Reform "Child Porn" Laws

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What Women Really Think
July 15 2011 4:18 PM

Reform "Child Porn" Laws

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Reason has a fascinating story on the prosecution of sex offenders, and how the system can destroy people engaging in minor offenses (hat tip: The Dish). I was particularly interested in the section on the possession of child pornography. I had a "Dear Prudence" letter this week from a woman whose now-famous boyfriend wanted to get back the naked photos they had taken in high school. As many readers pointed out, I failed to consider they might have been under 18 at the time of the photo shoot, so on her old, forgotten computer sitting in her mother’s basement might be what now would be classified as child pornography. I had suggested that she retain a lawyer and see if her ex’s business representative wanted to buy the copyright to the pictures. Readers warned the safer choice would be to torch the computer so she would not end up prosecuted for possession of forbidden images.

As the Reason piece explains, the laws on child pornography border on a kind of madness. People who merely look at images are in danger of getting prison sentences longer than people who actually molest children. I understand the desire to stop the child pornography industry, but we have entered a period of persecution. Then there is the issue raised by the letter I received: Teens voluntarily taking and sending sexy pictures of themselves can be labeled sex offenders for life. Reason quotes a few brave people willing to speak up and say we have designed a system to mete out ruinous punishments and the laws must be reformed. Unfortunately, there is little political will for “defending” offenders – even if they are labeled so broadly as to defy common sense. So parents of teenagers have to worry about whether a stray cell phone photo can destroy their child’s life.

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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