The stories begin with an extreme example of a man convicted of statutory rape when he was a teen for having “consensual” sex with his teenage girlfriend, a crime that lands him on the sex offender registry. Yet, the authors fail to ever mention that the prosecution of teenagers engaging in consensual sex, even if underage, is exceedingly rare.
National Review’s Jacob Sullum seems to suggest that readers ought to be sympathetic toward someone who merely “possesses” child pornography, as long as the possessor doesn’t produce or distribute it. Nowhere in his article, however, does he mention that child pornography re-victimizes the depicted child every time it is viewed, nor does he describe the brutal sex crime that happens to too many of our nation’s children and how sexual violence negatively affects victims for the rest of their lives.
The crimes of possession and distribution of child pornography have long existed, and those who produce, possess and distribute it should be on sex offender registries. People can trade images and even abuse children “live” while others watch from their own home. In the years since the FBI launched an initiative in 1996 to combat online child pornography and exploitation, the number of such cases jumped by over 2,000 percent, from 113 cases to 2,500 cases.
Contrary to what some may purport, the relationship between possessing child pornography and acting out child sexual abuse is well established.
Dating back to 1990, the Supreme Court noted that “pedophiles use child pornography to seduce other children into sexual activity.”
Dr. Andres Hernandez, director of the Sex Offender Treatment Program at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina, treats hundreds of inmates who are convicted of child pornography crimes. He concluded in his 2005 study that 85 percent of child pornography offenders had in fact committed contact sexual crimes against children.
A May 2006 study by the Department of Justice found that individuals who sexually abuse children seek out child pornography as part of their pattern of sexual gratification. The same study notes that as an individual becomes increasingly interested in child pornography, they are attracted to images of escalating severity and become desensitized to the victim’s experience.
So we have compelling reasons to conclude that possession of child pornography leads to crime. We also know that possession of child pornography is itself not a victimless crime. Child pornography is child molestation. The “actors” in these films aren’t willing participants in a theatrical production with make-up and special effects simulating violence as portrayed in films like SAW. These are real children being raped and victimized to fulfill the perverted sexual fantasies of adults. The Associated Press reported in 2008 that Virginia’s Internet Crimes Against Children task forces discovered local children were the victims depicted in approximately 30 percent of the files of child pornography they found. Those who view child pornography increase the demand for it to be produced—that is, for children to be molested and raped.
We also have compelling reasons to be concerned about the number of sex offenses being committed against children nationwide. Dr. Anna Salter’s award-winning research on recidivism finds that the average sex offender assaults more than 100 different victims during a lifetime.
Consider the story of nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford. John Couey, a registered sex offender, abducted Jessica from her Florida home in 2005, and repeatedly sexually assaulted her before stuffing her in garbage bags and burying her alive in a shallow grave behind his home. But Couey was living at an unregistered address, so no one in Jessica’s neighborhood knew he was a sex offender.
Which gets me back to the original point of the three articles: registries are good, even if they are imperfect and don’t include every victim. Mr. Sullum, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf and The New York Times’ Lisa Belkin are right that registries should contain more information about the offense, so that a teen sex case, or urinating in public isn’t misunderstood to be a more serious crime, like Couey’s. It’s important for the public to be aware of the dangers that are around them, and registries should be more effective at delineating between violent predators and less severe sexual offenders. But registries also serve as good tools for parents who want to utilize the information found within them to protect their children from predators who wish to do harm.
Stacie Rumenap is the president of Stop Child Predators, a national organization that combats the sexual exploitation of children. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-248-7052.