Troubling consequences of federal child pornography laws

February 19, 2014

By Andrew Extein, MSW
Co-authored by Galen Baughman

I.

Until Dec. 11, 2013, Jesse Ryan Loskarn was a popular chief of staff for a Tennessee senator. But on that winter day, police broke down the door of his rowhouse in southeast Washington, D.C., and searched for the illegal digital items that had led them there: explicit videos of boys posing nude and engaging in sexual acts.

On Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, Ryan was found dead in his basement.

On Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, there was a twist. Ryan’s mother posted his suicide note online, revealing the great complexity to his story. He wasn’t a faceless headline, wasn’t a cautionary tale, wasn’t a vague story of justice. He became what most people didn’t want him to be: a human being.

What most of us have trouble comprehending — an argument all but forbidden in our current climate — is that Ryan could be understood as a victim himself. For his suicide note reveals a stunning truth: his own history of sexual abuse, one that had far-reaching, complex emotional effects.

II.

The way the government punishes the purchasing, downloading, possession, or distribution of child pornography has become increasingly draconian. According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the length of federal child pornography sentences has increased 500-percent in the last 15 years. The federal mandatory minimum is five years for receipt, distribution, possession with intent to distribute or sell, transportation, or production of child pornography — per image. This conduct could range anywhere from producing explicit images of the violent abuse of children to accidentally clicking on the wrong link or inadvertently downloading a video on a file-sharing network. Yet law enforcement (and society generally) conflates these situations; child pornography becomes a loaded and intimidating institution that needs to be crushed. (see Huff Post for full story)

13 comments for “Troubling consequences of federal child pornography laws

  1. erich
    October 30, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    I have a great support group. Therapists, friends, blah, blah. They go home at night and say, poor him. They give me words like survive, and one day at a time. Mean while I face the distain of the public and the fear of homelessness and hunger. No steady work, no comforting relationship. I am single, jobless,no insurance, and low on funds. Ending it seems just logical.

  2. June 28, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Most of the child pornography that is confiscated by law enforcement officials in the United States has been imported from foreign countries.  (Taylor & Clemetson, 2001). Aficionados and vice cops concede that practically all the sexually explicit images of children circulating on the net are the same stack of yellowing pages found at the back of those X-rated shops, only digitized. These pictures tend to be twenty to fifty years old, made overseas, badly re-reproduced, and for the most part pretty chaste. That may be why federal agents almost never show journalists the contraband. When a journalist did get a peek at a stash downloaded by Don Huycke, the national program manager for child pornography at the U.S. Customs Service, in 1995, they were underwhelmed. Losing count after fifty photos, they put aside three that could be called pornographic; a couple of shots were of adolescents masturbating, half-dressed twelve-year-old spreading her legs in a position more like a gymnast’s split than split beaver. The rest tended to be like 15yo’s with a 1950s bob and a grin.

    The promotion of exaggerated, or even false, ‘statistics’ on such issues is not a new phenomenon. However there appears to be a growing trend in the United States as well as the rest of the world giving new life to out of date statistics that have previously been found false or misleading. Many of these “statistics” originate from child abuse industry in the USA and UK. They need to keep the public scared in order to keep the tax dollars flowing increasing their funding by government and/or public donations in the name of the,”child”. The fear industrial complex is composed of politicians, activist groups and corporations that all sell us on the idea that they can provide safety from the very dangers they are scaring us about.

    Whenever somebody’s trying to scare me the question I ask myself who is benefiting from it, and in what way and how big is the danger more importantly is it really? Is it big, is it small, or is it just that they stand to benefit by making us scared? (The ‘Fear Industrial Complex’ How the Media, Government and Corporate America Bank on the Business of Fear”, John Stossel & Natalie D. Jaquez, ABC News 20/20, 23)

    Kenneth Lanning former Supervisory Special Agent, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy remarked in April of 1992, about Child Sex Rings: A Behavioral Analysis For Criminal Justice states, “Some professionals (dealing with child sexual abuse) however, in their zeal to make American society more aware of this victimization, tend to exaggerate the problem. Presentations and literature with poorly documented or misleading claims about one in three children being sexually molested, the $5 billion child pornography industry, child slavery rings, and 50,000 stranger-abducted children are not uncommon. Isn’t the problem is bad enough? Why does Law Enforcement embellish logical fallacies coupled with Gothic Melodramas, false and misleading news conferences.

