"Created to solve the problem of child sexual abuse, child pornography law...has grown dramatically in the past two decades, expanding and proliferating along with the underlying problem that it targets. Yet, curiously, the law's expansion has not solved the problem, but only presided over its escalation." Amy Adler, Associate Professor, New York University School of Law**The TRUTH about Child Pornography; the myths and your cognitive dissonance. attorney notes
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State does not require prison for people guilty of creating child porn
Photo-illustration: Thinkstock by Getty Images (Jeff Neumann, The Denver Post) On the computers in his Aurora apartment, Timothy Robinson collected thousands of images and videos of children being raped and assaulted. Less than 10 miles away, David Moe stashed child pornography on hundreds of DVDs and multiple computers in his Denver home. Both men spent more than a decade collecting the images and videos, meticulously cataloging and labeling their collections. Both had a preferred age and hair color for the boys and girls they were viewing. Both men were arrested. Robinson — despite a previous arrest for inappropriately touching a 12-year-old — walked away with probation and three years in community corrections. Moe, who collected more than 800,000 images, was sentenced toeight years in federal prison.
When it comes to prosecuting and punishing those who deal in child pornography, it matters a great deal who is doing the prosecuting and punishing.
Federal laws are tougher than state laws, but federal authorities say their limited resources allow them to go after only the worst of the worst.
As a result, many cases end up in state court where sentences are lighter — which some prosecutors say can be appropriate for offenders who mostly need therapy. Others say the lack of mandatory sentences creates a system where the punishment does not fit the crime.
In the case of Robinson, Arapahoe County Deputy District Attorney Cara Morlan asked the judge to sentence Robinson to several years in prison.
"It's frustrating," Morlan said. "This guy is going to be allowed to walk out into the community every day."
Child pornography convictions have almost tripled in state courts since 2008, but the percent of those people sentenced to prison has dropped from 56 percent of them to 40 percent, according to a Denver Post analysis of figures from the Colorado Judicial Branch.
Meanwhile, the amount of child pornography being produced has exploded in the past six years. New technology makes it easier for people looking at and creating child pornography to get together on the Internet, Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Smith said. Images and videos are traded like baseball cards. Some groups require newcomers to create new videos and images before joining.
"We're battling against a sheer avalanche of cases," Smith said. "It's staggering when you lift the curtains of human nature and the dust and depravity that you see in these cases."
Smith said when she started working at the Denver office five years ago, 10,000 images was considered a large collection. Now the average collection her office sees is around 50,000 images.
Federal laws mandate that criminals who knowingly download child pornography be sentenced to at least five years in prison.
Creating child pornography carries a heftier minimum sentence of 15 years. Penalties are harsher if the images include children who are 12 years or younger.
Moe — who worked at a Denver preschool for 15 years — had images of infants being abused. He kept ajournal detailing the kisses and hugs he received from the children at the preschool.
He was prosecuted and sentenced in federal court.
Robinson, however, was sentenced under Colorado laws that do not carry minimum prison sentences for any child pornography offenses. Creating or distributing images carries a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.
The only time a person faces a mandatory prison sentence under Colorado law is if that person has been convicted of the crime twice.
Federal prosecutors can typically pick and choose what cases they want to pursue, but the increasing demand and limited manpower have forced them to focus on the most serious cases.
That leaves hundreds of cases every year on the desks of local prosecutors using state laws where the sentence can be as minimal as probation.
In 2013, there were 246 convictions in Colorado for charges related to child pornography. Judges handed down prison sentences in about 40 percent of those cases, according to The Post's analysis.
During his sentencing hearing last month, Robinson acknowledged that after he was arrested he realized that "all the little girls I looked at are going to have terrible lives." The 69-year-old's request for atonement came after he spent 15 minutes asking a judge not to send him to prison because of his medical conditions.
Knowing there is no mandatory prison time makes defendants less likely to accept plea agreements that include prison or jail time, said 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler.
"As long as they keep getting probation after trials, people are going to keep rolling the dice," Brauchler said.
While there has been no bill to increase the sentence for child pornographers, efforts to add mandatory minimums to other crimes have been thwarted in the Colorado legislature, both because of cost and a desire not to interfere with judges' discretion.
Last year, Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County, sponsored a bill that would have required a prison sentence for people convicted of vehicular homicide while they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
"I've sat on the Judicial Committee for two years. I've found a lot of those people are more concerned about the offender than the victim," Lawrence said. "We are forgetting the fact that we have a victim in these crimes." The bill failed in committee.
Several opponents to the measure, Lawrence said, cited the increased cost for housing more people in state prisons.
Had the 82 people convicted in 2013 of Class 3 felony child pornography, the most serious child pornography charge in the state, gone to prison, the cost would have been roughly $2.9 million a year.
Pete Weir, district attorney for the 1st Judicial District, doubts all those people needed to go to prison.
