...to ruin someone for looking at images on a computer is not justifiable.
There was a fellow here in my small town named Norm. He used to manage a Pizzas of Eight outlet, but at the time of this story, he was the manager for the local Subway franchise. He used to come to Thursday evening chess night, a gathering of myself and 4-5 others at my place. We don't just play chess; video games, movies, it is more of a guy's night without involving a bar than it is anything else. Much pizza is consumed, and arguments about pizza are common - I own a pizza oven, and opinionated doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about pizza. Yes, I even download pictures of pizza off the Internet. Anyway, Norm was funny, competitive, maybe a little odd, but then, non-drinkers are exceptions in our society anyway. Guy was about 40 years old, not ugly, not handsome, reasonably smart. He won some games, he lost others. He was a little pissy when he lost, which we ragged him about. We didn't think anything of any of this. He fit in pretty well, really.
So, one day, I'm half way between my town and the next big city (300 miles away, we're pretty rural), driving with my lady, when she says, "hey, know what I heard today at work?" I provide the obligatory "what" to nudge her along, and what you surely know is coming, came. "Norm was arrested for child pornography yesterday!" You could have knocked me out of the driver's seat with a feather. I pulled over. "Are you sure? Norm? Our Norm?" She was sure. She was right, too. Much conversation and speculation ensued. And not a little disbelief.
So, a few weeks later, she and I are sitting at the table of our favorite pizza joint, and who walks in but Norm. He walks over and plops himself down at our table, and I commence to asking the hard questions. I'm kind of a blunt guy in person; stuff like this doesn't intimidate me at all. So I ask first, are the charges legitimate, or is this some kind of monumental screw up. Norm, being more than a little naive, responds "Yes, it's true." I press on with "So are we talking about one or two pictures that came in email, or a real collection?" Norm tells us that the porn in question was about a thousand or so images, all carefully squirreled away on his hard drive, he got them from Kazaa (sp?), which is some kind of file sharing software. I had one more question for him - "And is this stuff teenagers, or are we talking about little kids?" Norm assures us that it is little kids. Well. Huh. Christ on a crutch. So I asked him if he had a lawyer - and he said no. I told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn't get a lawyer, and a good one at that, he was looking at some serious problems. He assured us that the FBI agents (interstate problem - transferring files over state lines) had been really nice and that he "didn't think there was going to be a problem, and besides, he couldn't afford one." I told him he "couldn't afford not to get one", but this made no visible impact.
After this encounter, Norm was pretty scarce for several months, we'd see him maybe filling his tank at the gas station or something, but he kept clear of everyone he knew, including the other fellows from chess night. He quit Subway immediately. One day it occurred to me that we hadn't seen Norm in... quite some time. Months. We had eventually heard on our local news what the charges were, basically just what you'd expect from what Norm had told us - but nothing further. I started asking around, and pretty soon got the news he'd been found guilty and jailed. No one seemed to have any details. I mentioned this to my lady, and she said "look it up on the net", which is what I did. In very short order, I found Norm as a prisoner at a federal institution - the sentence was right there; ten years.
Now, as far as I know, Norm never touched or even spoke in any unacceptable manner to a child. He didn't take any pictures. He didn't buy the stuff, and he didn't sell it. He did forward it if you'd call it that by the nature of the Kazza thing, apparently you send stuff out as well as take it in. Hence, distribution, I think, in addition to the obvious possession.
Ten years. I think this is such a ridiculous sentence that I am beyond words. I'm not interested in little kids. I'm not even very prone to the US infatuation with late teens; I always liked older women, and in fact, as a young teenager, the shoe was on the other foot. I had several encounters that would, today, have put the women involved into the justice system in a very harmful way, should I have been a braggart or simply a little less private of a young person than I was. The last one along those lines was actually one of my high school teachers; I won't be more specific than that. I certainly don't consider myself "abused." I'd use the word privileged, or perhaps even honored. I learned a lot more from them than I ever could have from my peers, and I surely had a great deal more fun. One reason I mention this is because I want to be perfectly clear that I don't just roll with society's ideas of what is OK or not because there's some stupid law on the books somewhere.
Another is because as a direct consequence I'm hardly in a position to point fingers with regard to the letter of the law. Still, I admit, Norm's frank interest in little kids made me very, very uncomfortable. His lack of fooling about with actual human beings, however, causes me to unhesitatingly class his "activities" with the people who jack off to anime; I think they're surpassingly weird and unusual in their interests, but they're not doing anyone any real harm, and I think Norm's interest in these anonymous faces and figures floating in off the Internet can fairly be classed as the same.
I don't buy the argument that viewing a photo of an act perpetrates the act or is a new type or incident of abuse. When there is actual abuse, meaning lack of informed and intelligent consent, regardless of the ridiculous hard line in the sand people attempt to draw in the last half of the teen years, then the harm occurs with the act. When the images are initially distributed, we now have the problem "my naked and abused body was exposed to many people", but adding or subtracting one or a hundred views doesn't ameliorate or exacerbate that one whit.
I think Norm should have had his hand slapped, and hard. Maybe a year's probation, or even house arrest without a computer for a while if you really wanted to be hardassed about the whole thing, but... ten years? Our society is truly confused.
Norm took care of his mom, an elderly lady (Norm was 40, and mom was really up there somewhere.) When they sent him away, she had to sell her house and move. Shame, perhaps to some degree though I have to say the town wasn't being all that hard on Norm, according to him; but she really couldn't live without help, and help wasn't to be had once Norm was gone. Don't know exactly why, but the bottom line is that it wasn't just Norm who got caught in the jaws of justice, as it were.
So. If he isn't killed by the other inmates, Norm's going to come out of the pen at age fifty, unable to find employment as a felon and a registered pervert, sexually frustrated to the tune of ten years without having so much as having seen a little kid, and he's going to be dropped back into a society that won't accept him, which will list him as a predator on websites, and if he wasn't a threat when he went in, I fail to see how he will be less likely to be so when he comes out.
Witch hunts. That's precisely where we are. No one can help Norm now. The pyre has been burning for some time, and until we're willing to turn on the evil idiots who are arranging for the burnings, we're not going to see any end to this. There is no force for balance here. None whatsoever. Ruin. Destruction. Devastation. Complete conversion from minor closeted pervert to full blown enemy of society with no hope of re-integration whatsoever. I can't imagine how we could get this much more wrong. Then again, I never thought that we, the good old US of A, would ever countenance torture, and here it is, Bush's favorite play-toy and by extension, ours. Is it too much to say we've lost our way?
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