Child Pornography: Preferred Offender or Situational Offender?

This topic has been long overdue to touch on.  My entire week  (and even my personal offense of possession of child pornography) has led me to feel the need to address this issue.  The common sentiment society has on internet-based crimes, such as is overwhelmingly the case in child pornography offenses, is that anyone who has looked at child pornography is a dangerous sexual deviant who seeks only to have sexual relationships with minors.  While this can be considered resoundingly correct in some cases, such as a person who has hundreds of thousands of images, produces child pornography, etc., The often unreported fact remains that those who participate in such widespread victimization using child pornography often don’t see the light of day after conviction.  You often see these cases getting huge sentences ranging from 40 years to life in prison.  The offenders society does get to see coming back into society are cases such as mine.  For the sake of this argument and for my own credibility as being thoroughly researched and invested in this topic, I will tell you some things about me, my offense, and the events that lead up to it.  In an effort to avoid bringing any negative repercussions or shame to my family, I will refrain from identifying details such as my name or where these events took place.  These are events I am not proud of and wish never happened, but admitting and embracing them was the most important step in becoming a better person that is no threat to society.

I was exposed to pornography by a relative around the age of 5-6 on a regular basis. I can’t specifically remember my age at the time, but it was well before I started first grade.  No child pornography was involved, but I still had an unnaturally early interest in viewing pornography.  This relative gave me several pornographic magazines including a playboy (I remember innocently liking the playboy bunny logo).  Developmentally speaking, this relative was considered, by me, to be a role model (a terrible one, of course).  I remember thinking that looking at these women was the coolest thing I could do because Cousin Mike did it.   Imagine my shock when my parents found these magazines, freaked out, and struggled to explain to me why I could not have them?  I was quite confused at that age and even had a sense of loss.  Why can my cousin Mike have these cool magazines and I couldn’t? not more than 2 years later, I was playing with a female cousin who I ended up having a sexual encounter with.  Specifically, we engaged in mutual masturbation.  She actually initiated the contact (which makes me wonder if she was also a victim), but  I wanted to take it further and try some of the things I had seen (including penetration) on the pornographic movies I had seen with Cousin Mike.  Thankfully, she was afraid we would get caught.  I thank God to this day that it didn’t progress to that point, as research indicates penetration is a line that, once crossed, leads to much more problems.  But why, at the age of 7, was I even aware of these things?  The answer, which I did not know until 4 years after my conviction, was that I had been victimized and was dangerously on my way to perpetuating the victim-offender cycle.

I had two other such encounters in my childhood and I didn’t think of them as weird in the least because of the early seeds planted into my impressionable young psyche.  Things came to full swing at the age of 10 when we got our first personal computer (pc).  I had (and still have) a natural affinity to computers and internet usage and it was not long before I was regularly viewing pornography and even masturbating to it (pre-pubesecent masturbation!).  My parents actually never knew I had pornography on my computer because of my knowledge and ability to cover my tracks (as well as their utter lack of even basic computer skills at the time).  In fact, When at the age of 21 I called my parents and told them my computer had been seized, they said they had no idea I even looked at pornography.  That said, child pornography was actually something I looked at frequently during my teenage years (seeking my peer group).  I quickly became desensitized to it. As a young adult, I never considered having it was illegal since it was actually a norm for me to view these images for over a decade with no one out there to call me out on my deviant behavior (which I desperately needed). Despite my early desensitization to child pornography, forensics only confirmed 5 files of child pornography on my computer.  As a scare tactic to ensure my guilty plea, they tried to say I had more (I believe they claimed about 120 images); but when I asked to see the evidence, they dodged that question which to this day leads me to believe it was a smoke screen.  They never considered that I had nearly 10,000 images saved on my computer making ratio of actual child pornography in my collection to non-illegal pornography 1 in 2000. This ratio comparably is 24 in 2000( or 3 in 250 in simplest terms)  if you consider the slim possibility that all images they said I had were indeed child pornography (some were young adults posing as children for example).  They did not care that I had an very small percentage of child porn compared to regular porn. They only wanted an easy conviction.  It took me nearly 2 years of therapy to finally take responsibility for my role in this crime and to take real efforts to stem my pornography addiction (which is what I really needed).

