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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Child-porn prosecutions climb in Pima County as Internet begets a new kind of offender

Child-porn prosecutions climb in Pima County as Internet begets a new kind of offender By Patrick McNamara

Child pornography was almost unheard of just 20 years ago.

Few outside of an underground community of producers and consumers of the material had access, and law enforcement efforts had driven that community deeply into the shadows.

But with the accessibility of the Internet, the demand for child pornography has exploded and the doors of access to the material have opened wide.

Today, police routinely arrest people for possession of child pornography, and prosecutors are bringing more offenders to court.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office prosecuted 38 people on child pornography charges in 2013, a more than twofold increase over four years.

In 1998, the County Attorney’s Office initiated seven cases against people suspected of child pornography, luring a minor for sexual purposes and related crimes. Last year, the number of new cases hit 51.

Child pornography boils the blood of Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall,who calls it “an extraordinary exploitation of kids.”

The Arizona Daily Star contacted the Tucson Police Department for comment in this story. Despite numerous requests, no one from the department’s unit that investigates Internet crimes against children made contact.

But some psychologists and defense attorneys argue the criminal-justice system should distinguish between child molesters and “non-contact” offenders who look at pornographic images of minors.

Under Arizona law, possession of child pornography is punishable by up to 24 years in prison, the same punishment given for a first-time child molestation offense. The maximum prison term for a first-time offense of luring a minor for sexual purposes is 15 years.

Defense attorney John Sando of the Pima County Public Defender’s Office said that can lead to unfair descrepancies.

Tucson police arrested Sando’s client Michael Ray Hill in January 2013 after an Internet service provider notified them of possible child pornography downloads.

After an investigation, police searched Hill’s home and found child pornography on his computer. He was charged with 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

Court documents said Hill frequented online chat rooms geared toward gay teens, where he asked boys to send him nude photos of themselves. Hill, 28, ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and was sentenced, under a plea agreement, to five years in prison.

Sando called the punishment a “travesty” because of Hill’s disabilities and cognitive limitations. Both developmentally and physically disabled, Hill was nearly homebound and unable to go anywhere on his own, Sando said.

He said Hill recognizes what he did was wrong and feels shameful. But the attorney questions whether locking a man with limited cognitive abilities in prison for five years addresses the problem of child pornography.

“What’s the danger he poses to the community?” Sando asked. “It’s such a ridiculous, illogical sentencing structure.”

The lengthy prison sentences for child pornography possession leave many defendants little choice but to plead guilty to one or two counts rather gamble at trial and risk a lifetime behind bars, Tucson defense attorney Rick Lougee said.

“The jury, if they see these pictures, they would want to convict the lawyer and the defendant,” Lougee said.
Pattern of escalation

In decades past, collectors of child pornography were almost always child molesters, said Dr. Paul Simpson, a Tucson-based criminal forensic psychologist who has treated sex offenders for more than 30 years and conducts mental-health evaluations of defendants for Pima County Superior Court.

They often used clandestine pornography collections as a bridge between opportunities to molest children.

But the Internet has helped create a new class of sex offender: one without a history of abusing children.

With pornography readily available to anyone with an Internet connection, Simpson said many people find child pornography almost by accident.

While noting that understanding the behavior does not excuse the potential harm offenders cause, Simpson said some of the answers could be found in how the human brain functions.

As pornography consumption becomes compulsive, users often fall into a pattern of escalation. He argues that they could benefit from intervention and therapy as part of their punishment.

“If treated early, there is a good chance of successful treatment,” he said.

But left untreated, he said, the likelihood increases that these offenders, too, will escalate their behavior and eventually molest a child.
“Tip of the iceberg”

Whether they molest a child or look at a photo, people who view child pornography helped to create a market that thrives on the abuse of children, LaWall said.

The sentences for child pornography possession are justified when considering the abuse victims of the industry have suffered.

“When I think about what was done to those children it doesn’t offend me whatsoever,” she said.

Two recent high-profile prosecutions exemplify how the market for child pornography has grown, claiming more victims almost daily.

In one, a Tucson man was sentenced to more than 24 years in federal prison for molesting a toddler and broadcasting the abuse on the Internet.

“It’s totally frightening,” La Wall said. “There is no question whatsoever that we are only encountering the very tip of the iceberg.”
The growth of exploitation cases in Pima County

Cases opened in Pima County Superior Court by year*

2013 51

2012 32

2011 27

2010 29

2009 21

2008 26

2007 20

2006 11

2005 13

2004 20

2003 20

2002 21

2001 21

2000 11

1999 8

1998 7

*Statistics for cases with charges of violations of Arizona Revised Statutes 13-3552 Commercial sexual exploitation of a minor; 13-3553 Sexual exploitation of a minor; evidence; 13-3554 Luring a minor for sexual exploitation.

