Pornography and Rape- A difficult subject
I caught the last ten minutes of this segment, How A Photo Cracked Open A Child Porn Ring, on Public Radio this morning and was profoundly disturbed on many levels. As I embark on writing about this I take courage in the words of William James, one of the founders of modern psychology in the late 19th century, who when trying to counter the national mania for going to war with Spain, wrote, "reason has always been a feeble force in human affairs."
While the trigger for what has become known as The Spanish American War was the false attribution of the accidental explosion of the USS Maine in Cuba to Spanish sabotage, this is about an actual event, one that brings a sense of outrage, an impulse to go to war with those who perpetrate it so to punish and erase such scourges from the face of the earth.
This story, Photo e-mailed from Mass. man led to vast global child pornography network, was first broken in the Boston Globe by reporter Jenifer B. McKim. In her radio interview she expressed her discomfort in describing the details of those in this ring, of their binding and then raping children who were selected because they would never tell what happened, as they were too young to talk. Among these perpetrators were not only men who ingratiated themselves to the parents, but long time friends and in one case a father of the child.
In the 1980s there was a rash of accusations of Satanic sexual abuses at day care facilities by teachers. This was fomented by psychologists who used a procedure of cajoling children to tell stories that they described as recovered memories. Hundreds of lives were ruined as now it is universally concluded that the teachers were absolutely innocent and that no children had been sexually abused.
I have no reason to doubt that what is described here, including the actual rape of infants, did occur. Unfortunately such abhorrent actions by a minuscule number of men, because of the horror of the crime and vividness of the descriptions, will have an effect disproportionate to the aggregate harm done to children. While the number of children maimed and killed by drunk drivers is thousands fold greater than this crime; as details of this Internet ring are promulgated every man who smiles at a child will arouse a shiver of suspicion in a mother. The remoteness of the chance that such natural affection is a calculated ploy to open the door to sexual assault is overshadowed by the horror of what could happen. The message will be conveyed to children, subtly or otherwise, not to trust anyone, especially those that they feel a natural affinity to.
This report will also lead a conflation of the rare crime of violent child sexual rape with possession of child pornography. Even now, as affirmed by the Supreme Court, possession of such images of children, can be punished as severely as murder. The argument is made that possessing such images ultimately does have a victim, the child who was filmed. In thinking about this relationship of possession to victim, it must be noted that most states punish illustrations created without a model as severely as images of actual children.
While this story describes a closed ring of perverted individuals who do participate in procuring or encouraging outrages against children, this is not the case with most who are prosecuted for possession of child pornography. It is reasonable for society to attempt to prevent moral outrages by criminalizing any depiction of it. This was the justification for making all aspects of any pornography a serious criminal offense as recently as a half century ago. We have moved so far away from this norm that we now find ourselves in the absurd position of considering pornographic images of 18 year olds an accepted part of our free market activities, while the very same production with someone a year younger is still a criminal offense having the most draconian punishments.
We do not look at what kind of pressures may be imposed on the porno actress, or prostitute or the dangers of this life. With this acceptance of such activities we have channeled our outrage, our guilt for enjoying what can be the suffering of others into a distorted righteous indignation towards a single group, those who get off on viewing pictures of underage people having sex. In the vast majority of cases this is innocuous, or the harm is indirect, somewhat like our buying low price goods made by those in unhealthy dismal conditions. McKim's Boston Globe article included the statement that 85% of those who watch child pornography have assaulted children. This is based on a single study widely refuted by other research that shows such real abuse at less than five percent. Viewers of child pornography are guilty of just that, not child sexual assault.
A child is vulnerable to every kind of harm from kidnapping to bullying.....the list is endless. While this story had to be told, the inherent inflammatory element should have required that the caveats against over-reaction be part of the story. This followup article goes further in fanning the flames of such reactions, paving the way for pandering politicians and elected judges to further distort our laws in this area.
Certainly parents must go with their instincts on whom to trust, but this very crime changes their own sensitivity to the possibility of such bizarre perversions. For every person who would sexually assault an infant, there are untold thousands who would risk his life to save a child from harm.
This is a reality that must not be lost in telling this tragic story.