    It’s not necessary to exaggerate the issue of child sexually abuse. Professionals those in Law Enforcement and the social sciences should cite reputable and scientific studies noting the sources of information. Real science demands child abuse industry professionals use real science and not some rehashed paper thrown together quoting cohorts with a publish or perish mentality perpetuating the golden egg they made for themselves. While everyone was out working hard trying to provide for there families the child abuse industry along with their lobbyists snuck in the back door infiltrating that which they can not derive from the voter. They put in motion using the federal government one of the biggest grabs for tax dollars in recent times all using the currant, “child abuse” rhetoric. What happened? The masses fell for it including the USA’s Supreme Court hook line and sinker without even a question because it is about,”The Children”. When the exaggerations and distortions are discovered, their credibility and the credibility of the issue are lost.

    Our society remains unwilling to make sexuality part of a comprehensive health education program in the schools. The idea that curious, young or old minds are vulnerable to bad thoughts, which may lead to bad acts is the founding principle of obscenity law. Society driven by logical fallacies spread by the child abuse industry remains at a high alert status and is anxious to the point of hysteria about young people and sex. Our public health policy concerning sexuality education appears to be ideologically motivated rather than empirically driven. This paper is about fear; America’s fears about child sexuality. The architects and practitioners of oppression use the term, “child protection” for what they do; However I have found the opposite to be true, because the sexual politics of fear is harmful to those under 18. This is not a new phenomenon back in 1868, an English anticlerical pamphlet called The Confessional Unmasked
    was deemed obscene and punishable because its text might, “suggest to the minds of the young of either sex, and even to persons of more advanced years, thoughts of a most impure and libidinous character.” (Marjorie Heins, INDECENCY: The Great American Debate over Sex, Children, Free Speech, and Dirty Words, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Monograph Paper #7, 1997, 4)

    Witch hunts alchemized the pornography scare which later became a more general panic over child sexual abuse with NO empirical evidence to support their claims. Radical Right Feminist, right wing fears and worries about children’s vulnerability to adult sexual desire has reified the therapy and child abuse industry’s. They have taught themselves to uncover abuse in every female patient’s past; It’s very lucrative. They saw profanity in the form of abortion, divorce, homosexuality, premarital teen sex, and sex education everywhere encroaching on sanctity. To them, it made sense that adults, with Satan as chief gang-banger, were conspiring in, “rings” to rape innocent children. Such myths have survived because they are useful for the left as well as for right conservative and patriarchal agendas. Republican crime bills have been indicting and sending innocent and victimized children to trial as adults tossing who are their most powerful weapon; However the right increasingly draws on a vocabulary of child protection as the bulwark of their campaign against multiculturalism, feminism, Internet expression and queer politics. The negate any meaningful political response to this conservative agenda which must reassess childhood innocence.

    Curiosity energizes and ennobles. Thoreau said, “The  greatest  compliment  that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”   Listening lifts people. Curiosity keeps people coming back whether there is a new gadget or not, because they know they might learn something new. Law Enforcement has learned from the social sciences on how to cultivates curiosity which make their, “child porn pull marketing”work. Curiosity keeps people engaged long after Law enforcement present their daily, “Gothic melodramas”where prosecutors and agents stand behind a podium all lined up in front of the camera and plastered on the front page of the news papers. There they demonize child porn and connect you to their pedophile drama while pretending to shut it down. They providing a person not just titillation but assurances by them they are our righteousness protectors.  A curious person would want to find out more because thats human nature and they know it.

    According to police files, 95% of allegedly abducted children turn out to be “runaways and throwaways” from home or kids snatched by one of their own parents in divorce custody disputes.(. Laliberte, “Missing Children,” 77.) Studies commissioned under the Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984 estimate that between 52 and 158 children will be abducted and murdered by non family members each year. Extrapolating from other FBI statistics, those odds come out between 1 in 364,000 and fewer than 1 in 1 million.(According to the FBI, “classic” abductions, in which a child is taken by a nonfamily member more than fifty miles from home, held overnight, and ransomed or murdered, number two hundred to three hundred annually, or 1 child in every 230,000 (as of 1997).) A child stands a greater risk of dying in a car accident: 25% to 75% times greater.

