June, page 34. This compelling and poignant article graphically demonstrates why the majority in this country still has so much to make up for to others.
Peter L. Davis
Central Islip, N.Y.
Presidential wisdom ABA President H. Thomas Wells’ message on the importance of diversity (“Allowing Our Differences to Unite Us,” June) further demonstrates the significance of the issue. In a world that is increasingly becoming more and more interdependent, there is no greater time to reiterate the necessity of tolerance and open-mindedness.
New York City
THE LAW AND CHILD PORNOGRAPHY
I found Mark Hansen’s “A Reluctant Rebellion,” June, to be well-written, thorough and sickening. I have no sympathy whatsoever for child pornography users and, frankly, I don’t care what their personal circumstances are; nor do I care about their difficult childhoods, their parents’ drinking problems or whether they ate too much junk food. At some point, adults accept responsibility for their own acts without excuses. Isn’t that part of what defines adulthood?
Six years in prison and lifetime on parole are not punishment, just a paddle on the back. I still don’t comprehend the “understanding” behind the correlation of history of sexual abuse and being an abuser. This is just another excuse that has come into acceptance in our society. Child pornography is a heinous crime that most times goes unpunished because of the interpretation of the law and the application of it by those like Judge Lynn Adelman.
Joe H. Baldelomar
As a victim of childhood sexual abuse and a psychiatric nurse, I feel more qualified than many to voice my views on this subject. I’ve spent much of my adult life working with the victims and perpetrators of actual sexual abuse. I have set up and participated in a support group for adult survivors. I am painfully aware of the devastating havoc injected into the lives of these innocent victims. I cannot condone the ridiculous penalties being meted out in the name of justice to individuals who download one or two videos of child porn. Punishment, yes—but imprisonment? To what end? For the purpose of victimizing one who is, in all likelihood, already a victim. Surely our courts can find a more just penalty.
Winter Haven, Fla.
Hansen’s heavy reliance on the analysis by Troy Stabenow shows a fatal weakness in logic. Stabenow states that “nearly 80 percent of all child porn defendants in 2006 had no prior felonies of any kind, let alone a history of sexually abusing or exploiting a child.” The flaw in this statement lies with the lack of recognition of the extremely secret nature of child sexual abuse.
According to our calculations using Department of Justice data, less than 1 percent of child molesters are caught through traditional criminal justice proceedings. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to tell whether a perpetrator actually has had previous victims by viewing his record, or even by asking children whom he might have victimized.
We do have solid empirical data to show that child pornography offenders have undetected and undisclosed victims. The ‘Butner Study’ Redux, mentioned so fleetingly at the very end of the article, gives us reason to believe there is a 1-to-1 correlation between viewing child pornography and being a hands-on child molester.
As a nonpedophile, search for child pornography online and you will have extreme difficulty finding it. If you are a pedophile, however, and well-versed in pedophilia’s terminology, you will be able to find these crime-scene images of mostly American children being raped and tortured. We must rely upon the research, not statements of convicted felons themselves, to form informed opinions.
Hansen mentions over and over that these felons often appear repentant. This apparent desire to “get better” belies the fact that they cannot. The majority of members of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers admit that for pedophiles there is no cure; they see no hope for a cure; and they fear recidivism after treatment.
The United States, according to watchdog organizations in Britain, is the No. 1 producer and consumer of child sexual assault images in the world, and American children are the main victims. Following the digital trail of these images back to possessors is the first tool in the history of mankind that allows us to take child molesters off the streets whom we would not have been able to identify in any other way.
The role of child-pornography-possession investigations in stopping child sexual abuse in the U.S. cannot be ignored and should not be minimized. Arguing for lighter sentences in these cases hammers one more nail into the coffin of children who are suffering unspeakable abuse and have little to no hope of rescue. Because of the silent and secret nature of this crime, stronger child pornography sentences are the only way we have to stop an epidemic of sexual abuse of American children.
Heather Steele, President and CEO
Innocent Justice Foundation
Although Hansen’s article raises questions about the child pornography sentencing guidelines, the discussion seems premised upon a number of fundamental misunderstandings, one of which is the seriousness of the crime.
While Hansen acknowledges that producers of child pornography—those known to be molesting a child—are committing serious offenses, he and the critics he cites seem far less concerned about the individuals collecting, trading, viewing and possessing the images. Indeed, he highlights offenders depicted as “otherwise law-abiding” citizens who merely enjoy an odd and even deviant form of sex. The article seems to suggest that the serious sentences are motivated by some puritan ideal. The heart of a child pornography case is not a Victorian-era discomfort with sex, but the endless sexual exploitation of a child through the ongoing mass circulation of images of his or her abuse.
The phrase child porn, used repeatedly throughout the article, masks the true nature of what these images portray: sexual exploitation and abuse of children. Over the last several years, these have become increasingly severe, depicting violent sexual abuse of younger and younger children. In some videos, the children can be heard screaming and crying in response to the physical assault. This is what the market now demands. We know for certain that each person who participates in this market increases the demand for newer, more extreme images, which in turn leads to additional abuse.
So I respectfully disagree with the concept that this is a victimless crime, unworthy of serious punishment. I reject the notion that the superficially sympathetic profile of any one offender should justify the fueling of a raging market that demands and promotes the sexual abuse of our children. The U.S. Supreme Court got it right in New York v. Ferber (1982), well before the Internet blasted wide open the market for child pornography, when it observed that perhaps the only practical way to stop its production is with severe sentences.
Hansen’s decision to characterize offenders as sympathetic highlights a fundamental bias and misunderstanding. If such an offender existed, the sentencing scheme—designed to shut down the market that fuels the abuse of children—is perfectly appropriate.
But your readers should not be lulled into believing that such an offender exists. Common sense alone tells us that someone who exhibits such a strong, compulsive interest in images depicting the rape of real children is something other than an upstanding citizen and someone our laws should seriously address.
I invite you to read a more thorough response (PDF), prepared by Alexandra Gelber, assistant deputy chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department of Justice.
Andrew G. Oosterbaan, Chief
DOJ Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section
LAW FIRMS LOOKING OUT FOR NO. 1
“Pay Cut for Public Service,” June, seems to accept the public-relations-fed line that the move of large law firms to “defer” or “loan” associates to public interest organizations is “in response to the devastating effect the economic meltdown is having on legal services and other not-for-profit organizations.” In truth, the firms are responding to the effect on their own business model.
It should be a wake-up call to our profession that young lawyers will be paid $60,000 plus not to work. More shocking is that they are gaining sympathy. For many, the opportunity to do this work for $60K would not be a trade-off, but a bonus. Starting salaries in legal services and public defender organizations are often under $50K, and competition is stiff.
We should not heap platitudes on those “willing” to serve the means of justice at a salary far above the median income. Economic reality means most groups will choose a free firm attorney over one they have to pay. But to assume young attorneys are fungible is naive. Many have devoted their careers to the pursuit of public interest, choosing the “trade-off” of doing good as opposed to making money not just for one year, but for their entire lifetimes.
Law firms should be forced to face the responsibility of the decisions they made to overhire associates at unsustainable salaries, not applauded for their creative ways of now minimizing their expenses.