Law enforcement and online child pornography

As constantly-classifying creatures, we all know certain things just don’t go together: children and sex, for one, but also, unfortunately, child pornography and justice. It often seems there are few greater examples of slaps on wrists than those landing near the non-idle hands of child pornographers. Individuals who desire the horrific abuse of children for their own pleasure are rarely faced with more than a few years in prison; perhaps just as importantly, society’s preference for privacy over prevention makes abuse detection an impolite, messy affair. Better to look the other way, we seem to think, than to delve into that judicial jungle.

Still, it’s difficult to ignore the in-your-face sexualization of children that oozes from the intersection of globalization and sensationalistic media. From reports of six year-old sex slaves in Cambodia to thongs marketed towards American middle-schoolers, no one can deny that children + sex = profit. Once the power of the internet is added to this equation, the outcome is staggering. With just a few keystrokes (or even one or two unintentional keystrokes), a web surfer can access content that would make most people ashamed to identify themselves as human.

This combination of profit and increased accessibility can frequently become a death knell for justice, for several reasons. The problem of child pornography is, like other sex crimes, often seen as simply too vast and underreported to chip away at conviction by conviction. Compounding this is the problem that most child pornographers are not your typical criminal: they’re often upstanding members of the community, people in trusted positions, or even members of one’s own family. In other words, they are often well-dressed white guys whom no one wants to put in the slammer. Furthermore, our current political climate has elevated personal privacy to a pedestal far above the rickety shelf on which justice rests, making it tough for law enforcement to conduct initial investigations.

Sadly and astoundingly, many in our society are still convinced that no actual crime has taken place when one simply “views” child pornography. Perhaps what is most important to keep in mind when considering this issue is the fact that, behind the seeming “virtual-ness” of a computer screen, there are real human beings. Every non-animated image of a human on a monitor involves a living, breathing, feeling individual. These individuals, besides being extremely real, are also highly vulnerable. Whatever activity that is done to these people on the screen has happened in real life; by choosing (indeed, actively desiring) to view that, one is enabling both the abuse and the society that condones it.

There are no words harsh enough to describe the soul-crushing legacy of sexual abuse; there should be no punishment harsh enough to meet those who perform, enable, or enjoy it.