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Is internet child porn worse than rape?

Internet crimes that depict child sex crimes are a sensitive subject and as a criminal defense lawyer here in Pittsburgh, I approach these topics with great concern and an analytic point of view. As a father, you can imagine what must have been going through my head when I read a story about a girl who began getting raped by her uncle at just eight years of age. However, in addition to rape, incest, and other sex crimes, the girl’s uncle was also taking pictures and committing internet crimes by downloading and sending them to other people. What concerned me about the article from a criminal defense attorney’s point of view is that a man who downloaded two of those pictures could pay more in restitution costs and serve a longer jail sentence than her uncle—the man who actually raped her. The man who downloaded the pictures could pay as much as $3.4 million in restitution. To me, this conundrum represents a much more difficult issue surrounding the criminalization of just the possession of child porn. Just possessing and looking at child pornography has gained a serious amount of attention, as well it should; however, the penalties introduced by legislators provide evidence that there is little regard to logic, fairness, and justice concerning these crimes. The girl’s attorneys have considered many factors in coming up with that $3.4 million figure, including a lifetime of psychiatric help, the likeliness that she will not do well in college, and thus a reduced earning capacity. This all because the young girl is beginning to realize that there may literally be thousands of people who are looking at pictures of her rape on the internet. Now here’s a major issue: how reasonable is it in this situation to allocate responsibility for “the harm done to the victim by the defendant,” in this case the possessor of two pornographic pictures, to pay the victim restitution that correlates with the entirety of the victim’s losses? While the girl’s lawyers say the man is fully responsible for every penny of that $3.4 million, the defendant’s attorneys’ reply is that simply downloading pictures that the victim’s uncle took is in no way the immediate cause of her past, present, and/or future suffering. And in between the limits of paying it all and paying none of it, criminal justice lawyers like myself are asking a lot of questions—about our criminal justice system, the law in general, and where to draw the line. One attorney has suggested dividing the $3.4 million into the approximate 70,000 unique viewers of the photographs, leaving each person responsible for less than $50. This isn’t a plausible answer and would therefore provide little to no justice to the victim. On the other hand, asking one of those 70,000 viewers to pay the full amount doesn’t seem justifiable either. Judges and lawyers have even tried to gauge the amount of damage that is done to the victim if they know others are viewing pictures of their rape. One judge in particular asked if it was really even possible to rank the damage done to a victim from the ten thousandth view to the ten thousand and first view. For such a serious issue, there seems to be a lot of arbitrary speculation. So, the ultimate question now is: what has the defendant actually done to the victim that is terrible enough to put him away for years in prison and pay more than $3 million in restitution? Well, federal government statistics will tell you that simply possessing—not producing but possessing—child pornography can land a person in jail for nearly nine years. And that number is up from a decade ago when possessors of child porn were being put away at an average of four and a half years. The federal law on receiving child porn, which could mean either downloading or just looking at one single picture, requires a mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least five years. And these federal sentences are often significantly raised when other things are taken into consideration. These factors may include whether or not a computer is being used (which it is in nearly all of these cases), exchanging pictures with another possessor of child porn, or having in your possession more than six hundred picture or eight videos of child pornography. Such factors could land someone in jail for a maximum of twenty years. The victim’s uncle served only ten years for raping her. Looking at and possessing child pornography is immoral and considered a disgusting crime by many people. However, even if you agree that it should very well be a crime, it’s hard not to agree that federal penalties against possessing child porn are borderline ridiculous, especially when someone who looks at a picture of a child being raped can be punished twice as long as the person who actually performed the rape. If you have been arrested for possessing child pornography, please contact Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Gary E. Gerson for a free consultation. Call (412) 281-3380 today.14

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