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Much of this data is outdated, but I'm still posting it for those interested.
Sex is everywhere these days--in books, magazines, films, television, music videos and bus-stop perfume ads. It is printed on dial-a-porn business cards and slipped under windshield wipers. It is acted out by balloon-breasted models and actors with unflagging erections, then rented for $4 a night at the corner video store. Most Americans have become so inured to the open display of eroticism--and the arguments for why it enjoys special status under the First Amendment--that they hardly notice it's there.
Something about the combination of sex and computers, however, seems to make otherwise worldly-wise adults a little crazy. How else to explain the uproar surrounding the discovery by a U.S. Senator--Nebraska Democrat James Exon--that pornographic pictures can be downloaded from the Internet and displayed on a home computer? This, as any computer-savvy undergrad can testify, is old news. Yet suddenly the press is on alert, parents and teachers are up in arms, and lawmakers in Washington are rushing to ban the smut from cyberspace with new legislation--sometimes with little regard to either its effectiveness or its constitutionality.
If you think things are crazy now, though, wait until the politicians get hold of a report coming out this week. A research team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has conducted an exhaustive study of online porn--what's available, who is downloading it, what turns them on--and the findings (to be published in the Georgetown Law Journal) are sure to pour fuel on an already explosive debate.
The study, titled Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway (More Here), is significant not only for what it tells us about what's happening on the computer networks but also for what it tells us about ourselves. Pornography's appeal is surprisingly elusive. It plays as much on fear, anxiety, curiosity and taboo as on genuine eroticism. The Carnegie Mellon study, drawing on elaborate computer records of online activity, was able to measure for the first time what people actually download, rather than what they say they want to see. "We now know what the consumers of computer pornography really look at in the privacy of their own homes," says Marty Rimm, the study's principal investigator. "And we're finding a fundamental shift in the kinds of images they demand."
What the Carnegie Mellon researchers discovered was: THERE'S AN AWFUL LOT OF PORN ONLINE. In an 18-month study, the team surveyed 917,410 sexually explicit pictures, descriptions, short stories and film clips. On those Usenet newsgroups where digitized images are stored, 83.5% of the pictures were pornographic.
IT IS IMMENSELY POPULAR. Trading in sexually explicit imagery, according to the report, is now "one of the largest (if not the largest) recreational applications of users of computer networks." At one U.S. university, 13 of the 40 most frequently visited newsgroups had names like alt.sex.stories, rec.arts.erotica and alt.sex.bondage.
IT IS A BIG MONEYMAKER. The great majority (71%) of the sexual images on the newsgroups surveyed originate from adult-oriented computer bulletin-board systems (BBS) whose operators are trying to lure customers to their private collections of X-rated material. There are thousands of these BBS services, which charge fees (typically $10 to $30 a month) and take credit cards; the five largest have annual revenues in excess of $1 million.
IT IS UBIQUITOUS. Using data obtained with permission from BBS operators, the Carnegie Mellon team identified (but did not publish the names of) individual consumers in more than 2,000 cities in all 50 states and 40 countries, territories and provinces around the world--including some countries like China, where possession of pornography can be a capital offense.
IT IS A GUY THING. According to the BBS operators, 98.9% of the consumers of online porn are men. And there is some evidence that many of the remaining 1.1% are women paid to hang out on the "chat" rooms and bulletin boards to make the patrons feel more comfortable.
IT IS NOT JUST NAKED WOMEN. Perhaps because hard-core sex pictures are so widely available elsewhere, the adult BBS market seems to be driven largely by a demand for images that can't be found in the average magazine rack: pedophilia (nude photos of children), hebephilia (youths) and what the researchers call paraphilia--a grab bag of "deviant" material that includes images of bondage, sadomasochism, urination, defecation, and sex acts with a barnyard full of animals.
The appearance of material like this on a public network accessible to men, women and children around the world raises issues too important to ignore--or to oversimplify. Parents have legitimate concerns about what their kids are being exposed to and, conversely, what those children might miss if their access to the Internet were cut off. Lawmakers must balance public safety with their obligation to preserve essential civil liberties. Men and women have to come to terms with what draws them to such images. And computer programmers have to come up with more enlightened ways to give users control over a network that is, by design, largely out of control.
The Internet, of course, is more than a place to find pictures of people having sex with dogs. It's a vast marketplace of ideas and information of all sorts--on politics, religion, science and technology. If the fast-growing World Wide Web fulfills its early promise, the network could be a powerful engine of economic growth in the 21st century. And as the Carnegie Mellon study is careful to point out, pornographic image files, despite their evident popularity, represent only about 3% of all the messages on the Usenet newsgroups, while the Usenet itself represents only 11.5% of the traffic on the Internet.
As shocking and, indeed, legally obscene as some of the online porn may be, the researchers found nothing that can't be found in specialty magazines or adult bookstores. Most of the material offered by the private BBS services, in fact, is simply scanned from existing print publications.
But pornography is different on the computer networks. You can obtain it in the privacy of your home--without having to walk into a seedy bookstore or movie house. You can download only those things that turn you on, rather than buy an entire magazine or video. You can explore different aspects of your sexuality without exposing yourself to communicable diseases or public ridicule. (Unless, of course, someone gets hold of the computer files tracking your online activities, as happened earlier this year to a couple dozen crimson-faced Harvard students.)
The great fear of parents and teachers, of course, is not that college students will find this stuff but that it will fall into the hands of those much younger--including some, perhaps, who are not emotionally prepared to make sense of what they see.
Ten-year-old Anders Urmacher, a student at the Dalton School in New York City who likes to hang out with other kids in the Treehouse chat room on America Online, got E-mail from a stranger that contained a mysterious file with instructions for how to download it. He followed the instructions, and then he called his mom. When Linda Mann-Urmacher opened the file, the computer screen filled with 10 thumbnail-size pictures showing couples engaged in various acts of sodomy, heterosexual intercourse and lesbian sex. "I was not aware that this stuff was online," says a shocked Mann-Urmacher. "Children should not be subjected to these images."
This is the flip side of Vice President Al Gore's vision of an information superhighway linking every school and library in the land. When the kids are plugged in, will they be exposed to the seamiest sides of human sexuality? Will they fall prey to child molesters hanging out in electronic chat rooms?
It's precisely these fears that have stopped Bonnie Fell of Skokie, Illinois, from signing up for the Internet access her three boys say they desperately need. "They could get bombarded with X-rated porn, and I wouldn't have any idea," she says. Mary Veed, a mother of three from nearby Hinsdale, makes a point of trying to keep up with her computer-literate 12-year-old, but sometimes has to settle for monitoring his phone bill. "Once they get to be a certain age, boys don't always tell Mom what they do," she says.
"We face a unique, disturbing and urgent circumstance, because it is children who are the computer experts in our nation's families," said Republican Senator Dan Coats of Indiana during the debate over the controversial anti-cyberporn bill he co-sponsored with Senator Exon.
According to at least one of those experts--16-year-old David Slifka of Manhattan--the danger of being bombarded with unwanted pictures is greatly exaggerated. "If you don't want them you won't get them," says the veteran Internet surfer. Private adult BBSs require proof of age (usually a driver's license) and are off-limits to minors, and kids have to master some fairly daunting computer science before they can turn so-called binary files on the Usenet into high-resolution color pictures. "The chances of randomly coming across them are unbelievably slim," says Slifka.
- Not any more. Go to any search engine and enter some words like "sex, porn, xxx" and see what you get!