Source: Pima County Superior Court, Clerk of the Pima County Superior Court

Child pornography prosecutions by year in Pima County Superior Court

38 2013

33 2012

32 2011

18 2010

16 2009

Source: Pima County Attorney’s Office


The population of inmates in Arizona Department of Corrections’ prisons having been convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor as of April 30.

Source: Arizona Department of Corrections

Our misguided child porn laws do little to protect children

Our misguided child porn laws do little to protect children
By Jacob Sullum

This Dec. 11, 2013 image from video provided by WJLA-TV, shows Ryan Loskarn, former chief of staff to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., being escorted from his Washington home by U.S. Postal Inspector police. Loskarn killed himself in Maryland, just weeks after the former staffer’s arrest on child pornography charges.(AP Photo/WJLA-TV)

(Note: From time to time, I’ll be inviting writers, reporters, and experts on the criminal justice and civil liberties beat to contribute guests posts. Our first guest post comes from my former colleague Jacob Sullum, a national syndicated columnist and senior editor at Reason magazine. — Radley Balko)

In the letter he wrote on the day he hanged himself last month, Ryan Loskarn talked about the shame and guilt he felt after he was caught with child pornography. Loskarn, former chief of staff to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), did not mention fear of prison, perhaps because he had already resolved to end his life. But for anyone in his position who planned to stay alive, the prospect of spending years behind bars would loom large.

The legal treatment of people caught with child pornography is so harsh that they can end up serving longer sentences than people who actually abuse children. In a 2009 analysis, federal public defender Troy Stabenow shows that a defendant with no prior criminal record and no history of abusing children would qualify for a sentence of 15 to 20 years based on a small collection of child pornography and one photo swap, while a 50-year-old man who encountered a 13-year-old girl online and lured her into a sexual relationship would get no more than four years.

Under federal law, receiving child pornography, which could mean downloading a single image, triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of five years — the same as the penalty for distributing it. Merely looking at a picture can qualify someone for the same charge, assuming he does so deliberately and is aware that Web browsers automatically make copies of visited sites. In practice, since the Internet nowadays is almost always the source of child pornography, this means that viewing and possession can be treated the same as trafficking.

The maximum penalty for receiving or distributing child porn is 20 years, and federal sentencing guidelines recommend stiff enhancements based on factors that are extremely common in these cases, such as using a computer, possessing more than 600 images (with each video clip counted as 75 images), and exchanging photos for something of value, including other photos. Federal agents reportedly found 200 child porn videos on Loskarn’s hard drive when theyarrested him on December 11.

Ninety percent of federal child-porn prosecutions involve “non-production offenses” like Loskarn’s: downloading or passing along images of sexual abuse, as opposed to perpetrating or recording it. As a result of congressional edicts, the average sentence in such cases rose from 54 months in 2004 to 95 months in 2010, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). The penalties have become so severe, the commission noted, that judges frequently find ways to dodge them, resulting in wildly inconsistent sentences for people guilty of essentially the same conduct.

While the original justification for criminalizing possession of child pornography was that demand creates supply (an argument that has been weakened by the shift to free online distribution), the escalation of penalties seems to be driven largely by the assumption that people who look at these images are all undiscovered or would-be child molesters. Is that true? The USSC found, based on criminal records and additional information in presentencing reports, that one in three federal defendants sentenced for non-production offenses in the previous decade had known histories of “criminal sexually dangerous behavior” (including prior child pornography offenses). Tracking 610 defendants sentenced in fiscal years 1999 and 2000 for eight and a half years after they were released, the USSC found that 7 percent were arrested for a new sexual offense.

Even allowing for the fact that many cases of sexual abuse go unreported (as indicated by victim surveys), it seems clear that some consumers of child pornography never abuse children. “There does exist a distinct group of offenders who are Internet-only and do not present a significant risk for hands-on sex offending,” says Karl Hanson, a senior research officer at Public Safety Canada who has co-authored several recidivism studies.

Why would anyone look at this horrible stuff if he was not inclined to imitate it? Troy Stabenow put it this way in a 2009 interview with ABA Journal: “People who watch movies like Saw and Friday the 13th are being titillated by the act of torture and murder. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to go out and commit torture and murder.”

Dean Boland, an Ohio defense attorney specializing in child pornography cases, says a substantial share of defendants were themselves victims of sexual abuse as children and look at these images as a way of working through the trauma. That is how Ryan Loskarn explained his attraction to child pornography. “I found myself drawn to videos that matched my own childhood abuse,” he wrote. “I pictured myself as a child in the image or video. The more an image mirrored some element of my memories and took me back, the more I felt a connection.”

