Viewing child porn not victimless crime; Ky. punishment fair

March 31, 2014 

  • At issue: Feb. 10 commentary by Guy Hamilton-Smith, "Sex-offender registry misguided thinking," and March 12 letter, "Viewing child porn unfairly punished as violent crime"

I am a clinical psychologist, lately retired after 12 years of service to the state as an approved provider of sex-offender evaluations to the courts.

I wish to address misconceptions in the Guy Hamilton-Smith commentary, in which he complained that he was being unduly punished by being required to register as a sex offender and the subsequent letter of support from Marjorie Valentine of CAUTIONclick National Campaign for Reform.

First, possession of or viewing child pornography is not punished as a violent crime in Kentucky, as the letter's headline suggests. While other states may have draconian sentences for this offense, Kentucky does not.

It is a Class D felony punishable by one to five years, and the statute does not apply to minors. Valentine advocates for supervision and rehabilitation, and that is already the main focus for these offenders in Kentucky.

Second, while I agree with her statement that "current technology has contributed to the ease of online access," her portrayal of these offenders as mere victims of that technology is a real stretch, because they made the decision to possess that material.

I disagree with her contention that "first-time simple possession of child pornography" should not have criminal punishments attached because those folks have "otherwise led clean, productive lives."

Possession of child pornography is not a "simple" matter. While possession of child porn may seem like a victimless crime, there are indeed many victims created in the production of the material, and each viewing may give more incentive to those who produce the child pornography.

Michael Seto, one of the leading researchers in pedophilia, argues that possession of child pornography is diagnostic for pedophilia, a persistent sexual interest in prepubescent children. It seems logical that the person who is charged with possessing child pornography had some prior sexual interest in children, as the statute does not apply to accidental viewing.

Each time a person indulges in masturbation while viewing child porn, they not only receive a powerful reinforcement, thus increasing the likelihood that the behavior will happen again, but also receive a normalizing effect.

Over time, this practice may lead to a hands-on offense because the behavior starts to seem so normal and victims in these films are often portrayed as willing participants.

As to the argument that these offenses should be decriminalized because offenders had "otherwise led clean, productive lives," this argument would also apply to about half of hands-on sex offenders.

So would they all be dismissed with a slap on the wrist? If these offenses are decriminalized, what incentive does the offender have to seek the supervision and rehabilitation that Valentine advocates?

In Kentucky, many of those charged with possession of child pornography are placed on probation and required to complete sex-offender treatment.

But, treatment requires a considerable commitment of time and effort, and many offenders need the threat of prison time to give them the incentive to stay in treatment long enough to gain any benefit.

So, I do not think that Kentucky's laws are too tough on possession of child pornography, and being required to register as a sex offender was not enacted as a punishment, but as a means of helping the community protect itself.

For those opposed to the convictions and sex-offender registration, a better approach would be to increase awareness of the problems associated with using child pornography, including that the person using it may not have as much solitude as he thinks because "big brother" is watching and has the ability to track his location when he downloads.

Nancy L. Smith is a clinical psychologist in Clearfield.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service