While groups like the Family Research Council insist that online child molesters represent a clear and present danger, there is no evidence that it is any greater than the thousand other threats children face every day. Ernie Allen, executive director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, acknowledges that there have been 10 or 12 "fairly high-profile cases" in the past year of children being seduced or lured online into situations where they are victimized. Kids who are not online are also at risk, however; more than 800,000 children are reported missing every year in the U.S.
Yet it is in the name of the children and their parents that lawmakers are racing to fight cyberporn. The first blow was struck by Senators Exon and Coats, who earlier this year introduced revisions to an existing law called the Communications Decency Act. The idea was to extend regulations written to govern the dial-a-porn industry into the computer networks. The bill proposed to outlaw obscene material and impose fines of up to $100,000 and prison terms of up to two years on anyone who knowingly makes "indecent" material available to children under 18.
The measure had problems from the start. In its original version it would have made online-service providers criminally liable for any obscene communications that passed through their systems--a provision that, given the way the networks operate, would have put the entire Internet at risk. Exon and Coats revised the bill but left in place the language about using "indecent" words online. "It's a frontal assault on the First Amendment," says Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe. Even veteran prosecutors ridicule it. "It won't pass scrutiny even in misdemeanor court," says one.
The Exon bill had been written off for dead only a few weeks ago. Republican Senator Larry Pressler of South Dakota, chairman of the Commerce committee, which has jurisdiction over the larger telecommunications-reform act to which it is attached, told Time that he intended to move to table it.
That was before Exon showed up in the Senate with his "blue book." Exon had asked a friend to download some of the rawer images available online. "I knew it was bad," he says. "But then when I got on there, it made Playboy and Hustler look like Sunday-school stuff." He had the images printed out, stuffed them in a blue folder and invited his colleagues to stop by his desk on the Senate floor to view them. At the end of the debate--which was carried live on C-SPAN--few Senators wanted to cast a nationally televised vote that might later be characterized as pro-pornography. The bill passed 84 to 16.
Civil libertarians were outraged. Mike Godwin, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, complained that the indecency portion of the bill would transform the vast library of the Internet into a children's reading room, where only subjects suitable for kids could be discussed. "It's government censorship," said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "The First Amendment shouldn't end where the Internet begins."
The key issue, according to legal scholars, is whether the Internet is a print medium (like a newspaper), which enjoys strong protection against government interference, or a broadcast medium (like television), which may be subject to all sorts of government control. Perhaps the most significant import of the Exon bill, according to EFF's Godwin, is that it would place the computer networks under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, which enforces, among other rules, the injunction against using the famous seven dirty words on the radio. In a Time/CNN poll of 1,000 Americans conducted last week by Yankelovich Partners, respondents were sharply split on the issue: 42% were for FCC-like control over sexual content on the computer networks; 48% were against it.
By week's end the balance between protecting speech and curbing pornography seemed to be tipping back toward the libertarians. In a move that surprised conservative supporters, House Speaker Newt Gingrich denounced the Exon amendment. "It is clearly a violation of free speech, and it's a violation of the right of adults to communicate with each other," he told a caller on a cable-TV show. It was a key defection, because Gingrich will preside over the computer-decency debate when it moves to the House in July. Meanwhile, two U.S. Representatives, Republican Christopher Cox of California and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, were putting together an anti-Exon amendment that would bar federal regulation of the Internet and help parents find ways to block material they found objectionable.
Coincidentally, in the closely watched case of a University of Michigan student who published a violent sex fantasy on the Internet and was charged with transmitting a threat to injure or kidnap across state lines, a federal judge in Detroit last week dismissed the charges. The judge ruled that while Jake Baker's story might be deeply offensive, it was not a crime.
How the Carnegie Mellon report will affect the delicate political balance on the cyberporn debate is anybody's guess. Conservatives thumbing through it for rhetorical ammunition will find plenty. Appendix B lists the most frequently downloaded files from a popular adult BBS, providing both the download count and the two-line descriptions posted by the board's operator. Suffice it to say that they all end in exclamation points, many include such phrases as "nailed to a table!" and none can be printed in Time.
How accurately these images reflect America's sexual interests, however, is a matter of some dispute. University of Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann, whose 1994 Sex in America survey painted a far more humdrum picture of America's sex life, says the Carnegie Mellon study may have captured what he calls the "gaper phenomenon." "There is a curiosity for things that are extraordinary and way out," he says. "It's like driving by a horrible accident. No one wants to be in it, but we all slow down to watch."
Other sociologists point out that the difference between the Chicago and Carnegie Mellon reports may be more apparent than real. Those 1 million or 2 million people who download pictures from the Internet represent a self-selected group with an interest in erotica. The Sex in America respondents, by contrast, were a few thousand people selected to represent a cross section of all America.
Still, the new research is a gold mine for psychologists, social scientists, computer marketers and anybody with an interest in human sexual behavior. Every time computer users logged on to one of these bulletin boards, they left a digital trail of their transactions, allowing the pornographers to compile data bases about their buying habits and sexual tastes. The more sophisticated operators were able to adjust their inventory and their descriptions to match consumer demand.
Nobody did this more effectively than Robert Thomas, owner of the Amateur Action BBS in Milpitas, California, and a kind of modern-day Marquis de Sade, according to the Carnegie Mellon report. He is currently serving time in an obscenity case that may be headed for the Supreme Court.
Thomas, whose BBS is the online-porn market leader, discovered that he could boost sales by trimming soft- and hard-core images from his data base while front-loading his files with pictures of sex acts with animals (852) and nude prepubescent children (more than 5,000), his two most popular categories of porn. He also used copywriting tricks to better serve his customers' fantasies. For example, he described more than 1,200 of his pictures as depicting sex scenes between family members (father and daughter, mother and son), even though there was no evidence that any of the participants were actually related. These "incest" images were among his biggest sellers, accounting for 10% of downloads.
The words that worked were sometimes quite revealing. Straightforward oral sex, for example, generally got a lukewarm response. But when Thomas described the same images using words like choke or choking, consumer demand doubled.
Such findings may cheer antipornography activists; as feminist writer Andrea Dworkin puts it, "the whole purpose of pornography is to hurt women." Catharine MacKinnon, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, goes further. Women are doubly violated by pornography, she writes in Vindication and Resistance, one of three essays in the forthcoming Georgetown Law Journal that offer differing views on the Carnegie Mellon report. They are violated when it is made and exposed to further violence again and again every time it is consumed. "The question pornography poses in cyberspace," she writes, "is the same one it poses everywhere else: whether anything will be done about it."
- What this lady says, is exactly the same stuff they say about sex offender laws and issues.
But not everyone agrees with Dworkin and MacKinnon, by any means; even some feminists think there is a place in life--and the Internet--for erotica. In her new book, Defending Pornography, Nadine Strossen argues that censoring sexual expression would do women more harm than good, undermining their equality, their autonomy and their freedom.
The Justice Department, for its part, has not asked for new antiporn legislation. Distributing obscene material across state lines is already illegal under federal law, and child pornography in particular is vigorously prosecuted. Some 40 people in 14 states were arrested two years ago in Operation Longarm for exchanging kiddie porn online. And one of the leading characters in the Carnegie Mellon study--a former Rand McNally executive named Robert Copella, who left book publishing to make his fortune selling pedophilia on the networks--was extradited from Tijuana, and is now awaiting sentencing in a New Jersey jail.
For technical reasons, it is extremely difficult to stamp out anything on the Internet--particularly images stored on the Usenet newsgroups. As Internet pioneer John Gilmore famously put it, "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." There are border issues as well. Other countries on the Internet--France, for instance--are probably no more interested in having their messages screened by U.S. censors than Americans would be in having theirs screened by, say, the government of Saudi Arabia.
