Friday, April 03, 2009

Throw Them All in Jail

Gregory J. Sullivan, an attorney in Bucks County, PA, writes today in an op-ed that teens who take nude photos of themselves should have the book thrown at them.

With its inerrant instinct for the wrong side in every public-policy dispute, the ACLU is seeking to thwart this legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Its position is not really a legal but a policy objection.

“Kids should be taught that sharing digitized images of themselves in embarrassing or compromised positions can have bad consequences, but prosecutors should not be using heavy artillery like child-pornography charges to teach them that lesson,” sermonizes Witold Walczak, Legal Director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Actually, by bringing child-pornography charges in these cases, kids are being taught just that. So widespread is this problem becoming — some surveys disclose that 20 percent of teenagers have engaged in some form of sexting — that the criminal law must move forcefully and quickly just to begin curbing it. Highly publicized prosecutions are needed to bring the issue to public light and begin the imposition some order.

Sullivan goes on to decry pornography as the "real danger" to society, and that we have lost our "moral confidence" to stop it. He basically advocates throwing 20% of our teens in jail as a means to eradicate pornography from our society.

Now we can argue back and forth all day whether or not pornography is harmful to anyone. As a country, we've tried to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol, women and African-Americans from voting, gays from having sex, books and movies for objectionable content, abortion, gambling, stem cell research, strip clubs, men from baring their chests in public, etc., and all of these have failed over time. Today we are fighting for women's topfree equality, the right of gays to marry, the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, and now the rights of teenagers to have dominion over their own bodies, and for parents to be the ultimate responsible party for their own offspring. It seems that the fight for freedom of expression is a never-ending struggle, but history has shown that the government attempts to legislate morality ultimately end up in failure, with millions of dollars wasted in trying to control the uncontrollable.

The argument is always based on Sodom and Gomorrah, or the fall of Rome, that the more corrupt a society becomes, the quicker it is to fall. First of all, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a moral fable, not a historical fact, and while decadence was prevalent in Rome during its decline, that Empire fell due to a variety of factors, chiefly among them Christianity, monetary problems, and military failures. Actually, Rome kinda sounds like the United States of today.

Blaming human sexuality is too easy because it's always present in society, but not always out in the open. Even during Puritan and Victorian times people managed to reproduce quite effectively. When sexuality rears its head, such as with the novel "Peyton Place" and Playboy magazine in the 50s, hippies and free love in the 60s, discos, "Deep Throat" and Plato's Retreat in the 70s, the boom of pornography in the 80s due to home video, and the revolution of online porn and social networking from the 90s through today, society has managed to move along nicely.

So when people go around advocating police actions against children for morality lapses, when the government fines television stations for a glimpse of a female nipple, when Congress passes a Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act which threatens the freedom of expression of consenting adults, they are advocating the suppression of our basic human rights. It's not a legal argument, it stems from personal religion and morality, and lawyers and lawmakers who legislate from the pulpit are the real dangers to any society.

Sullivan sums up with the following statement:
A great deal is at stake, which is why the prosecution for child pornography is justified. The seductive combination of omnipresent technology and pornography must be checked by the force of the criminal law. Protecting us from others and ourselves, within the confines of prudence, is the purpose of government.
No, government's job is of a civil nature. The Founding Fathers did not set up our government to be morality police. Read the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, we declared our right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", and the fourth amendment arguably provides a right to privacy. Ultimately any laws against teens sexting will be held to be unconstitutional, and in the first real test of prosecutorial rights in these instances found a judge ruling that charges of child pornography would be a violation of the teens' rights to freedom of expression, as well as a violation of parental rights. It's really a no-brainer.

Once again, I highly recommend Dr. Marty Klein's Sexual Intelligence blog, where he tackles all the issues where government tries to interfere with human sexuality. He writes about sexting:

So I predict we’ll soon hear about Jesse’s Law, which will make lifelong sex offenders out of every kid who takes, sends, or receives a nude photo of another kid. This won’t make anyone safer—but it will ruin the lives of thousands and thousands of normal, healthy kids with poor judgment.

Teens in Greensburg, PA, Fort Wayne, IN, and a dozen other cities are now life-long criminals. For childish pranks. Arresting these kids for the creation, possession, or distribution of child pornography is a perversion of the law. It turns the 15-year-old who poses into both a victim and a perpetrator (what kind of law does that?). It defines a stupid boyfriend as a snarling predator.

And by watering down the definition of “child pornography,” it undermines our attempts to reduce the actual sexual exploitation of children, and to catch and treat those who would really harm our kids. Real child pornography is a record of child abuse. “Sexting” is a record of adolescent hi jinks. Lumping the two together reflects adult anxiety about young people’s sexuality, not a sophisticated understanding of it.

Understanding. Patience. Education. These are the means to deal with teens, not courts and jails. People like Gregory J. Sullivan who want to lock up 20% of the teenage population for moral purposes are dangerous, morally bankrupt, and a blight upon a society which should be showing compassion, not the wrath of God.

UPDATE: Sonia Arrison of TechNewsWorld sides with the ACLU.
Teenage hormones are almost always raging, and many teens are reckless and looking for attention. Deploying child pornography laws to deal with this reality is like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. If the girls are found guilty of these overblown charges, they would face not only the possibility of jail time, but also the requirement to register as sexual offenders for at least 10 years. Clearly, such harsh punishment would be overkill, but the situation is indicative of the growing mentality that government must play the central role in fixing every problem society encounters.

1 comment:

Jim H said...

I checked the article. The lawyer is clearly hyperventilating. However, there seemed to be no comments. I have just submitted one. Your analysis is good, but unless you counter these morons in the forums they use, you are preaching to the choir with zero impaact on the world in general. I am a PK (preacher's kid) with massive inhibitions, and not a nudist, but I have no objetion to the concept. From various things said by my father and mother, coupled with my historical reading, the religious right today is out of touch, not only with the modern world, but with the actual private values of people in the past. They just did not talk about their activities in public venues.