What's All This Then?

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Yesterday I commented on an Australian who faces death by hanging in Singapore for possession of heroin - a punishment that seems totally inappropriate to most people in the western world. But we have our own laws and punishments that seem inappropriate to many people - certainly to me.

To begin, let me make something very clear. I can’t conceive of any punishment too severe for monsters who inflict bodily harm on children and helpless animals. I don’t necessarily advocate executing them. In general, I’m against the death penalty, though there are some criminals that I often think I could kill with my bare hands and not lose a moment’s sleep over it. I also think that penalties for deliberate cruelty to helpless animals should be as severe as those for helpless children. In terms of helplessness, I place kids and puppy dogs in the same category.

The worst kind of monster is the sub-humanoid who tortures or sexually abuses young children and derives pleasure from these obscene acts. For these creatures, I would advocate a punishment that fits the crime. We don’t have such punishments but this would be one instance where I might be supportive of the kind of justice that I spoke of disparagingly yesterday. But lacking that, I would be all for locking these monsters away and never letting them out.

But then there is another kind of twisted - or maybe just mixed up individual - who doesn’t commit any acts of physical aggression against young children, but thinks about them being victims or being in compromising situations. This is someone into child pornography from a distance. Someone who looks at pornographic pictures. Someone who collects such pictures - who maybe looks for and downloads them from the Internet. Just a collector. A looker. A thinker. But who doesn’t engage in physical pornographic acts with anyone.

Is such a person a criminal? Is such a person breaking laws just by looking at these pictures and thinking pornographic thoughts - maybe deriving sexual pleasure from looking at them? Apparently the answer is yes according to the laws of the state in which I reside. A pediatrician of all people - a doctor with no criminal record of any kind was recently sentenced to five years in the hoosegow for collecting hundreds of child pornography pictures for which he paid close to ten thousand dollars!! Just for having the pictures!!

Now I suppose one could make the assumption that someone who spends that kind of money collecting child pornography pictures has the potential to go beyond looking and thinking and to go out and engage in actual physical pornographic acts with children. But that’s a little like saying that any adult who reads or views any kind of pornographic material has the potential to commit criminal acts mimicking the pornography that he or she read or viewed. Some psychiatrists and psychologists would argue just the opposite - that the reading and viewing of pornographic material acts as an outlet for fantasy desires and is more likely to prevent than cause criminal activity.

People who are drawn to child pornography may well be a different breed - but again, I would think that using such methods to indulge in ones fantasies is more likely to prevent indulging in actual pornographic acts with young children than cause it to happen.

There’s probably little doubt that harm is caused to the children that are photographed to produce these pictures and that it is likely classified as a criminal activity no matter where it took place. And I guess that technically, buying pictures that were criminally produced could be thought of as a crime - an "accessory after the fact" type of crime.. But the good doctor who will be going to jail was sentenced under a law that makes it a crime in the State of Illinois simply to possess such pictures.

I find that scary. A little too close to the concept of the bedroom police who can peer through your window to see what kind of activities are going on in or out of your bed. Or the library police who can check to see if you are borrowing books that may be pornographic in nature and that might induce you to engage in acts of physical pornography.

I know the law’s the law and there’s no getting around it. But I have a hard time understanding or accepting this particular law. I can understand "possession" being a crime when it comes to heroin or some other illegal drug. The assumption is obvious that it’s not just in your possession to look at and admire, but to use or to sell to someone else - and there are laws against the use of illegal drugs. Fortunately, they’re not like Singapore’s laws and there’s no death penalty involved. Of course there may be for possessing kiddy porn pictures. I haven’t checked all the laws of Singapore.

I’m willing to concede that’s it not an entirely bad idea to make it some kind of offense to amass huge collections of kiddy porn pictures. But I believe that making it an offense that is punishable by years in jail - if no crime was committed other than owning the pictures - is unconscionable. A fine would seem to be more than appropriate - that and the fact that the story of the arrest and arraignment would likely be in the papers and on the news and result in a degree of shame and embarrassment that could be as severe a punishment as incarceration to most people.

To my mind, the law and its punishment as it stands, is one such as Dicken’s Mr. Bumble described in Oliver Twist. He was speaking of a matter far removed from what this issue is about but the words seem appropriate to what the current law "supposes" about the person who possesses pornographic photographs. That he is some kind of criminal. ".If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble "the law is a ass - a idiot!!"