    A pedophile,” depending on the legal statute, the perception of the psychologist, or the biases of the journalist, can be anything from a college freshman who has once masturbated with a fantasy of a twelve-year-old in mind to an adult who has had sexual contact with an infant.(. Marina Warner, “Little Angels, Little Monsters,” in her Six Myths of Our Time (New York: Vintage Books, 1994)) Pedophiles are not generally violent, unless you are using the term sexual violence against children in a moral, rather than a literal, way. Its perpetrators very rarely use force or cause physical injury in a youngster. (. John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), 12-14, 43.)

    Nine in forty five million children are raped and murdered: slim odds, sure, but if it happens to your baby, who cares about the statistics? Our culture fears the pedophile, say some social critics, not because he is a deviant, but because he is ordinary and I don’t mean because he is the ice-cream man or Father Patrick ONeil. No, we fear him because he is us.

    Literary critic James Kincaid traced this terror back to the middle of the nineteenth century. We relish our erotic attraction to children, says Kincaid (witness the child beauty pageants in which JonBenet Ramsey was entered). but at the same time we also find that attraction abhorrent in which I believe we have become Congnative dissonant. This being a direct result of miss information perpetuated by Law Enforcement, government and the media who fail to go after the truth and more or less collude. (like what we witnessed in public shock and disgust at JonBenet’s “sexualization” in those pageants).

    So we project that eroticized desire outward, creating a monster to hate, hunt down, and punish. (. James R. Kincaid, Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992); and James R. Kincaid, Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child-Molesting (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998)).

    Herman’s work was at the front edge of a horrifying suspicion, the truth of which is now firmly established. Even if child-sex crimes against strangers are rare, incest is not. Like pedophilia, it’s hard to say how common it is, since incest figures are almost as mud died as those of adult-child sex outside the family. On one hand, child abuse statistics are notoriously unreliable; for example, of the 319,000 reports of sexual abuse of children in 1993, two-thirds were unsubstantiated.( National Incidence Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Department of Health and Human Services, 1993))

    When child pornographers first came to public light in 1976, researchers found them to be feeble beast and an even worse businessman. In fact, they were almost bankrupt. Raids aimed at cleaning up Times Square for the Democratic Convention uncovered only a minuscule cache of kiddie porn. (Lawrence Stanley, “The Child Porn Myth,” Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal 7 (1989): 295-358) But those few stacks of dusty, decades-old black and white rags, already illegal, were enough to launch a crusade. A child psychiatrist, Judianne Densen-Gerber, who founded the drug rehabilitation empire Odyssey House in New York led the team that would epitomize the anti CP forces. Joined by a vice cop, Sergeant Lloyd Martin, of the Los Angeles Police Department.

    Agencies of government eliminated and collected child pornography from the private sector. Now Law Enforcement agencies have become the sole reproducers and distributors of child pornography where virtually all advertising, distribution, and sales to people considered potential lawbreakers is being done by the federal government, in sting operations against people who have demonstrated through, for instance, membership in what agents regard as a predisposition to commit a crime. Thought crimes!!

    Instead of indicting our Monday night football buddies, rather than indict the family, though, we circle the wagons and project danger outward. “Screen out anyone who might be damaging to your child. Whenever possible, assume childcare responsibilities,” the FBI’s Kenneth Lanning advised the readers of Life Magazine; “Tell your kids that if an adult seems too good to be true, maybe they are.”(. Jennifer Allen, “The Danger Years,” Life, July 1995, 48.) During the 1960s and 1970s, sex panic gave way to sexual liberation, including, for a brief moment, the notion that children had a right to sexual expression. “Sex is a natural appetite,” wrote Heidi Handman and Peter Brennan in 1974, in Sex Handbook: Information and Help for Minors. “If you’re old enough to want to have sex, you’re old enough to have it.”. (Heidi Handman and Peter Brennan, Sex Handbook: Information and Help for Minors (New York: Putnam, 1974))

  3. David
    June 18, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    I feel all of your pain, I to think about killing myself to end the guilt shame and rejection.
    I was convicted on Federal charges of child porn back in 1995 and did 10 years and started my 10 year reg, in 2004, Did my supervision ending in 2007. Then in 2012 Pennsylvania changed it, thanks to Adam “F” in Walsh. to a life time registration.
    I lost everything, and slowly built back up to owning a home, and worked for awhile, until I got laid off. Then could not find work and my health took a turn for the worse, now I am disabled and living like a hermit, alone and unloved, and dying slowly from my health problems. And the state wants me to go every 3 months to take my picture and sign a card. So, I feel your pain brothers and sister, And, a year ago, RSOL, had a telephone conference and people seemed very willing to work and change things and I volunteered to help. But, that has been over a year, and nothing. So, if we can’t stand up united and make a stand and change things, we will not begin to feel, human again, and have a purpose in life.

