While criminals have been escaping justice on the basis of technicalities for decades, when it comes to sexual predators of children using the Internet, some judges are blazing new trails into the terrain of protecting the criminals and punishing the victims, and diminishing the results of police work as well. In Maryland, recently, a judge "overturned the conviction of a man arrested after he traveled to meet with a state trooper who had posed online as a teen-age girl. The judge said the trooper did not meet the criteria of a victim." (Drake 2001)
To say that sting operation resulted in a big zero is putting it mildly. The predator was not only free to lure victims again; he could be pretty certain he'd get away with it because it was unlikely, at least in Maryland, that the 'victim' would be an undercover cop.
No wonder Laura Lippman, former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, wrote The Last Place, a murder mystery set in Maryland in which the pedophilia sting is carried out by a private investigator, who used to be a reporter. Naturally, she is sentenced to psychological treatment because she became a vigilante, writing pedophile in the perp's chest hair with Nair, and shaving his head. But, in the law enforcement climate she found herself in, it seemed the only logical thing to do. (Lippman 2002)
While some judges and lawmakers are worried about protecting the First Amendment rights of pedophiles, so they can continue to lure their intended victims over the Internet, the population seems to desire even stronger anti-pedophilia laws concerning the Internet.
By 2002, 40 million children were assumed to have Internet access. "The Internet is a dream come true for a pedophile," said Arlington County, (Va.) police Detective Paul J. Reid. "It takes the playground from the street and puts it into their home where they can cultivate victims in privacy." (Fagan 1997)
Writing for CNSNews.com, writer Jason Pierce, reported that, "A recent poll shows that eight out of ten Americans think laws regarding Internet obscenity should be 'vigorously enforced,' but seven out of ten think enforcement is inadequate."
Pierce also reported that Andrew Oosterbaan, Attorney General John Ashcroft's appointee heading the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section at the Justice Department, was an experienced federal prosecutor in Miami. Ashcroft called him, "a strong leader and aggressive career prosecutor who will diligently investigate and prosecute child exploitation and obscenity crimes."
Maybe so. But a First Amendment attorney quoted in the same article proposed that, "The tenor of the times has changed so much that adults simply aren't intimidated anymore." (Pierce 2002)
Despite Oosterbaan's appointment, things could get worse. Not only are judges overturning sting operations; now respected groups are legitimizing pedophilia in actions that could well lead to decriminalization of the activity at worst, or the necessity of prosecutors proving not only that a child was lured, but that the child was not in any way a willing participant.
Easy, you might think? What child would want to be abused in that way? Prosecutors could make a prima facie case that, because they went online into the appropriate chat rooms in the first place, the kids knew what they were doing and desired the results. (LaRue 2003)
All of this came on the heels of the American Psychological Association publishing a study that claimed "child sexual abuse" is not harmful, and that the proper term should be altered to harmless-sounding "adult-child sex." And all that came on the heels of a court case in which a 17-year-old was convicted of killing a younger boy; the 17-year-old had been in a so-called 'relationship' begun of the Internet with a 40-year-old man. (LaRue 2003)
The ACLU might well have defended this case. In the Massachusetts case of two young men killing a boy they lured after reading material published by the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) on the organization's Web site, the ACLU defended the boy-sex group, claiming the Web site had nothing to do with the killing. (Wetzstein 2000)
While the psychologists and the ACLU are trying to convince us that pedophilia is just another lifestyle choice, even if the person making the so-called choice is not of legal age, the Supreme Court is helping destroy what little Internet legal protection there is. The Supreme Court struck down the federal Communications Decency Act back in 1997. States have tried to pick up the slack.
New York State enacted Penal Law 23522,making it a crime to disseminate indecent materials online to minors for the specific purpose of inducing them to engage in sexual acts.
But hold on. "Federal judges in Georgia, New York and Virginia struck down two state versions of the law. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has won, to date, every lawsuit it has filed over Internet censorship," reported the magazine, State Legislatures, in 1998.
Free Speech is a wonderful thing, and certainly the First Amendment is a precious freedom. However, Free Speech is a concept that applies to adult interactions with other adults. If I want to call you a jerk, I'm free to do so, and you're free to punch me in the nose for it, although you would risk an assault charge. OK. You're free to call me something worse -- as long as it doesn't run afoul of the obscenity laws still on the books in many localities.
It could be argued that since the recipient of the Free Speech, luring and pornographic communications, the protection of the First Amendment doesn't apply, as the child is not of legal age, and thus cannot decide what he or she wants to do about it, as I can decide what I want to do about it if you call me a jerk or worse.
A quick look at some of the realities of sexual predation of juveniles on the Web might convince doubters to come down hard on the side of putting aside First Amendment rights, if indeed that needed to be done at all, when it comes to the still-criminal activity (despite the APA) of sexual acts with children. Here are a few examples:
In one hour, 25 potential sexual predators made Internet advances to a 14-year-old girl in chat rooms with names such as "Daddy's Bed." (Drake 2001)
Teresa Strickland of Alabama couldn't stop crying yesterday as she told a Senate panel how a 43-year-old man found her teen-age daughter through America Online and convinced her and a friend to run off with him last year." (Wetzstein 2000)
FBI officials told the panel they have arrested hundreds of suspected pedophiles through undercover monitoring of chat rooms." (Wetzstein 2000)
Pedophiles are predatory: They usually have a fixation on a particular age group of boy or girl as their sexual quarry. And once the vulnerable victim is identified, they will stalk them in the manner of a hunter." (O'Grady 2001)
And yet, attempts to regulate the Internet, as well as attempts to prosecute pedophiles for the acts they commit that originate on the Internet, are failing. The Child Decency Act was overturned by the Supreme Court, and so was the Child Online Privacy Protection Act that followed it. (Hersh 2001)
Despite this obvious failure to protect children from predators, there are those who argue the opposite. Despite the amazing lack of laws and failure of prosecution concerning Internet-originated child sexual predation, Alan Docherty, editor of Internet Freedom News, rang in with this opinion:
On every occasion that the Internet is found to be (or is even suspected of being) implicated in a crime, the usual suspects are dragged into television studios to demand more restrictions. The government is happy to oblige -- and when it does so in the name of protecting children, it gets what…