Category Archives: sex crimes

Some recent blogging from Sex In The Public Square (dot org)

I realize I’ve been neglecting this space. I’ve been spending all my time either at work or over at Sex In The Public Square (dot org). If you enjoy my blogging that’s a good place to look for me these days. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to over there, here are some glimpses:

A very strange story about a sexual assault case

Amber Rhea sent me a link to a news story about a very bizarre ruling in a sexual assault case. It is a strange story and I’m wondering if it has been accurately reported. It sounds too awful to be true. If it is being accurately reported, it is beyond outrageous.Here is what we can know based on the news story:

Melanie Ross alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Daniel Day at his Mercer University fraternity house in 2003. (According to the article, Day comes from a powerful Georgia family. His father is Burke Day, a State Rep and he is of the Days Inn Days.)

Melanie Ross is brought a civil suit against Day because of the assault.

A Bibb County judge ruled in the civil suit that the lacerations she had did not prove rape, and that she needed to provide a list of her sex partners because “only virgins can bring a case for sexual battery in civil court.” In addition, she was ordered to pay $150,000 of Day’s attorney fees. (READ MORE at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

When is it okay for faculty and students to be sexual in the same place?

If you ask it that way it’s kind of an odd question, isn’t it? I mean we’re basically sexual all the time. We just aren’t always acting on our sexual desires. But we are not without our sexuality. Still, any time personal sexuality makes itself visible in relationships like those between coworkers or between students and teachers things get very muddy very quickly

I ask the question because of this story. I read it about it first on the dankprofessor’s blog. (The dankprofessor is Barry Dank, and he writes frequently about the politics of sex on college campuses.)

Briefly the story is this:

A creative writing professor at University of New Mexico, posed on a BDSM web site in the company of at least one of of her graduate students. The web site was for an organization called People Exchanging Power, a national network of support groups for BDSM-oriented people, and for those curious about BDSM that Lisa Chavez*, the professor, learned about from two of her grad students. (The web site for the Albequerque branch does seem to focus heavily on phone fantasy exporation, as indicated in the news article.) It seems that after that, Chavez posed for some pictures that were shown on the web site, and at least one of those pictures included one of the grad students. An investigation was prompted, somehow, at the University, and the deputy provost found no use of college resources, no undue influence, no hostile environment, and no coercion. He said that while he thought she’d exercised poor judgement, that the incident “did not rise to the level of calling into question her ‘unfitness for duty’.” (Read more at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

We also have:

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Filed under BDSM, Carol Queen, Chris Hall, Daniel Day, Melanie Ross, pornography, public discourse, rape, sex, sex crimes, Sex in the Public Square

Genarlow Wilson is Free

I posted yesterday at SexInThePublicSquare.org that he had been ordered freed, but this morning’s Times has photos of him outside the prison. It’s about time!

That’s the good news, and I wish the best to Wilson and his family. We’ve been pulling for Wilson for a long time here at Sex in the Public Square. And we know it is not easy to put a life back together after spending time in prison, and Wilson’s prospects — which had looked bright — have been damaged. We hope he finds the kind of external support and inner resources necessary to make things work.

At the same time, we need to remember that Genarlow Wilson was not the only one. The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran this piece yesterday describing how other teens have been caught up in sex offender registration rules for consensual sexual activity.

We need a serious discussion in this country teens and sex. Right now we’re in the untenable position of denying teens sex education, thus making it very difficult for them to make smart sexual decisions, and then treating them like criminals when they have sex.

We need to treat teens like they are people with rights, and we need to treat sex as a legitimate human interest. There are lots of ways that teens need support as they develop their sexualities. Draconian enforcement of age-of-consent laws is not one of them.

UPDATE: I’ve created a forum on SexInThePublicSquare.org where we can have that discussion. Click here if you’d like to join in

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Filed under culture, Genarlow Wilson, moral panic, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sex crimes, sex education, sexuality, sexuality and age

See no evil, see it everywhere: The cloak of invisibility renders child porn more terrifying and harder to do anything about

Debbie Nathan raises a taboo but important point yesterday morning: We must be allowed to see the child pornography that exists. Why? Because we can’t accurately report on that which we can’t see. It’s a simple and obvious observation, really, and profound in its implications. She is writing specifically about her investigation of the Kurt Eichenwald/Justin Berry story (PDF from Counterpunch), but the point applies broadly and it deserves to be amplified.

When we fight against sweatshops and child labor we demand to be allowed access to the factories where the abuses are occurring. We photograph and document what we see. Accurately documenting the problem, we provide evidence and ammunition to those who are fighting it. With the problem of child pornography, we are not allowed to do that. Even when the pornography in question has been entered into evidence in a trial, meaning that it has become part of the public record, the Federal government has ruled that the public can be prevented from seeing it.

In fact, when defending against charges of child pornography, defendants and their lawyers have been refused adequate access to evidence. For example, in David Westerfield’s 2002 murder trial in California the state argued that it was was prohibited from providing Westerfield’s defense team copies of child porn images taken from his computer because the law allowed for duplication of child pornography only for prosecutorial purposes. An appeals court upheld that interpretation but was ordered by the state’s supreme court to vacate its ruling and ultimately the state had to provide copies of the material (PDF).

Who gains by preventing reporters and researchers (along with everybody else) from witnessing the fact of child pornography? Those who benefit from our “culture of fear.” It is much easier to keep people outraged and afraid if you can make assertions without providing evidence. There is no limit then to how awful you can make something seem. And the thing that is too terrible to be seen is terrifying indeed. And how easily we can be convinced that it is every bit as terrible as “they say it is.” After all, what basis do we have to question the claim? And there may be reasons why law enforcement especially doesn’t want their claims questioned.