  4. Anthony
    April 6, 2014 at 8:06 am

    I am genuely against child pornography.
    Yet I do agree the definition has been greatly distorted as well as punishment for. As with so much internet traffic, virous’s, & bugs its too easy to click on the wrong thing.
    These laws should be only going after the production and producing of child porn when and only when an actual human being child is being perpitrated apon.
    Just like why go after the person illegally”

  5. Brian
    April 4, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    This is sadly familiar with my own situation. I too contemplated suicide countless times after being arrested for the possession of three videos of child pornography. Now my life is a prison without walls as J Strider mentions above. Each of my thoughts throughout the day are filtered through shame and the decision to kill myself or to search for some sort of life where I can feel whole again. But for all practical purposes,my life is over. Prior to my arrest,I had been a successful engineer and law-abiding citizen with no contact with the law throughout my forty five years.I had had nothing so much as a speeding ticket throughout my life but made a horrible mistake after isolating myself and allowing depression to take over my thinking.

    Now I live in shame and in constant fear of being approached by neighbors and strangers ( which has happened in the past) and constantly feel the walls closing in in an effort to escape the shame.

    I have successfully completed my sentence,probation and therapy but still continue to live under the label of “sexual predator”.

    I live in hope that one day there may be a system put in place in my state to appear in front of a judicial review board that would evaluate my case,life history and character to possibly remove me from the lifelong registration.

    • Witch
      June 8, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      i am 100% with you Brian! i am 54 years i have lost everything ithat has ever meant anything to me. my family has abandoned me my wife of 20 years divorced me and my son has disowned me. I live in fear of being arrested for some assanine law that will land me in prison for the rest of my life. I was not convicted of child porn but pretty close to the same. My life has become meaningless. I have no family other than the ones that have disowned me. I am thinking about suicide at this very moment. I know I will eventually do it I just havent aquired the courage yet. Nobody will give a damn anyway. None of my family that is. I know that people say that they will care but I just dont believe them anymore. It has been 4.5 years since I have even spoken to my son. I dont even know him anymore. The pain I live with from the rejection the shame and guilt of it all is too much to endure. Im no threat to anyone yet I am on the registry for 25 years.

      • Beth
        June 22, 2014 at 2:25 pm

        Please don’t kill yourself! My son will be released from federal prison in a little over three years. He had a 10 year sentence for child porn on the internet. Thanks to Obama his term was reduced to a little over seven years. I want to be there for my son and help him in every way I can. What he did was wrong, but everyone messes up one way or another. I do not believe he should be punished for the rest of his life for looking at pictures. I do not know exactly what will be required of him when he is released from prison, but I am aware it will not be pleasant, to put it mildly. I have just joined RSOL. I want to learn what I can do to help my son and others in similar situations.

        • Deb
          November 2, 2014 at 5:02 pm

          I have a son who is in prison for child porn. Although it was a rented computer and the images were on the hard drive, the computer was in his name. When he sent it in for repair, and the pc was missing for four days and no one knew where the pc was, not even the rent-to-own store. When it was finally found and went for repair, then it was discovered that the child porn was downloaded. Although it was deleted, it was still on the hard drive. And it was proven that it was done before he rented it. It was in his name. We fought it for two years, and then the feds picked it up. And after a year of fighting he was given 90 months, and placed in a LOW risk prison. I lost everything I had, and so did my parents. But I will continue to do what I can for my son until my last breath.

    • Jeff
      June 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      Brian,

      I feel your pain and suffering. I too was convicted of a misdemeanor 311.11 for four pictures that according to the police report the victims of the offense were sixteen years of age or older. I did not go out searching the internet for CP, I had just become addicted to porn as a result of isolating myself after to many broken hearts. As a result I spent 3 months in jail and have to register for the rest of my life. The one blessing is that my personal information is not on the megans list website. The shame and guilt of this followed me for a few years after the offense and all I thought about was wanting to end the fear, shame and guilt by taking my own life.