I was convicted of one count of possession of child pornography in federal court (since state did not conduct their search of my computer properly) in May 2008.  This conviction was less than two weeks after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems.  in 2013, not long after reaffirming my faith in God and working tirelessly to beat my addiction to pornography, I earned a second degree in Psychology with the hopes of becoming a therapist for other offenders.  In Louisiana, I could not find a program where Sex Offender laws did not bar me from earning my Masters with the needed clinical work for licensing.  I still hold hopes of becoming a therapist in a field where I have a unique understanding that non-offenders are by definition handicapped in fully understanding. Until laws change, those hopes are on hold indefinitely.

My story leads me to believe that there are other men out there who are in the same boat.  Although my therapy is long over, I still go to group therapy twice a month as stipulated by federal probation (I am on year 6 of 10 of supervised release).  SAFER Louisiana is a topic that comes up often in group and I was shocked Tuesday by the approach of two members who were also convicted of computer-based offenses.  We had a discussion about how these crimes we are convicted of portray us with the assumption of having tendencies towards pedophilia (If not assumed to be true pedophiles) when in fact other issues were underlying the offense.  They pleaded with me to find a way to change these assumptions which struck my heart like Robin Hood splitting his own arrow on a perfect mark.

This got me thinking more about how many other RSOs fall under this umbrella.  All 3 of us had very minor factors in our offenses compared to many high profile cases that are publicized.  None of us actually touched a minor (as adults),  yet we are considered tier 2 offenders where people who have actually had hands-on action (non-aggravated) are usually tier 1. From our standpoint, as downloaders (not distributors or producers) of a small amount of child pornography, we view someone actually molesting a juvenile as a more heinous offender. The distinction between tiers does not make sense unless you consider where the assumption of our level of “threat to society” comes from.  I had to share with them what I have learned (sometimes reluctantly) over the last 6 years being focused on Sex Offender therapy both in practice and in schooling.

Please note, for the purpose of this post and for the sake of simplicity, when I say objectification of women, I refer to the vast majority of offenders (and specifically those discussed in this post) who are heterosexual men.  I am aware, and do not discount, that there are other cases that include women viewing child pornography as well as gay, lesbian, and bisexual situations involving juveniles.

Research shows that prolonged usage of pornography leads to a high level of objectification (viewing people as sex objects vs. human beings who deserve the utmost respect).  Research also indicates that objectification is significantly correlated (keep in mind correlation does not always equate to causation) to committing sexual offenses.  This leads to a logical (though potentially fallacious) assumption that people who view child pornography are far more likely to view children as objects and thus be more apt to use them accordingly.  In this light, it makes some sense that lawmakers view us as tier 2 offenders whereas situational molestation or statutory rape offenses are considered tier 1.  The problem with this line of thinking is it assumes that we are not capable of changing our ways of thinking, and that we are predetermined to continue to objectify women.  It is but a simple step to also assume, since we actually viewed any amount of child pornography at all, that we are also predetermined to objectify children.  This can be true in some cases;  But I believe with all my heart that, with proper therapeutic techniques and a sincere willingness to change,  viewers of child pornography (this can also extend to RSOs in general) are not only capable of obliterating their own sexual deviancy, but actually becoming less sexually deviant than those who have never been convicted of a sex offense.

Since I consider myself a therapeutic success (admittedly subject to bias), I will add my thoughts on this matter.  We are much more likely to continue to objectify women than we are to objectify children (assuming that was even present in the first place).  I believe future therapy for our types of offenses should include rigorous therapy for sex addiction and training ourselves to view women far more respectfully than society in general dictates (feminists can agree with me on this statement!).  Prolonged effort to avoid objectification is paramount to success.  This is one of the many reasons I desire to become a therapist.  I desire the redemption of all offenders (not just sex offenders) with all my heart and every fiber of my being and want to extend the frontier of offender therapy.  True Empathy for sex offenders is arguably not achievable by non-offenders and I sincerely believe having someone in the field who has actually walked the walk of a sex offender is crucial to the success of treatment in general.