Historians say it should come as no surprise that the Internet--the most democratic of media--would lead to new calls for censorship. The history of pornography and efforts to suppress it are inextricably bound up with the rise of new media and the emergence of democracy. According to Walter Kendrick, author of The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture, the modern concept of pornography was invented in the 19th century by European gentlemen whose main concern was to keep obscene material away from women and the lower classes. Things got out of hand with the spread of literacy and education, which made pornography available to anybody who could read. Now, on the computer networks, anybody with a computer and a modem can not only consume pornography but distribute it as well. On the Internet, anybody can be Bob Guccione.
That might not be a bad idea, says Carlin Meyer, a professor at New York Law School whose Georgetown essay takes a far less apocalyptic view than MacKinnon's. She argues that if you don't like the images of sex the pornographers offer, the appropriate response is not to suppress them but to overwhelm them with healthier, more realistic ones. Sex on the Internet, she maintains, might actually be good for young people. "[Cyberspace] is a safe space in which to explore the forbidden and the taboo," she writes. "It offers the possibility for genuine, unembarrassed conversations about accurate as well as fantasy images of sex."
That sounds easier than it probably is. Pornography is powerful stuff, and as long as there is demand for it, there will always be a supply. Better software tools may help check the worst abuses, but there will never be a switch that will cut it off entirely--not without destroying the unbridled expression that is the source of the Internet's (and democracy's) greatest strength. The hard truth, says John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the EFF and father of three young daughters, is that the burden ultimately falls where it always has: on the parents. "If you don't want your children fixating on filth," he says, "better step up to the tough task of raising them to find it as distasteful as you do yourself."
--Reported by Hannah Bloch/Washington, Wendy Cole/Chicago and Sharon E. Epperson/New York
With reporting by HANNAH BLOCH/WASHINGTON, WENDY COLE/ CHICAGO AND SHARON E. EPPERSON/NEW YORK
Saturday, July 12, 2008
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By TIM CHANDLER, C-T Associate Editor
A former United States Government employee arrested last February on a felony charge of soliciting a child by computer received a suspended prison sentence last week in a special session of Superior Court.
Judge Paul C. Ridgeway sentenced Bennie Barton Roberson, 47, Asheboro to six to eight months in prison, but then suspended the sentence and invoked a 36-months sentence of supervised probation. Roberson was also required to register as a sex offender and comply with the Randolph County Sex Offender Program, according to court records.
The judge somewhat followed the April recommendation of a court-appointed sentencing specialist.
Sentencing specialist Karen Brann recommended intensive probation for a period of six months and participation in a specialized group treatment program. In addition, Brann wrote in a report that Roberson should follow conditions set forth in the state’s sexual offender program.
She added in her report that Roberson “appears to be low-risk for re-offending.
Brann’s report also noted that Roberson had “no prior criminal history” and he “appears remorseful for his actions…accepts responsibility and is willing to participate in court ordered sexual treatment.”
According to the report, Roberson admitted to “engaging in sexualized chat via the Internet for a period of approximately 10 months to one year prior to his arrest.”
Roberson was arrested by deputies with the Person County Sheriff’s Department last February in a sting operation targeting sexual predators.
Roberson, who was formerly employed with the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Asheboro, was taken into custody near the Huck Sansbury Recreation Complex after he reportedly drove to Roxboro to meet what he allegedly assumed would be a 14-year-old female with whom he had chatted online and sent text messages via his cell phone.
In January of this year, Roberson entered a plea of guilty to the felony charge. Sentencing was then delayed until last week.
Roberson faced a maximum punishment of 30 months in prison on the charge.
Prior to his arrest, Roberson had been employed for 26 years by the USDA. He is now reportedly employed by his brother in the construction business as a superintendent in charge of scheduling subcontractors for housing development.
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By Amy L. Edwards and Walter Pacheco | Sentinel Staff Writers
Judges have long put restrictions on defendants' rights while they await trial. Some people are forbidden from having guns in their homes. Others can't drive. Some can't have contact with children or estranged spouses.
Now, as law-enforcement agencies are turning more frequently to the Internet to catch sexual predators and other criminals, judges across Central Florida are barring defendants from logging on to the World Wide Web, and in some instances, denying them any computer use.
The orders are intended to keep those awaiting trial or serving probation from using the tool that could enable them to commit a crime similar to the one they are accused of.
But can such bans realistically be enforced?
"Obviously we expect people to follow our orders," Orange County Circuit Judge Lisa Munyon said. "Like any other order, it is not foolproof. People can always find a way around it if they want to break the law."
Court officials, law-enforcement officers and cyber-crime experts say the restrictions, if broken, can lead to additional legal consequences. Most often, bail would be revoked and offenders would end up in jail.
Relying on threat
But the Internet is too vast to patrol effectively.
"Obviously no one's standing guard over someone 24-7," said Julia Lynch, chief of the sex-crimes and child-abuse division for the State Attorney's Office in Brevard County.
So they hope the threat of jail time is enough to encourage offenders to follow the rules. Local court officials could only think of a handful of instances in which someone was caught violating the rules and rearrested.
In 2003, Ronald James Gukenberger, a registered sex offender who had been living in Winter Park, was barred from using the Internet while on probation. He was arrested after being caught accessing the Internet in a Massachusetts hotel room.
Gukenberger's probation officer was suspicious and requested a copy of his hotel bill, which showed the offender had been online.
In Orange County, the majority of people free from jail awaiting trial do not receive regular home visits by county corrections staff.
For those who do -- which are estimated at fewer than 400 people -- the visits can be limited to once a week for about 15 minutes.
"How do we enforce 'Don't use the Internet' specifically when we're only there occasionally?" said Don Bjoring, a professional services manager for Orange County Corrections. "We make it real clear to them . . . what a huge risk they would be taking if they were to do something."
Florida law requires sexual offenders and predators to report their e-mail addresses and instant-message names to law enforcement. New Jersey and Nevada have similar rules.
After years of pressure from lawmakers, MySpace agreed to provide attorneys general across the nation with user names and accounts belonging to suspected sexual predators on their social-networking site.
The Florida Attorney General's Office has received about 1,600 account names from MySpace since 2007, an agency spokeswoman said.
"MySpace has provided us with accounts associated with people on the sex-offender registry," said Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Sandi Copes. "At this point, we have not been able to report anybody to their probation officers."
Turned in by loved ones
While the legal system can't keep an eye on defendants every moment of the day, David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said family members and friends are "sometimes the whistle blowers."
In the handful of Internet or computer-related violations Polk County prosecutor Brad Copley can recall, officials have been tipped off to the use by a family member or person the defendant was communicating with.
"The families may not be real happy with them at the time because of the nature of the offenses," he said.
Amy L. Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5735.
Walter Pacheco can be reached at 407-420-6262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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U.S. Supreme Court will hear strip-search appeal
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that schools may not strip-search students for drugs based on an unverified tip, overturning two previous rulings.
The lawsuit was brought by the parents of Savana Redding, an eighth grade honor roll student at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, who was pulled from class on October 8, 2003 by the school's vice principal, Kerry Wilson to investigate whether she had violated a school policy prohibiting bringing medication -- even over-the-counter medication -- to school.
Wilson had discovered another student earlier with prescription-strength ibuprofen -- 400 milligram pills equivalent to two over-the-counter ibuprofen pills, such as Advil -- in the possession of Redding's classmate. Under questioning and faced with punishment, the classmate claimed that Redding, who had no history of disciplinary problems or substance abuse, had given her the pills.
