What Should be the Law on Sharing and Viewing Child Pornography?
One issue that has come up in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is her apparently light treatment of Wesley Hawkins, a 19-year-old who, at age 18, had uploaded to YouTube “five videos of prepubescent boys engaged in sex acts.” The record showed that Hawkins had not produced any of the videos. Instead, he himself had found them online. Even though federal guidelines suggested a sentence of 8 to 10 years, the prosecutors themselves asked for only 2 years in light of Hawkins’ age and lack of a previous criminal record.
Judge Brown took into account both Hawkins’ age and the fact that he had not produced any of the videos. She sentenced Hawkins to 3 months in prison, followed by 3 months in home detention and 6 years of supervision.
Some of the Republican Senators objected that Judge Brown was too lenient. I think she was too tough because what Hawkins did shouldn’t even be a crime.
Here’s my reasoning. I think that it’s worse to murder prepubescent boys than to take videos of them having sex. It’s also worse to murder adults than to take videos of prepubescent boys having sex. But as far as I know, there are no laws saying that news channels can’t show people, whether boys or adults, being murdered.
Think back to that horrible day, September 11, 2001. How often did news stations show the sickening collision of the second major airplane crashing into one of the World Trade Center buildings? I probably saw that crash more than 20 times. I found it horrible, but it was hard to turn away. I watched multiple murders. Also, on that day, a friend and I saw a picture in a newspaper of a man upside down falling from one of the World Trade Center buildings. Yes, it was technically suicide, but really it was murder. So I viewed that murder. What if I had shared the video of the plane crash (multiple murders) or the picture of the man who had jumped out the window to his certain death (a single murder)? Should I have been charged with a crime for sharing a video or a picture?
And if I shouldn’t, then why should what Hawkins did be a crime?
You might argue that it has to do with incentives. If people aren’t penalized for watching child pornography, there will be more demand for child porn. And if there’s more demand, it’s likely that more will be supplied. That’s a good argument.
But let’s apply it to the murder case. We have reason to think that some murderers who do very visible murders do it for the publicity, even if they won’t be around. I remember reading after the fact that a man in Sacramento murdered 5 people on September 10, 2001 and left a videotape in which he stated that he would go out in a bigger way than Timothy McVeigh, the OKC bomber. Of course, it was forgotten, except by the families of the victims, for obvious reasons. But the point is that he did it in part for the publicity. So when news stations broadcast murder scenes they are adding to the incentive for potential murderers to become actual murderers. Yet the news stations do so completely legally and many of us watch completely legally.
So the incentive argument isn’t enough of an argument.
What is? So far I can’t find a good argument that says that there should be no law against watching and sharing videos and pictures of murder but there should be a law against watching and sharing videos and pictures of child pornography.
But I’m open to being persuaded.