My answer to the topic of this post, “Child Pornography: Preferred Offender or Situational Offender?” is that it depends on the individual offender as well as their ability and/or willingness to accept responsibility for their role in their offense and make a concerted effort to change themselves.  This can be aided by improved therapeutic techniques focused on the many factors involving the individual offender including past victimization, severity of offense, personality, religious beliefs, familial support, and so on.  Lumping us all in one basket and making blanket assumptions on our risk level as a collective is not and will never be the answer (Even though it is the path of least resistance for lawmakers)!  Therapists need to go beyond “Best practices” of making sure RSOs take responsibility for their role in their offense and also “Meet them where they are.

 written by Discarded Asset. on August 19, 2016.

 

 

 

 

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Employment for Ex-Offenders? Hope for the Felon (but Not the Sex Offender)

I read a story in the paper today about Jeff Landry, the Louisiana AG, hiring a convicted felon, Quendi Baloney, to work in his office. Despite the usual cringe I feel when I see his name, the news story itself really got me thinking. I’ll make no bones about it, I strongly dislike Landry’s politics. I see him as carrying on the same legacy of poor policies and practices as our last AG Buddy Caldwell. Veritably ignoring the legitimate responsibilities of the Attorney General’s Office, Landry continues to misspend prodigious amounts of tax money on cyber crime entrapment and extortion schemes. Instead of tracking down and arresting the people actually producing CP and rescuing these abused children, the AG office distributes online porn bait to create new criminals in our communities. This makes their “cybercrime unit” look bad-ass on paper. Appealing to traditional ultra-conservative peers and constituents is a well known super-objective for the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office. So why did Landry do something as socially progressive as employing a felon?

While the hiring of an ex-felon sets an excellent positive example in our state, Landry’s
action was not altruistically motivated. In truth, the ex-felon he hired happened to be the daughter of another politician who’s endorsement he badly needed. (Did someone say “conflict of interest?”) Landry actually broke the policies of his own office, part of our legal branch of government, when he hired Baloney. He didn’t fight to change the agency policy barring felons from employment. He didn’t pave the way for more qualified people with criminal histories to find job within his office. He simply chose to ignore the rule creating a barrier between himself and a self-serving scheme.

Yet despite the dust being kicked up over the usual corrupt practices in our government, there is a silver lining. An ex-offender is gainfully employed. While her position may only last as long as Landry’s tenure, her future prospects are much improved. The public is witnessing an elected official giving a great job to a felon. While the story eventually reveals this gesture to be highly suspect, the headline does contain the words, “Jeff Landry hired..” and “looking past her criminal record.”

Hey, I count progress in pennies.

My feelings about Landry aside, hiring former offenders is a good thing. The more resilient of the people who have navigated the devastating consequences of a criminal conviction often develop characteristics very desirable in a employee. As Quendi Baloney says, “(My past has made me) a stronger, harder working ethical adult with much more to share with my family, my employer and our community as a whole.” And you know what? I believe her. My personal experience has created a positive bias in this direction. I believe the under and unemployed ex-offender class has great potential to become an asset to our society. Your worth, knowledge, talents and experience are not erased with a conviction. Nor is a person’s ability to learn skills diminished.

I work part-time for a prison reentry program. I know first hand how important community reintegration is for felons. (For both the incarcerated and those disenfranchised by probation) Among other things, statistics draw clear lines of cause and effect between steady employment and reduced recidivism/increased quality of life. We also know an offender’s connection to the community, the strength of their family bonds and their access to support and assistance programs are true game changers in the prevention of reoffending. As an advocate for the previously incarcerated, I’m a big supporter of employer incentives, protective statutes, nonprofit services and public awareness campaigns that increase employment opportunities for this class. The politics behind the story I read today are shady, but if I squint my eyes this article appears as evidence of society’s willingness to incorporate people with a criminal history. I cheer when this cause is promoted, even if it’s a vicarious endorsement.

Though America has a very far way to go, I’ve seen advancements in many areas of this issue lately. Employers who hire ex-felons can get free protective bonds from the government. (Reducing the potential employer’s fear of suffering financial damage if the “ex-con” reoffends on the job) There is now an unprecedented amount of resources for reentry programming coming from the Federal government. Private foundations are making reentry grants a priority. Social concern for the previously incarcerated is the cause de rigueur. Public perceptions are changing and people with records are slowly moving toward employment. As a person with a felony conviction myself, one would assume this makes me feel pretty confident about my future. But I’m not. None of this progress applies to me.