After escorting Redding to his office, Wilson presented Redding with the ibuprofen pills and informed her of her classmate's accusations. Redding said she had never seen the pills before and agreed to a search of her possessions, wanting to prove she had nothing to hide. Joined by a female school administrative assistant, Wilson searched Redding's backpack and found nothing. Instructed by Wilson, the administrative assistant then took Redding to the school nurse's office in order to perform a strip search.
In the school nurse's office, Redding was ordered to strip to her underwear. She was then commanded to pull her bra out and to the side, exposing her breasts, and to pull her underwear out at the crotch, exposing her pelvic area. The strip search failed to uncover any ibuprofen pills.
"The strip search was the most humiliating experience I have ever had," said Redding in a sworn affidavit following the incident. "I held my head down so that they could not see that I was about to cry."
"Common sense informs us that directing a 13-year-old girl to remove her clothes, partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen, an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one, and which could have been handled by keeping her in the principal's office until a parent arrived or simply sending her home, was excessively intrusive," Wardlaw wrote, joined by Judges Harry Pregerson, Raymond C. Fisher, Richard A. Paez, Milan D. Smith Jr. and N. Randy Smith.
The court cited arguments by the National Assn. of Social Workers that strip searches of children "can result in serious emotional damage, including the development of, or increase in, oppositional behavior."
"And all this to find prescription-strength ibuprofen," Wardlaw wrote, noting that one pill has the strength of two over-the-counter Advil and might be commonly used by young women to treat menstrual cramps.
The ruling said that Assistant Principal Wilson was liable for monetary damages but that his aide and the school nurse were not because they were acting under his orders.
The ruling was applauded in a statement from the ACLU:
"Students and parents nationwide can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that adolescents cannot be strip searched based on the unsubstantiated accusation of a classmate trying to get out of trouble," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project and co-counsel in the case with the law firms Humphrey & Petersen and McNamara, Goldsmith, Jackson & Macdonald. "This ruling is a victory for our fundamental right to privacy, sending a clear signal that such traumatizing searches have no place in America's schools."
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You may recall the case of Julie Amero, a substitute teacher in Connecticut who was found guilty of charges that she had showed pornography to children in her classroom, and who faced 40 years in jail. The problem was that the police and the prosecutors seemed unable to understand what had actually happened. The computer in the classroom had been infected by malware, which tossed up porn pop-up ads. It wasn't that she was surfing porn, but that the computer had malware. As news of this wrongful conviction got out, more and more security experts tried to explain to everyone involved why Amero was not the guilty party. Eventually, the judge agreed, and struck down the guilty verdict.
However, the state still has not dropped the case.
In fact, as reader Phil K lets us know, the state has no intention of dropping the case, and appears to want a new trial. No one involved in the case will explain why they won't drop it. In fact, they won't even apologize for what was clearly a wrongful prosecution in the first place. The prosecutors, the police and the school Amero worked for haven't said a word. The fact that they're planning to go through another trial over this matter suggests they still don't even realize what they did.
I have also archived this as a PDF document.
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This is a VERY LONG and very good read, I recommend everyone read it. I have also saved this as a PDF document.
This paper examines moral panics over contemporary technology, or “technopanics.” I use the cyberporn panic of 1996 and the contemporary panic over online predators and MySpace to demonstrate links between media coverage and content legislation. In both cases, Internet content legislation is directly linked to media–fueled moral panics that concern uses of technology deemed harmful to children. This is of particular interest currently as a new Internet content bill, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), is being debated in the U.S. Congress. The technopanic over “online predators” is remarkably similar to the cyberporn panic; both are fueled by media coverage, both rely on the idea of harm to children as the justification for Internet content restriction, and both have resulted in carefully crafted legislation to circumvent First Amendment concerns. Research demonstrates that legislation proposed — or passed — to curb these problems is an extraordinary response; it is misguided and in many cases masks the underlying problem.
- Introduction: The cyberporn panic
- What is MySpace?
- MySpace and online predators
- MySpace privacy
- The Deleting Online Predators Act
- Is this a moral panic?
- Critically examining the claims
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Also see "Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt," or these items on Wikipedia about MASS HYSTERIA and MORAL PANIC.
Article is from TechDirt:
Recently I wrote about a dreadful article in USA Today hyping up the "oh-no-think-of-the-children problem" of predators using console games to seek out kids. This followed similarly bogus news articles hyping up the threats of predators on social networks. Yet, all the "panic" raised by those articles has politicians practically shoving each other aside to introduce legislation against those social networks, or just various Attorneys General threatening those social networks without any evidence that there's a significant problem, other than a few totally hyped up news articles.
It turns out that a PhD Candidate at NYU, Alice Marwick has recently published a paper discussing exactly this type of "moral panic," focusing on the situation in 1996 in which Time Magazine famously published a scare mongering article about porn online, now known as the Rimm Report. Sean Garret, who pointed me to Marwick's paper has a good analysis of the Rimm Report's ripple effects as well (as does Adam Thierer). Basically, the report, which claimed that 83.5% of images online were porn was based on ridiculously faulty premises and research. It was almost entirely wrong.
And while Time Magazine came out of it looking bad, it didn't stop politicians from using the "moral panic" created by the article to push through the Communications Decency Act -- which after many years of wasted taxpayer money was eventually declared unconstitutional. What's scary though, is how this process works: newspaper basically overhypes a non-story into a "big scary trend" and almost immediately politicians start pushing for questionable "save the children!" legislation:
This paper is about moral panics over contemporary technology, which I call "technopanics." I use two examples, the cyberporn panic of 1996 and the contemporary panic over online predators and MySpace, to demonstrate the links between media coverage and content legislation. In both cases, Internet content legislation is directly linked to media–fueled moral panics that concern uses of technology deemed harmful to children. This is of particular interest right now as a new Internet content bill, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), is being debated in Congress. The technopanic over "online predators" is remarkably similar to the cyberporn panic; both are fueled by media coverage, both rely on the idea of harm to children as the justification for Internet content restriction, and both have resulted in carefully crafted legislation to circumvent First Amendment concerns. While both panics have their roots in legitimate concerns, I am not primarily concerned with the extent of the purported harms. However, my research demonstrates that the legislation proposed (or passed) to curb these problems is an extraordinary response; it is misguided and in many cases masks the underlying problem.
The paper goes on to rip apart the media in blowing up these technopanics, often using outright incorrect or made up data, such as the idea that "50,000 sexual predators are online at any given time," a favorite of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The problem is that this number was made up out of nowhere. In tracking down where the number came from, the sources basically admit they pulled it out of thin air, with one saying that the number 50,000 is a:
"Goldilocks" figure -- "Not small and not large." He added that it was the same figure that was used by the media to describe the number of people killed annually by Satanic cults in the 1980s, and before that was cited as the number of children abducted by strangers each year in the 1970s.
But that didn't stop Dateline NBC from using it repeatedly -- leading to politicians claiming it was fact. Marwick systematically goes through the various stats like this one used by politicians and destroys each one as being false or misleading. But, of course, neither the press, which popularized them, nor the politicians using them to push through legislation, are interested in the truth. They want sensationalism, because that helps both of them.
The paper concludes that this new law, DOPA, is targeting exactly the wrong thing (i.e., not the actual problem) and is merely a response to yet another moral panic that is likely to die out as people realize it's not as big a deal as the press and politicians are making it out to be. In the short term, though, passing the law could be quite harmful. Beyond wasting millions in taxpayer dollars (like the CDA and COPA did), it could make it more difficult for kids to use social networks and certain web services for beneficial purposes.