Taking Loskarn at his word (and what is essentially a dying declaration probably should be given considerable weight), he not only had no desire to abuse children; he was not even titillated by the videos he collected. It hardly makes sense to treat someone like that as a criminal, let alone one who deserves to spend eight years in prison (the average sentence for non-production child porn offenders).

In fact, it is not clear why mere possession of child pornography should ever be grounds for locking people in cages. The Supreme Court’s main rationale forupholding the ban on possession was that demand for this material encourages its production, which necessarily involves the abuse of children. But this argument has little relevance now that people who look at child pornography typically get it online for free. Furthermore, people who possess “sexually obscene images of children” — production of which need not entail abuse of any actual children — face the same heavy penalties. “They are not protecting a single child,” Boland says. “They are throwing people in prison for having dirty thoughts and looking at dirty pictures.”

Defending Federal Child Pornography Cases: The Basics

Defending Federal Child Pornography Cases: The Basics

Is it right to imprison people for heinous crimes they have not yet committed?

Is it right to imprison people for heinous crimes they have not yet committed?

They called me a child pornographer by Jody Jenkins

They called me a child pornographer by Jody Jenkins
They called me a child pornographer by Jody Jenkins

The Child Pornographer Next Door byMaggie Gallagher

Lately the phrase "unlimited texting" is taking on a whole new meaning:

"In Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah (at last count) minors have been arrested for 'sexting,' or sending or posting soft-core photo or video self-portraits," The American Prospect reported.

Among the recent cases:

Six high school students from Greensburg, Pa., were charged with possessing, manufacturing and distributing child pornography this month after nude pictures of several underage girls were confiscated from one of the boys' phones. The three 14- and 15-year-old girls who sent the self-made child porn and the three 16- and 17-year-old boys who received it were arrested.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., a teen boy faces felony obscenity charges for allegedly sending a photo of his private parts to several girl students.

Nor is this always kids' play. In a suburb of Phoenix, the assistant principal of Buckeye Union High School faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted on charges that he received (voluntarily) sexually explicit photos sent from a 17-year-old girl student's cell phone.

In Tennessee, the Memphis City Schools system is launching a new task force to deal with "sexting." In Utah, according to the Daily Herald of Provo, Republican state Rep. Sheryl Allen has introduced a bill that reduces the first child porn offenses by teenagers from felonies to misdemeanors, with repeaters subject to felonies.

North of Seattle in Bothell, Wash., two cheerleaders sent naked photos to their boyfriends, only to find that the images rapidly passed through the entire school, ending up in the office of a school administrator who punished both girls for violating the high school code. (The girls' parents are suing the school district for its staff members passing on naked photos of their daughter to several other school personnel.)

No wonder Larry Flynt is standing in line for some government stimulation. Oh, for the good old days when men were actually expected to pay for porn!

By now the way in which modern technology makes the consumption of pornography universally available is old hat. The sexting craze underlines the way the creation of pornography has been equally democratized -- in this case right into the hands of suburban 15-year-old girls pathetically trying to attract or keep the attention of porn-jaded boys.

Why do girls act like this? In his book "Boys Adrift," Leonard Sax writes about asking a 16-year-old girl "as gently as I could, why she was wearing a Hooters outfit to a school Halloween party."

"If you don't dress like this, nobody will even notice you," she told him.

The savvy scholars at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy uncovered the news that more than half of teen girls who send sexy photos of themselves do so in response to pressure from some guy -- usually boyfriends or potential boyfriends. It took an intrepid New York Post reporter to discover these and even sadder reasons why some suburban teen girls cave to ex-boyfriends' pressure for self-made porn.

A 15-year-old New Jersey high school sophomore explained that she fired off 40 naked pictures to her ex-boyfriend in a failed attempt to win him back. One 16-year-old from New Jersey offered a different reason: "(My ex-boyfriend) kept asking me, and it was annoying," so she finally gave in and sent him photos.

Gee, what could possibly be more pathetic than a girl who sends an ex-boyfriend naked pictures to win him back? How about a girl who sends an ex-boyfriend naked photos to make him go away?

Right now we have a decision to make: Is underage porn (these aren't really children) a crime or not? If so, how do we treat girls and boys who engage in it "for fun" and not for profit?

After all, if the thought that their fellow students, their teachers, their employers, their college admission officials, the entire football squad, their mothers and the local district attorney may well see these cell phone photos is not enough to discourage teens -- then we really have a problem on our hands.

Anatomy of a Child Pornographer

Anatomy of a Child Pornographer
Anatomy of a Child Pornographer