Registered citizens are conspicuously left out of this entire equation. While I celebrate what the new state law, “Ban the Box” could potentially do for many of my clients, I am also struggling to accept the other laws passed to increase employment restrictions on registered “sex offenders.” As I secure educational grants to provide IT job training programs for prisoners I also deal with the fallout from a new notification law for RSOs that jeopardizes the security and confidentially of my own internet accounts. My agency helps ex-offenders secure access to resources like public housing, food stamps and tuition assistance but as a registered citizen I am forever banned from these benefits. This exclusion isn’t just the result of public prejudice, it’s a statutorily mandated segregation of those with sex related convictions from the rest of the population.

I think it’s scary, no, terrifying, how low-risk registered people (who make up the majority of the SOR) are being divided from the ex-offender class in addition to being quarantined from the general public. Adding insult to injury, the vitriol directed at the registered and the socially acceptable subjugation and disenfranchisement we suffer is based on a massive and abominable body of misinformation, manipulative propaganda and damaging myths.

Every person found guilty of any one of the myriad of “sex crimes” (the absurd variety of offenses under the umbrella are staggering) on the books is labeled (branded, marked) a “sex offender.” This label is a public declaration that fuels the perceptions of society that as a sex offender is highly dangerous and consequently unemployable. “The danger that the individual is perceived to pose is especially focused on being a danger to children. Reoffending seems to be assumed.”* (Citation below) The blanket sex offender label has relegated over 850,000 Americans to thrash heap. They are the unforgivable and the unredeemable. They have no value. Worse than criminal, the registered are understood to be immoral, compulsively deviant and dangerous. The policies of our government reinforce these myths as fact.

The average American believes the registered are the “enemy within” because the government tells them so. Why does the construction of more and more laws to restrict sex offenders continue? Why did the US institute the most massive civilian surveillance program (SORNA) the public has ever seen? Why the whole-sale violation of constitutional rights for almost one million citizens? How can any of this be happening unless the fears over sex offenders are based 100% on facts? The average American can’t be blamed for drawing this conclusion. Traditional offenders are released back into society, allowed to start their life again. This makes them candidates for the more socially conscious of potential employers. But even the boss with a heart of gold buys the negative hype about sex offenders. Is it any wonder no one is hiring any sex offenders in the want ads today?

The REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER is currently the most reviled of Americans. Perhaps, DOMESTIC TERRORIST would trump the registered label, though this may be arguable as well. Look at the true life tales told in media and the dramas played out in our popular entertainment. A traditional ex-offender may find himself playing the hero in a feel good story, à la Shawshank Redemption or the comeback of Michael Vick. No way in hell a sex offender will be cast in those roles. True story or fiction, society has no desire to connect to the humanity of a sex offender. People don’t want to hear about a sex offender finding success or happiness. Sex offenders don’t deserve joy or freedom much less a job. The disparaging difference in the perception of a felon and the felony sex offender is unfair but it is a reality. The plight of the registered is a narrative with little in common to that of the traditional felon. The evidence of their progress and the gains they achieve are not ours.

So, while I congratulate Quendi Baloney on securing a $50,000+ job with the Attorney General’s Office in fraud control despite having 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft on her record…..I also feel feel slightly jealous, and very much left out. There is indeed a tale of two felons in America. For everyone’s sake I hope traditional felons continue to make strides and will enjoy a brighter future. For my own sake, I just daydream of a social advancement from sex offender gang to the regular felon club.

No offense to my low risk registered brothers and sisters out there but I’d trade your company for that of the drug dealers, thieves and violent thugs any day. Im not saying these guys are better than you. On the contrary, low risk offenders represent a fairly stand-up group of folks. Most of the registered only offended once. Outside of this offense they lived law abiding lives. Most of them had no criminal intent. And all of the registered participated in therapies to help accept responsibility for their crimes and gain empathy for victims. Traditional felons rarely do this. The precarious access to the limited freedoms a sex offender does is contingent on their remorse, by sincerely convincing everyone they would never offend again. If you meet one of us, you know how much we regret our actions. This isn’t true of a traditional felon outside of a parole hearing. Yep, the regular felon is a suspect group, one must accept incorporate them into their life with caution. But, oh how I envy them. Lord, I want to be in that number. Please let me wake up and be a plain old felon!!

*Incarcerated Sex Offenders’ Expectations for Reentry
Richard Tewksbury and Heith Copes