Thanks to the media and politicians for spreading BS lies about sex offenders, and people like John Walsh, Mark Lunsford and the other idiots, this is what we have become! I wonder if this is similar to what it was like when Jesus Christ was attacked by the venomous snakes who wanted to crucify him? Like in the days of Noah, so shall it be when the son of man is revealed. Amazing how one man can cause so much anger! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
I've had some people not understand why I posted the video of Jesus here. I posted it to try to show how society is acting today towards someone, in this case Dennis, and how people treated Jesus back in the days which were similar to how they are today. That is why I also posted the bible verse I did. Many will not understand my point here, but some will. I am not trying to say Jesus is like this Dennis person, there is no comparison. I was comparing how the people treated these men, like vicious snakes. If you do not understand, post a comment and I'll try to explain it a little more.
View the article here
See the following PDF which proves what this article says about 1 in 3 is wrong. This is their own report. Thanks to the reader who commented below for pointing this out.
HELENA (AP) - The Department of Corrections announced Friday it is looking for a contractor to build and run a new sex offender treatment facility.
The 116-bed program was authorized by the Legislature last year, and aims to expand treatment options for jailed sex offenders so they can more safely be returned to the community, the agency said.
The Corrections Department said it will begin seeking bids for the program next month. Those submitting bids will have to find a community that is willing to accept such a facility.
“The developer is required to put together all the work on the ground, including finding the community support for it,” said Bob Anez, corrections spokesman.
The agency says those who are treated are far less likely to re-offend, citing statistics finding the recidivism rate drops from 25 percent to 2 percent. The new program was authorized as part of a legislative effort to crack down on sex crimes.
“It’s better to have people go through treatment than not go through treatment, because they are going to be released at some point,” Anez said.
The program is similar to residential treatment programs established for meth addicts. In both cases, contractors are responsible for building and operating the facilities.
About one of every three inmates in the Montana State Prison is there because of a sexual offense.
- I do not believe this at all. Show me the study which states this!
There is currently a treatment program available in the prison, although there is a backlog waiting to get into it.
- So why is that? Why do we have to create a new facility when prison is where they should be getting treatment in the first place? This is just a waste of money, IMO.
The new facility will be designed to provide about a year of intensive treatment for lower-risk sex offenders. The agency hopes to have it running next spring.
The agency is also seeking bids for a new 40-bed prerelease center in Kalispell, and also wants it operating sometime next spring.
- You see, this is a business, and business is BOOMING!!!!
View the article here
Corruption is running rampant in this country. Just check here.
Lumberton — A former worker with the Robeson County pretrial release program has been accused of having sex with a woman in custody.
Hollis Britt faces charges of sexual misconduct by a custodian and crimes against nature. He was arrested by State Bureau of Investigation agents and Lumberton police officers on Thursday and released under a $20,000 bond the same day.
A bailiff, a supervisor of bailiffs, and a jailer also suspected of having sex with the woman either retired or were fired in early October 2007.
The victim was involved in the pretrial release program, and the alleged misconduct took place at her home and the courthouse, authorities said.
Investigators have not released more details about the alleged misconduct, including how long it took place.
View the article here
New sex-offender laws, meant to protect, may instead ruin lives and increase risks
Everything began with babysitting. Michael's mother often made him watch her boyfriend's 7-year-old son, Aaron.
One afternoon, while his mother was working, 15-year-old Michael performed oral sex on Aaron, and on at least three occasions persuaded the child to fondle him in return.
What happened during those afternoons remained secret until Aaron tried to touch a cousin, who told his parents. Together, the boys' families dug out the truth about Michael.
What he did may have been an echo of what was done to him. Michael said he spent the first half of his life being sexually abused by a grandfather who held his grandson on his naked lap.
“Growing up, I had been through some sexual situations with older people, so I think it was acting out of curiosity. But I've learned some other things that were a factor -- being angry, feeling left out in some things, feeling abnormal and alone,” he said. “I still feel that way.”
Michael is a child who sexually assaulted another child, but is he a monster? And should he be punished like a man?
This summer, Nevada's juvenile sex offenders will become subject to the strictest sanctions this state has seen. Under new state laws that take effect in July, passed to implement federal laws and keep federal funding, teenagers such as Michael will be punished as adults, lumped in with rapists and pedophiles.
- Sick, very sick. When it comes to money, common sense goes out the door. Indeed, money is the root of all evil...
For example: A 14-year-old boy found guilty of fondling a 13-year-old girl one time will have his photograph posted on national public Internet sex offender registries for at least 25 years. He will be there alongside a 50-year-old teacher found guilty of sexually assaulting several students in his first-grade classroom.
- So now, what was at one time, normal sexual curiosity, is now a crime, and the laws to protect children and ensnaring them into the LARGE nets. No common sense. This is just pathetic!
Many experts, including social workers, psychologists, academics, attorneys and even prosecutors interviewed by the Sun, question whether this is in the best interests of the child or the community. And some raise even more uncomfortable issues: about children's culpability, how well they understand what they've done, about how we as a society want to treat disturbed youth -- like hopeless felons or troubled teens who need help? About whether we can arrest and punish our way out of this problem.
- So in the above example, if the age of consent is say 16, how come this child is all of a sudden an adult and being charged when they are not able to consent? Something is wrong here. Normal sexual curiosity is now a crime!
Under the new laws, faces and addresses will be featured on online registries; awkward pubescent mug shots among those of adult felons. Many of the young offenders will be banned from parks, movie theaters and perhaps even schools. Fliers detailing the crimes of some of them will be mailed to neighbors. Some will be required to register publicly as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. All will be expected to give a DNA sample.
- And thus their life is over. Wonder how many will start killing themselves because they have no hope for a future, or worse?
David Prescott, president elect of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers and an author of several scholarly publications on youth who prey on youth, said treating kids like monsters might make them monsters.
- Same with adults. Just look at the prison system, prisoners are getting more and more violent because they are treated like animals. And yes, I've said this for awhile as well. You treat someone like an animal, they will become the animal you think they are out of anger and rage for being treated like animals. Hell, anybody with common sense can understand that.
“It is too easy to assume the worst from looking at a specific sex charge,” he said, “and it is too easy to have kids damaged as a result.”
Under the new laws, juvenile sex offenders cannot have their cases sealed -- to illustrate the gravity of such a rule, consider that teenagers who commit violent assaults, who drive drunk, who chronically steal or get caught carrying guns, can all petition to have their records sealed when they turn 21. Only juvenile sex offenders, in other words, must carry their cases for the rest of their lives.
And incidentally, Nevada's new laws are retroactive. Anybody who was at least 14 years old and convicted of a crime against a child after July 1, 1956, is subject to the new regulations. This means unknown numbers of Nevada sex offenders are subject to rules they might not know about and yet will be expected to obey or face felony charges. This, despite evidence that juveniles are far less likely to re-offend than adults; despite widespread belief that juvenile offenders are best served by legal intervention tailored to the needs of a child; despite academics saying that publicizing a juvenile sex offender's crime may, in fact, make the problem worse.
Nevada lawmakers voted unanimously to pass the new sex offender legislation, though some of its most vocal supporters now say they were unaware of the laws' effect on teenagers. They say they did not know about their effect on the state's juvenile justice system, which has traditionally operated under the philosophy that delinquent children should be treated as a vulnerable group requiring care and protection.
- The above is a cop out. They do not stop and think about any and all consequences before they have some knee-jerk reaction and hurriedly get a law passed.
Outraged by what it sees looming, the Clark County public defender's juvenile office is challenging the constitutionality of the new laws. It's a fight the lawyers are picking locally, though the case will likely end up before the Nevada Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, unless his attorney can prevent it, Michael's face and crime will find their way onto the Internet.
