September 30, 2019
Yesterday’s New York Times featured a disturbing article about the rise of images of child sexual abuse on the internet.
The numbers are simply staggering.
According to the article, in 1998, there were over 3,000 reports of child sexual abuse imagery. In 2008, that number was 100,000. In 2014, the number was 1,000,000.
Last year there were 18,400,000 such reports.
As someone who has represented a number of people who have been charged with possessing child pornography, I can assure you that many times these images are as vile as humanly imaginable, not uncommonly featuring torture of very small children.
While the vast majority of the images are created overseas (chiefly in Asia), there is a large consumer base for this filth in the U.S.
It is, of course, my job to advocate zealously for all of my clients, irrespective of what they are accused of, and I make no apologies for doing just that. That said, these types of offenses are among the few where, if guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt, lengthy sentences are appropriate. And not necessarily because the defendants will act on the impulses which drive them to view these truly despicable images; I think the vast majority of them will never do that.
There are four basic components to sentencing (the goal of which, ultimately, is to reduce crime): punishment, specific deterrence (that is, deterring the offender from re-offending), general deterrence (that is, deterring others from engaging in the same behavior) and rehabilitation.
In most cases, I question the effectiveness of general deterrence in sentencing. When it comes to possession of child pornography, however, if sentences are substantial, general deterrence may play some role in diminishing the market for these images.
The question that goes unanswered, of course, is “how cruel can a human being be that he would subject a child to torture, and then market the images?”