Date: March 29, 2017
“The fear and disgust triggered by this subject help explain why laws dealing with sex offenses involving minors frequently lead to bizarre results.
Sounds like you enjoy sex with kids,” a reader tweeted at me after seeing a blog post I wrote about former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle. It was 2015, and Fogle had just signed a plea agreement in which he admitted to looking at child pornography and having sex with two 16-year-old prostitutes. “You also look like [a] pervert,” the reader added.
That’s the sort of response you can expect if you write about the broad category known as “sex offenders” and suggest that not all of them are the same or that some of them are punished too severely. In this case, I had noted that the decision to prosecute Fogle under federal law, which had been justified by factors that had little or nothing to do with the gravity of his offenses, had a dramatic impact on the penalty he was likely to receive.
It makes no sense to treat possession of child pornography more harshly than violent crimes—more harshly even than actual sexual abuse of children—unless you believe that serious harm is inflicted every time someone looks at the image of a child’s sexual abuse. In that case, a large enough collection of images could equal or even surpass the harm done by a single child rape, so that it could be just to impose a life sentence on someone who has done nothing but look at pictures.
Federal law enforcement officials claim to believe something like that, but it’s pretty clear they don’t. If they did, they would never condone the tactics that the FBI uses in child pornography cases, which include distributing it to catch people who look at it.”