Michael is a high school student with A-B grades; a quiet kid, one who likes auto mechanics and is petrified of girls; a teenager nauseated by the thought that his friends will soon find out.
The public outing, Michael said, “will basically ruin my life forever.”
It's freezing in Judge William Voy's courtroom. So cold that smiling bailiffs offer their sweaters to spectators. And it is here, on the first floor of the Family Court building, that Clark County's juvenile sex offenders come to shiver before the judge.
Roughly one-quarter of sexual assault offenders are juveniles, according to Justice Department statistics. They commit roughly one-third of all reported sex offenses against children, according to the National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth.
The teenagers -- boys mostly -- shuffle into Voy's courtroom wearing the detention center standard, the bright and shapeless broadcloth shirt and pants. And they clink. A chain worn around the waist anchors a handcuff to each side of the body. This means that should a boy cry, and want to wipe his nose, he must lower his head to his hands.
Most come through the back door in chains, though some come through the front door with parents, in which case, though nobody is handcuffed, everybody looks pained.
This afternoon, a 16-year-old stands charged with fondling a younger relative. He looks to be 6 feet 2 inches tall and appears dazed. His attorney tries to broker a bargain: no detention time, lots of therapy. Most juvenile sex offender cases end with a plea deal. Going to trial is undesirable because it means child victims must testify for an audience.
- This is the damn problem, all lawyers and DA's try to get plea bargains instead of getting their clients freed, like any GOOD lawyer would do. They are all money hungry, greedy jerks. They say here most juvenile cases end in plea bargains, hell, about 95% of ALL sexual related crimes end this way, even non-sexual crimes. Do some research and you will see this is true. NEVER TAKE A PLEA BARGAIN, EVEN IF YOU DID OR DIDN'T DO IT, IT IS NEVER A BARGAIN!!!
The attorney talks. The boy's mother sits and seethes. She thinks the victim manipulated her son. Her sister, the victim's mother, thinks this giant, sheepish teenager gets away with everything. This is another reason cases don't often go to trial. Most offenders victimize someone they know. Family and friends must choose a side to support, a difficult position for those who are close to both.
When asked by the judge whether he has something to say, the 16-year-old responds with a question: Can he still go on vacation with his parents next week? He can. Appeased, the teenager grins and leaves the courtroom with all the confidence of someone remorseless.
There may be an explanation for this: He's autistic.
Yet under the new laws, his photograph and address would likely appear on Internet sex offender registries. He's another Clark County teen whose life could be drastically affected by the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
The federal bill is the driving force behind all of Nevada's new sex offender laws. Signed by President Bush in July 2006, it's another in a series of measures enacted in the 1990s in the wake of several high-profile child abductions.
- It's about extortion and bribery. Either you implement these laws or you don't get TONS of money. And even when they pass the laws, many times they do not get the money either.
The Jacob Wetterling Act, named for an 11-year-old who was taken from his home and never seen again, required states to create individual sex offender registration programs. Megan's Law, passed two years later after a 7-year-old was killed by a known sex offender living across the street, made those state registries viewable to the public.
- Why don't when someone is killed by some gang member or serial killer, do we not have murderer laws passed in the name of the victim? Why only with sex offender laws? Anytime you put a name and face on a bill, no matter what it is about or does, people will pass it.
The Walsh Act is named after Adam Walsh, who was abducted and killed in 1981. He was the son of John Walsh, who later became the host of “America's Most Wanted.” The act establishes a national system for sex offender registration. It also creates a massive online registry -- a Web site searchable by anyone, anywhere.
- Yeah, why is John Walsh associating sex offender laws in his son's name, when it has NEVER been proven his son was killed by a sex offender? Money maybe? Fame maybe? It is suggested Ottis Toole, who was a serial killer, killed Adam, but he recanted. He was notorious for lying to try to puff himself up to make himself look more insane, in a sick way. It's also been suggested Jeffrey Dahmer did it, which makes more sense, IMO.
Nevada had to change many of its laws to satisfy the requirements of the Walsh Act. State legislators went further and adopted even stricter sanctions.
It's a policy shift buried in a rat's nest of legal language, but its intentions are clear: to make sure the law deals with all sex offenders, whatever their age, as predators.
Nevada's new rules reserve their harshest punishments for those who target children. And certainly, not many people will lose sleep worrying about the treatment of sex offenders who prey on children.
- This is not so, these laws and residency restrictions affect ALL sex offenders, regardless if a child was involved or not. Do some homework and you'd see this is the case!
Yet it is juveniles who, by default, will bear the brunt of the legal penalties, because their crimes almost always involve other kids.
These penalties include requirements that they submit to random searches, polygraph and drug tests; abide by a curfew; and abstain from drinking. In addition, convicted teens need a probation officer's approval before having unsupervised contact with anyone younger than 18, before accepting employment, before moving and before getting Internet access.
- So therefore, now if the kid was 13 or so, he has now been isolated, since most friends would be the same age group, he will not have any friends, and you can see what this would do to a child. You will create a monster!
For many, these regulations must be obeyed for a lifetime.
- Or until they have had enough and snap, then they will either vanish or worse.
In cases in which the victim is younger than 14, which is likely in the juvenile court, the penalties are even stricter. In those circumstances, the juvenile offender cannot live within 1,000 feet or be within 500 feet of any structure designed for use primarily by children.
It is unclear how these young offenders will continue to attend school, or whether, once their secrets are spilled, they'll be welcome.
All sex offenders are classified by “tier levels,” numbers ranging from 1 to 3 that indicate risk of re-offending. The lower the number, the lower the risk.
- No, this tier system doesn't rank based on the "risk to re-offender!" They are ranked based on their crime, so someone who is not really a danger, depending on their crime, will be labeled a predator for life.
Currently, offenders are assigned a tier level by court-appointed psychologists or therapists who assess risk factors case by case. They consider the number of times the abuse occurred, prior criminal acts, potential access to other victims, compliance at home and school, academic records, intellectual function, parental support. The result is a highly personalized evaluation.
- I don't think I believe this, but, I am not saying it's not true. From what I have seen, the tier systems are simply based on the crime itself, and not the risk to re-offend. See below!
This year, tiers will instead be determined by a rigid classification, one that assigns a level based on the offense. It's a cold calculation: You do X, you get Y.
These rankings will be assigned regardless of extenuating circumstances, including autism, low IQ, mental illness or a history of family abuse.
- And this is a major problem. Anybody with common sense can see what kind of issues this is going to cause. But, when you have people who do not care, are greedy, etc, then this is what you get.
This will cause the number of juvenile offenders deemed high risk to jump, said Clark County Chief Deputy Public Defender Susan Roskee.
This, despite the fact that, according to experts, juveniles are unlikely to re-offend.
Nationally, the recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders hovers around 10 percent, though some studies suggest the number is much lower. In Clark County, six of the roughly 300 young sex offenders on probation have been rearrested, though not necessarily for sex crimes. Some may have stayed out past curfew, shoplifted or used drugs.
- And this is another problem. Many of the studies count ANY ARREST as recidivism, and not another sex crime, which is how it should be. And this is why some studies show the rates very high, but the others, who consider this, show the recidivism rates VERY LOW, many below 5%.
Sexuality and impulse control are expected to come of age together, though sometimes they arrive out of sync. In youth, understanding of sex, notions of what is and isn't OK, of where the body's boundaries lie, are somewhat fluid. John Pacult, a licensed clinical social worker who treats many of Clark County's juvenile and adult sex offenders, said teenagers often end up on his couch because of an organic confusion.
