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Anti-Child Porn Laws Under Fire

By Marc Savlov
Originally posted at WIRED NEWS, 9:30am(PDT)—09.Jul.98

Barely a year after the Supreme Court overturned the Communications Decency Act, reports are flooding the media and the courts concerning one of the darkest corners of the Internet:

A Florida mom is sentenced to six years in prison for using the Internet to distribute pornographic images featuring her young daughter.
An unemployed Connecticut sales consultant who prowled the Internet searching for little Lolitas racks up a possible seven years.
A Chicago judge rejects a request to throw out an indictment against a man accused of contacting an 11-year-old girl over the Internet and trying to abduct her.
Three Long Island men are charged for transmitting pictures of children in sexually explicit poses to undercover police officers.
A Belgian diplomat is accused of trafficking in kiddie porn. Human rights workers charge that Japan has become a mass producer of child-porn images.

This sampling, all reported in early June, represents only the tip of the iceberg. Child-pornography stories seem to surface almost daily, and have spurred a flurry of state and federal legislative initiatives aimed at keeping predators away from kids online. But at least one critic believes that the nascent laws will do little to prevent such crimes. "I think the idea of banishing child pornography when we have such low penalties for it is absurd," said Andrew Vachss.

Vachss, a New York City lawyer who exclusively represents children, is one of the most credible voices assailing cyber-predation bills such as the proposed Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act—which passed the House last month, 416-0. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed False Allegations, in addition to several other novels dealing with sexual abuse of children.

"I could cross the border into New York with enough kiddie porn to fill an 18-wheeler and I'd be looking at less time than if I crossed that border with a pocket full of cocaine," Vachss said. "We haven't ever raised the stakes, we haven't ever said, 'If we catch you doing this, you're going down,' and now we're bleating about taking it off the Internet. We haven't ever taken it off anyplace."

For one thing, says Vachss, while the laws are intended to impose stiffer punishments, they often fail to specify how various law enforcement agencies should implement them. Beyond that, Vachss says, legislation such as the Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act does little to stiffen punishment of such crimes.

Among other things, the act "establishes fines and a sentence of up to five years in prison for anyone using [the Internet] to contact a minor for criminal sexual activity or to send children obscene material." It also requires Internet service providers to report knowledge of child abuse, and doubles the penalty for enticing a minor to cross state lines to engage in illegal sexual activity.

Vachss scoffs at these punishments. "Five years? I rest my case.... You are not going to discourage predators by talking about a fine, or five years."

But while Vachss remains unconvinced that current cyber-predation laws will thwart determined stalkers, he believes that the very technology that has allegedly helped create a cornucopia of child pornography is giving law enforcement a distinct upper hand.

"Policing isn't easy," says Vachss, who maintains that the Internet has not upped the number of child-porn consumers, but simply given them a new playground.

"[But] here's the funny thing: The Internet gives people the illusion of anonymity. It's astounding to me. More freaks have been captured because of their use of the Internet than were ever captured before while trying to use the standard methods."

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This article originally appeared on Wired News.


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