By Steve Marshall
One clear and present function of any law is to punish the wrong-doer. But a secondary characteristic of equal importance is for the law to serve as a deterrent to others; a warning against breaking that societal covenant.
I am one such wrong-doer, currently serving a seven and a half year sentence for breaking a law. I foolishly engaged in the downloading and trading of online child pornography. It stands as the single most careless and stupid act of my lifetime.
Let me state upfront that I blame no one else for the shameful actions that led to my downfall. I knew I was breaking the law and I did so anyway. We live in a world where we are held responsible for our actions and I accept full culpability for mine.
But while I was aware of the illegality of my activities, I had no concept of the extent of the consequences; of the price that I would have to pay; both legally and personally, for breaking the Law.
Since the advent of the internet, the number of arrests for possession of child pornography has skyrocketed. The offenders cut across all strata of society. The stereotype for this charge is the predator or pedophile and without a doubt there are many arrestees who fit this profile. But among those presently serving time for this offense are those who simply had too much time on their hands, those who were merely curious or those who like myself, took a perverse delight in violating society’s taboos.
Speaking for myself, there was no thought given to the continued exploitation of innocent children through the circulation of these heinous photographs. I stupidly regarded this as a victimless crime.
After all, these children had no way of knowing that their images were being viewed, right? Wrong! Each time an arrest is made and a photo identified in the FBI database, the government sends a letter to the subjects in the picture notifying them that they have been viewed. Some of these unfortunate people, many of whom are now well into their adulthood, have received hundreds of these letters.
Here is another common misapprehension: We are all anonymous on the Internet. Wrong again! Each computer has an IP address that is easily traceable. Finding you is no problem at all for police and the FBI.
I cannot help wondering how might I have behaved differently had I been exposed to some of the harsh realities of I what I had become involved in; the full nature of the dangerous game I was playing and the consequences that awaited me should I be caught.
For these reasons, it seems to me that the effectiveness of child pornography laws as a deterrent would be heightened greatly by an aggressive campaign by the Justice Department to educate the public on the realities of child pornography through newspaper ads and public service announcements on radio and television. Toward that end, I have written such a PSA which I offer gratis to the Justice Department:
|A man is seated in darkness, his face illuminated only by the ambient light of the computer screen before him. As the announcer speaks, the CAMERA pushes slowly into him.
A set of bars slides from right of frame to left.
The camera settles on a close-up of the man’s face through the bars, a single tear rolling down his cheek.
|ANNOUNCER: Child pornography is against the law. Yet, since the innovation of the Internet, arrests for this crime have risen 2400 percent. You are not anonymous on the Internet. If you are engaged in this activity, we will find you. We will arrest you. And you will be sent to prison for anywhere from five to twenty years. SOUND EFFECT: A jail door slamming shut.
ANNOUNCER: A message from the United States Department of Justice.
I can state with absolute authority that had I seen such an announcement, I would have been scared straight. If there is genuine interest in stemming the rising tide of Internet child pornography, I recommend a vigorous, intensive and narrowly focused program of public education. It will prevent the further exploitation of children and former children who have seen their lives tainted by sexual abuse and the recording of it on film; and it will prevent others from following in my misguided footsteps down a road that brings only shame and ruin.