- Hell, look at TV these days. All you see is sex, sex, sex, sex. No wonder people are screwed up, especially kids. They grow up thinking that is normal, because most people never teach them it's wrong. Or society sends out mixed signals to people. It's a wonder anybody knows what is right or wrong.
“Kids still have experimentation variables, still have curiosity variables, still (are) trying to figure stuff out,” said Pacult, who has worked with offenders as young as 8. “To look at it in a simplistic sense is really naive.”
Meaning, he said, they're still kids.
It's an issue Roskee hopes to raise. Her office worked with the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union on the motion filed in Family Court on Dec. 28 arguing Nevada's new legislation is unconstitutional.
“Their brains are still developing,” Roskee said. “These kids are going through maturation and puberty. You throw emotional trauma, neglect or abuse into the mix and that makes their development even slower.
“And we are going to ostracize them. We are going to marginalize them, to put them into a category that will totally prevent them from ever assimilating into society.”
Many of the juveniles Pacult treats have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects. Others have bipolar, obsessive compulsive or attention deficit disorder. Some have histories of parental abuse or maltreatment. Children sometimes molest out of anger or a need to control. And some children are too young to understand sexual urges and are experimenting, Pacult said.
The academic community agrees that adolescent offenders are seldom pedophiles. They aren't attracted to children the way an adult might be and rarely target strangers. Where an adult might spend considerable time grooming a victim, seeking him out and luring him in, a juvenile offender is more likely to act in the moment, with a victim who often knows no better and acquiesces.
“Then there are kids that have more chronic acting-out issues,” Pacult said. “Sexual behaviors being just one of them.”
Kids are less likely to have deviant sexual interests or arousals, but more likely to be socially underdeveloped than adult offenders, said Dr. Kurt Bumby, a nationally recognized expert in the field. Although some teenagers will stop without intervention, those who receive treatment have a better chance of leading normal lives. That is, they do not become adult sex offenders. On this the research is consistent and clear.
What's not clear, Bumby said, is what happens when teenagers are “publicly labeled, and identified on the Internet in particular, as sex offenders.”
Angie is in cosmetology school, wound tight as the hair she's learning to curl, waiting for someone to say something. Make a comment like the one she said a relative made the other day: “You're just a baby rapist.”
Again, everything began with babysitting. Angie, then 13, was watching an 8-year-old neighbor when she pulled him into a dark closet and performed oral sex. This remained a secret for two years, until Angie's victim, then 10, tried the same with another child.
By this time, Angie was no longer living in Clark County. Her family had decided to leave Las Vegas and gave 16-year-old Angie a choice: leave or don't. By then, she had a meth habit and a history of running away. She decided she would move with them to a small town near the Pacific Ocean.
Her parents put her right into rehab, and it was during a visit that her father broke the news -- she was wanted for a sex offense, four years after the fact.
She came back to Clark County to hear the charges. In the courtroom, Angie recalls, the mother of the victim told the court, “I would see (Angie) coming home from school and I would make my kids wave to her. I was making my kids wave to a monster.”
- I am so sick of people dehumanizing people. This is a result of idiotic politicians, like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana who constantly calls sex offenders "monsters!" Many other people in history have been dehumanized, and we know what occurred there, don't we?
Angie does not remember much of what followed.
“That hit me pretty hard,” she said. “I think I went blank after that.”
She was found guilty (adjudicated, as they say in juvenile court) of lewdness with a child and sentenced to probation, counseling and various restrictions; no hanging out with minors, no pornography. By the time she was 17, a judge determined she was no longer a threat to society and took her off probation.
She thought she had paid her dues. But the next year, law enforcement came looking for her. Why, they wanted to know, hadn't she registered as a sex offender? Angie didn't know that in her new state she was required to register as an adult. After all, she had committed the crime as a juvenile and Nevada had taken her off the books.
Angie was arrested. Her face and address immediately went on the state's sex offender Web site and this information was posted in every school within 70 miles, she said.
She lost her fast-food restaurant job. Then she lost a waitress job at a country club. Then her father left her mother.
Official letters with Angie's photo were mailed to everyone in the neighborhood, detailing her crime. They will be mailed to her neighbors any time Angie changes addresses, until she is removed from the registry, which may never happen.
- How would anybody, with a brain, in society love to be treated like this for life for something you did when you were a child? This is just pure evil and sick!
“I feel like everywhere I go,” she said, “people are looking.”
- So does about 100% of all other sex offenders also. Just ask them. These laws make you paranoid of anybody.
So now she's suicidal at cosmetology school, waiting for another student to say something nasty during perm practice.
“Sometimes I do see these little visions of me shooting myself in the head,” Angie said.
“Everyone knows. And maybe my photo won't get off (the Web site) and it's so hard trying to be normal. It's made me hate the world. I would rather die than live like this.”
- Amen! Been there as well. But my faith in God is what keeps me alive...
Angie said she was raped three times in a week when she was 9 by a group of teenage boys. She didn't say a word. Maybe it's why, she said, “my mind kind of started changing and I became bad.”
Angie said she hasn't re-offended. But then, she hasn't really done anything with her life besides wish it wasn't hers.
From a quiet corner in the Family Court building, Public Defender Susan Roskee is on a mission to seal as many juvenile sex offender cases as she can. She's been combing through her files to see which cases can be shut and shutting them, bunkering herself with them like sandbags before a storm.
- Good, we need someone like this. But it's rare, most people are greedy, out for money, and getting a conviction, so they can move on to their next victim.
So far, she's sealed 14. She thinks she'll be able to seal 10 to 15 more before Nevada's new laws become effective. But if the laws are retroactive 52 years, will sealed cases protect anyone?
It's one of many questions surrounding the new laws. Even their backers seem unclear about what they have wrought. Some of the confusion stems from the fact that there are two bills, one of which reveals that it's applicable to juvenile offenders only through a meticulous read.
That bill was championed by many legislators, but most notably by Sen. Dina Titus (Contact), D-Las Vegas, who recently said she was unaware the new laws would apply to juveniles.
- And like usual, she is running for congress, so that explains why she is pushing the sex offender issues, using them as scapegoats for her election. She says she is unaware.... Do they even read the damn laws they are signing? Apparently not. They see sex offender and pass the law...
“I don't recall any of that kind of discussion,” she said, adding that it “might be an unintended consequence.”
- Look, I am sick and tired of this term as well. These laws have been on the books for 10 or more years, and they have always had the same consequences, so THEY ARE NOT UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES ANYMORE, THEY ARE KNOWN AND INTENDED!!!!!
The bill was pushed by Gov. Jim Gibbons (Contact), whose spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said, “The intent of the legislation is to protect children from dangerous sexual predators.” She could not comment on the bill's effect on juveniles.
- But they are not doing this, and never will do this. If a person is truly a dangerous predator, do you really think that they will obey these laws? If they want to commit another crime, what will stop them from doing so?
The Attorney General's Office, responsible for carrying out the Walsh Act in Nevada, said in a written statement that the law “was proposed to help safeguard Nevadans from sex offenders. Numerous public hearings were held during the legislative session ... There were no objections to the constitutionality of any provisions ... Therefore, we will wait to hear what the court has to say.”
- No, the intent of the laws is so everyone has a scapegoat for votes and fodder to look like they are actually doing something, meanwhile raking in tons of money to fill their pocket books and become richer.
So, though little seems clear about Nevada's new sex offender laws, at least one thing seems inevitable: more litigation.
- And people are going to be fighting these laws forever, or until they come crumbling down. THAT IS A FACT!!! Meanwhile, billions of tax payer dollars are going down the toilet...