      This offense according 14 years ago, I lost my career as a IT professional but was lucky enough to find work in construction but, knew with and previous injuries I would not be physical able to do the work. So I decided to go back to college and get a Engineering Degree. Life was good and this point, I worked construction in the summers to pay my way. I was dirt poor but, the feelings of fear, shame and guilt had melted away. The only time I thought about my past offense was when I had to register.

      I was scheduled to graduate this fall 2014. So I confirmed that my attorney had expunged by case properly and he did. I was then told that I might want to do a name search on the internet of myself. No problem I thought there never was any mention of my case a few years after my conviction but, now 10 years later there is. I was shocked, terrified and the feelings of guilt and shame came racing back in. Six years in school for nothing. Now all I think about is death knowing any legit employer will do a name search.

      How do we go on, am a single guy from a large family that fully supports me and have many friends that know of my conviction and they support me. But I just cannot do the construction much longer due to back and shoulder replacement needs. Its only the prescribed anti-anxiety and sleeping pills that are keeping me here. I just cannot go through this lifetime of shaming and living in fear.

      I really relate to your “Each of my thoughts throughout the day are filtered through shame and the decision to kill myself or to search for some sort of life where I can feel whole again”

      If you don’t mind me asking, have you been able to find employment?

      May God bless you and bring you peace

    • Nick
      June 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      You might want to live in another state. I have understood that most states do not list people convicted of simple possession of child porn to public website.
      You could start from these sites to find information of what convictions require public listing in different states: http://klaaskids.org/megans-law/ and http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/megan-s-law-resources-by-state.html The clear information is not available for all states but these sites will give you at least some info for a start. Also WATCH OUT for the catch all statutes that might require life long registering when moving from another state. Some states e.g. Illinois, (if I recall right) has one, but you would not want to live there anyway since they list all offences on the public site. It would be wise to contact the registry board of the state to ask them directly how your offence would be treated in their registry system. Also consulting an attorney would be advisable before moving in to a new state.

      Good luck and stay strong people.

      • Nick
        June 23, 2014 at 5:18 pm

        Forgot to add that some states only require tier/level 3 offences to be put on public websites. Of course one never knows if and when these laws are goiing to change and if they will be aplied retroactivly, but still, I would consider moving as one possible solution to get off the public registry.

        Moving might not be easy but it is one option to have a fresh start.

  6. J Strider
    April 2, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    I feel exactly the same. I was accused and prosecuted with no evidence other than hearsay. And now I am marked and judged for life. I have to go through hoops every day just to live that day out of prison. It does seem to me death is more preferable sometimes than living in what seems only a prison with it’s walls expanded with an illusion of being free finally. So many restrictions and requirements with costs associated with keeping compliant is an almost impossible task without assistance from another person or persons who you might be fortunate enough to have in your life. Colorado needs to get with the rest of the nation in doing away with the lifetime act!!

  7. February 25, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    I feel for all those that have to go through all this. I myself am on a sex registry and some of the restrictions are not fair, and yes I have thought about killing myself but what would that prove?

    Sex is a sin just like any other disobedience is. When the law takes matters in its own hands and pressures one they are accountable for their faults also. I’m not saying that killing oneself is the right thing to do but with the pressure surrounding it, it would make one want to commit suicide. I am sorry for the loss of this loved one but pressures can take there toll in the mind of people and the end can result in a bad way. The Bible says if you confess your sins God is just to forgive you, but not so for the state as they want to keep one in bondage. That just goes to show you the humanity of mankind, weather its Government or a fascism state.

    There is no common sense in Government when it comes to the sex registry or people having something on there computer they shouldn’t have. See Government use of sex as a weapon and the registry is like a Hitler’s list so show the world that this guy committed a sin….. I wish the Government would have a list of all the sin’s of those in Government and the crooked police officers that try to make a name of themselves when there are no better than the next person.

    I feel truly sorry for Jesse Ryan and my condolences to his family as this is very tragic.

    These things should never happen, but if we all learn to forgive and learn a more effective way to deal with situations like this without making a prisoner to these types of pressures and help in all cases of sex registry offenses than the States would be better served. Remember the Government people are only public servants. Some might say their vigilante groups with all these ways to put people in bondage for the rest of there lives with these sex laws, why they right there own rules and have them pass some committee ….

    I would never vote for anyone who wants to put someone in bondage for the rest of their life, and I’m sure you all should feel the same way.

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