"We have to let the system work," Weir said. "Judges are appointed for a reason, and they have the experience to assess where these cases fall on the spectrum."
Deputy District Attorney Krislene Lorenz said a lot of cases in Jefferson County involve people in their early 20s. While her office seeks some form of punishment for each case, in several cases sentencing evaluations do not recommend prison.
"With few exceptions, I haven't had any cases where I did not believe the sentence was fair and appropriate," Lorenz said.
Less severe sentences and treatment programs can help decrease the number of people who re-offend or eventually act out the images they are viewing, Lorenz said. Prosecutors and experts are still working to determine how often people charged with looking at child pornography act out the images.
In four of the state's busiest districts — Arapahoe, Jefferson, Denver and Adams counties — about 60 percent of the cases that ended in a prison sentence also involved charges of sex abuse on a child.
Arapahoe Chief Deputy District Attorney Leora Joseph said the number of victims involved in child pornography cases can be overlooked during sentencing hearings.
"Child porn is not a victimless crime — and we need sentencing laws that recognize not only the severity of these crimes, but the suffering the victims endured," Joseph said.
Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jsteffendp
On February 27, 2013, Canadian historian and (more or less) conservative political operative Tom Flanagan gave a lecture in Lethbridge, Alberta. Driving home without a cell phone, listening to an audiobook instead of the radio, he found out when he reached Calgary two and a half hours later that in the meantime his reputation, career, and even some friendships of many years had been shattered.
I thought about them that Sunday evening late last month when Ghomeshi-quiddick started trickling its way onto my computer screen and into my email inbox.
That’s why my first reaction to apparent witch hunts, moral panics, and similar popular delusions is almost invariably: wait and see.
It helps that I worked for Catholic newspapers during not only the American priest sex abuse scandal, but also the Canadian one that burst forth a dozen years earlier. So I’ve had it involuntarily drilled into my mind that:
Oh, and this supposedly world-historical story will quietly peter out of the mainstream press when emerging facts challenge the elite narrative. (For instance, when those child-abusing priests turn out to be overwhelmingly gay, not straight.)
I’ve tried and failed to concoct a quick ’n’ easy, Kevlar-coated formula to distinguish diabolical low-fact pitchforking (remember “Joe the Plumber”?) from legitimate lynchings (Jian Ghomeshi, as it turned out awfully quickly).
Except, as I’m forced to acknowledge, the Awful Disclosures hoax of 1836 was factually inaccurate, but weirdly, intuitively right; while no such “gruesome graveyard under the convent for the slaughtered babies of the nuns” existed beyond nativist fever dreams, we now know that the abuse of many Catholic children—although not as many as we were told—was buried throughout the following century.
The “abused children’s graveyard” trope must be stored in a particularly excitable area of the brain, where we also file away Grimms’ fairy tales and similar kindertrauma. No sooner do we, well, bury one of these bizarre “news” reports than another rises from the grave to take its place. “Tory MP ‘murdered’ boy at orgy, abuse victim claims” popped up just yesterday.
So what to make of Amy Berg’s new documentary, An Open Secret?
The film focuses on Michael Egan, a one-time aspiring underage actor who now claims he was sexually exploited by director Bryan Singer and some other Hollywood bigwigs during casting-couch-type house party orgies. (Here’s a helpful industry-watcher’s scorecard explaining who’s who.)
Unfortunately for An Open Secret’s claims to veracity, after Egan sued his alleged abusers, he was forced to back off “after prior inconsistent statements emerged (he also was scolded by a judge for lying in court).”
However, the film also addresses similar accusations made by Corey Feldman and other real and would-be child actors. Are they all delusional, or perhaps still hungry for the fame and cash that got away?
Surely we all intuit that Hollywood—that seductively strange Day of the Locust-land—is “built-on-an-Indian-burial-ground” level accursed. Something sinister has been, and is, going on down there: Satan worship. The Black Dahlia. Hookers “cut to look like movie stars …”
That nagging sensation metastasized into the mass hysteria that fueled Hollywood’s first scandal: the death of would-be starlet Virginia Rappe in 1921. And that very same vague, intuitive yet overwhelming conviction convicted once-beloved comedian Fatty Arbuckle of rape and murder in the court of public opinion, even though he was tried an astonishing three times—and acquitted.
I don’t dare speculate which character Bryan Singer really plays in this latest drama. Fatty Arbuckle? Or Sesame Street’s Kevin Clash?
Or is it Roman Polanski?
I can’t help noting, however, that Amy Berg seems awfully fixated on the subject of youth in peril. Her previous, much-lauded documentary Deliver Us from Evil was about—you’ll never guess—perverted Catholic priests. We didn’t need another movie about the West Memphis Three, but damned if she didn’t make one anyhow. A doc about polygamous heretical Mormons and their underage brides is in the works. And Berg’s first fictional effort, Every Secret Thing, is about two girls who murder a baby.
And none of that is exploitative or obsessive or twisted in the slightest, of course.