The laws' looming presence is already seeping into court. Before accepting guilty pleas, judges are making sure that teenagers accused of sex offenses are aware of the lifetime implications.
- NEVER ACCEPT A PLEA BARGAIN... I CANNOT STATE THIS ENOUGH.... IT IS NEVER A BARGAIN... THEY DO THIS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT HAVE EVIDENCE, SO THEY WANT TO MAKE IT EASY FOR THEM TO GET YOU LOCKED UP, SO THEY CAN MOVE ON TO THE NEXT VICTIM!!!
Because of the implications, lawyers will likely become less willing to resolve cases through plea bargaining once the laws are in effect, Chief Deputy District Attorney Teresa Lowry said. That will mean more trials and more victims testifying, she said.
“Is it justice? And can justice be accomplished in any other way that is less severe?” Lowry said. “As a prosecutor, I think we have to be diligent in identifying the number of offenders that are a danger to the community, while recognizing it is not all of them.”
But some of them. Few would deny that juveniles can commit sex crimes just as heinous as those committed by depraved adults.
Marc Klaas, who lost his 12-year-old daughter, Polly, to kidnapper, killer and rapist Richard Allen Davis in Northern California in 1993, believes the system needs to be harsh in dealing with sociopathic predators, even if they are children.
- Well Marc, not all sex offenders, which these laws affect, are sociopathic predators, which you seem to believe. And I'm sure, like Mark Lunsford, if you son or daughter get slapped with a sex crime, you will be singing a different tune, that is what Mark is doing now, since his son Joshua committed a sex crime.
“If you have somebody acting out at a very early age and nothing is done to change his behavior,” Klaas said, “then you are creating a monster.”
- It's called expermenting a$$hole. I wonder when the first time you touched a MALE or FEMALE was? Would you be considered a sex offender today? Probably!!!
But children must be considered individually, he said. Given the right intervention -- whether discipline or therapy -- a teenage sex offender might not fester into a full-blown predator, he said.
- We need to stop letting rage filled idiots like John Walsh, Mark Lunsford or Marc Klass make laws. People not thinking clearly created idiotic laws, that has been proven by history. I hate to see what this world will be like in 10 or so years.... Everyone will be in prison!!
Lowry, too, believes the system must look at the specifics of each case.
When Lowry began working with sex offenders, she imagined they would all be teenage guys caught sleeping with teenage girls. Instead, she found herself prosecuting boys, many of whom had never been in trouble, for sexually abusing much younger children.
And not “let's play doctor,” Lowry said, but much more serious offenses, crimes you'd never see coming.
“So many of them had no other juvenile court involvement,” she said. “I was dealing with Eagle Scouts, the kind of boy you'd ask to babysit.”
But if it's a one-time incident, “done out of mental illness or the offender's own victimization or those different reasons that can be adequately treated, and it never happens again, does that youth need to register online? Does community safety require that?”
Moreover, juveniles don't get jury trials. Thus, Roskee said, the new law forces kids to accept adult punishment but denies them the adult constitutional right to a trial by peers.
Considering what is at stake, parents, hesitant to brand their children as sex offenders or see them suffer the lifelong penalties, might cease to report these types of crimes, which largely occur in the home. Not only will these children avoid punishment, clinical social worker Pacult notes, they'll also avoid treatment.
And those who do register, put their faces online and agree to never walk in parks or hang out privately with peers, they also will miss out on treatment, Pacult said. Not because they won't get therapy, but because it will be for naught.
“These children literally stand no chance at any form of rehabilitation,” he said. “None. They are going to destroy kids. There's going to be absconding. There's going to be suicides.”
- I wonder if any of the schools massacres were done by sex offenders with nothing to lose? I would not doubt it.
Prescott agrees that suicide is a possibility. More likely, even predictable, he said, are wasted lives.
Studies show that young adult sex offenders have a harder time securing housing than older offenders. It is also more difficult for them to complete their education, said Prescott, of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. The result is unemployment, which, in turn, pushes juvenile offenders into what Prescott calls “socially disorganized, economically depressed neighborhoods.” Neighborhoods, he notes, that have fewer resources for deterring crime and protecting residents.
How this will all play out, given the retroactivity of the new laws, remains to be seen. Some sex offenders, juvenile and adult, have completed the terms of their parole and probation, started families and made lives for themselves, Pacult said. People may have entered plea deals just to put things behind them unknowingly agreed to terms that would come back to bite them. People who showed no risk of re-offending may now be considered high-risk offenders because of a crime that occurred 40 years ago.
“How does that make sense if an individual has done every single thing they promised to the court, probation, the community, the victim?” Pacult said.
- It doesn't make sense. When you are forced from your neighborhood, job, family and made into a monster by everyone, forced to live under bridges, what incentive does anybody have to get better and do anything with their lives? How would you like to be treated like this?
Roskee argues that the retroactive nature of Nevada's new laws are in direct violation of a constitutional ban on ex post facto laws -- Latin for “from something done after” -- or laws that retroactively modify the legal consequences of a crime.
- Well, the Constitution apparently means nothing anymore, we have become a evil, nazi country, just read the news with an open mind and you can see that. We may be freer than most countries, but we are all slaves...
For its part, the U.S. Supreme Court has held unconstitutional any laws that “retroactively alter the definition of crimes or increase the punishment for criminal acts.”
- This is not true. They continually find the laws constitutional. So they are not even paying attention to the constitution, they come up with some excuse as to why it's OK to treat people like this. Hell, read the news for once. Look around on my blog. This is a fact!
Asking a sex offender to put his face on the Internet, Roskee said, after he pleaded to a crime 25 years ago and accepted a sentence that included no such requirement, is punishment after the fact.
And arguments for fairness, compassion and constitutionality notwithstanding, there is one other reason, experts say, for rethinking the new laws: community safety.
The more stress an offender is under, the more likely he is to re-offend, said University of Louisville professor Richard Tewksbury, who researches sex offender policy.
“The marginalization, the complete relocation of sex offenders to the outskirts of society, does little more than raise their anxieties,” he said.
Conjure up a deviant sexual fantasy, then sniff ammonia. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This is called aversion therapy. It's one of the techniques Pacult uses with juvenile sex offenders, part of the treatment it takes to cure a child of his thoughts.
- I thought there was no cure? That is what everyone keeps saying, which is true, but, people can be given the tools to change their behavior. But, when society is so hell bent on punishment, and the people are not given the tools to change, what the hell do you expect? I feel if these laws are not changed, it is only going to get worse and worse, watch and see...
Michael, now 17, has completed his court-mandated group therapy. He has sat in antiseptic rooms with other boys, their chairs pushed into a circle, and shared the story of his sex crime. He has learned that even yes can mean no, and that he has anger issues. He's done with therapy, swears he hasn't slipped up, but admits he's far from well.
“My whole past, I can't get over it. I've learned from it, but I can't completely move on. It's never been an easy childhood for me. I couldn't be a free and open person. I wasn't socially accepted because I didn't really want to talk to anybody,” he said. “A sex offense is a major thing.”
Michael still lives with his mother, who still dates the father of his victim, Aaron. But Aaron can no longer come over, and his absence makes the presence of the family's misery more plain.
“You can't really trust anybody. You can't really have a lot of close people. In my opinion, that's common sense,” he said. “People usually let you down.”
- AMEN!! I feel the same way... People will always stab you in the back...
The only solution, Michael said, is to master some sort of emotional origami, folding himself inward until he's stiff and safe from himself.
Abigail Goldman can be reached at 259-8806 or at email@example.com.