Recall Judith Levine‘s Harmful to Minors (one of the most important books for those who really care about the health and well-being of kids and teenagers). It is a brilliant and courageous piece of investigative journalism and in the chapter on child pornography and pedophilia panic she highlights another reason why, perhaps, law enforcement does not want journalists to see their evidence:

“Aficionados and vice cops concede that practically all the sexually explicit images of children circulating cybernetically are the same stack of yellowing pages found at the back of those X-rated shops, only digitized. These pictures tend to be twenty to fifty years old, made overseas, badly re-reproduced, and for the most part pretty chaste.” (p. 36)

She continues, asking who is putting these old pictures online in the first place, and finds evidence, including a statement by an LAPD officer, that most of the actual transactions where child porn is bought and sold online are managed by law enforcement:

“Virtually all advertising, distribution, and sales to people considered potential lawbreakers were done by the federal government, in sting operations against people who have demonstrated (through, for instance, membership in NAMBLA) what agents regard as a predisposition to commit a crime.” (p. 37)

Journalists need access to what is being called child pornography so that we, the public in whose names anti child porn laws are being enforced, can know exactly what that means. Because I certainly have been of the impression that there are tons of new images of kids being abused or exploited sexually uploaded every day. It seems this is probably not the case, and yet I have no independent way to confirm or reject that assertion without breaking the law.

Defining the scope of child pornography is is especially important given that what constitutes child pornography is not as clear as we might be led to think. For example, just a few weeks ago a photograph by Nan Goldin was seized from the English art gallery where it was to be displayed because there were questions about whether or not it constituted child pornography. Patrick Califia, Judith Levine and Debbie Nathan have all documented cases where parents and artists have seen their lives turned upside down because photos of their own naked children have been misconstrued as pornography. With child pornography we can’t even apply Potter Stewart’s famous “I know it when I see it” criterion because we aren’t allowed to see it in the first place. We’re left with, “You’ll know it because I’ll tell you so, and I’ll just assure you that it’s every bit as horrible as you can possibly imagine.”

The opposite is also possible of course. That is, it is easier to render a problem invisible when that becomes useful to do, because troubling images aren’t burned into people’s minds. Photographs and visual representations are powerful. Think about how people responded to the photos from the Abu Ghraib prison. Stories about those abuses had been reported months earlier, but there was not a general sense of outrage until the photographs were released in the press. Because we don’t have such images burned into our minds, when we want to shift people’s attention from child porn as a threat all we need to do is stop talking about it for a while.

Children do not gain when journalists who are reporting on child porn are prohibited from seeing the evidence of the problem on which they are reporting. In fact, they are worse off. Children who have been made subjects of child pornography need to have their identities protected, certainly, so that they are not harmed in the reporting process. But that does not require complete denial of access to the images. But children on the whole are worse off when we are unable to understand the threats they face. If child pornography is a significant problem, we need to research it, document it, and work to stop it. But we can’t do that in the face of fear-mongering and the panic that ensues. We cannot do that if we can’t talk calmly and rationally about evidence. Ultimately, if we are going to protect children from being victimized by child porn, we need to see what it is, know the scope of the problem, and then address it strategically.

I am not arguing that child pornography should be legal. Nor am I arguing that pornographic images of children should be treated cavalierly. Quite the contrary: I think that they need to be treated very seriously, which may include viewing them in order to accurately report on the problem.

Because to be honest, when my government says “trust us, we’ll tell you what major threats you face” I can’t say that its track record gives me any confidence that they’ll be right.

This piece is also published on our community site, Sex in the Public Square dot Org. Haven’t been over to see us? Drop by soon!

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Filed under pornography, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sex crimes

Interpreting the new research on child pornography use and child molestation

The New York Times reports today on research that demonstrates a very high correlation between use of child pornography and the actual molesting of children. The Times did a good job of reporting why it is so important to be cautious about interpreting a study like this one. And it also does a good job of reporting on the need for continued research on child molestation.

Because of the tremendous moral panic risks that are attached to publishing anything about htis kind of research I am going to focus entirely on the cautions. There will be lots of voices out there focusing on the tentative conclusions of the study itself, so here lets just focus on the limitations:

1. Remember when thinking about these results that they were produced using only already-incarcerated men convicted of child pornography charges. These men may well not be representative of all people who have ever downloaded or viewed child pornography.

2. The men who were studied were not only incarcerated, they were voluntary participants in treatment programs for sex offenders. It is quite reasonable to ask whether men who volunteer for sex offender treatment are like other users of child pornography. There are several ways in which they could be different. They could be more likely to be men who had in fact molested children and thus believed they could benefit from treatment, for example.

3. The Times reported that the study found that 85% of the child-porn convicts in their sample also admitted to “acts of sexual abuse with minors,from inappropriate touching to rape”. But we can’t tell what to make of this statistic. We don’t know whether the use of child pornography came after the acts of sexual contact with kids or before it. (The study has been at least temporarily blocked from publication by the Federal Bureau of Prisons whose psychologists conducted the research, so we can’t yet evaluate it in its entirely.) Given the lack of complete information, it would be dangerous to interpret the statistic reported in the Times. Correlations are notoriously misinterpretable. For example, what if there is a correlation between use of child pornography and likelihood of molesting children. Does it matter whether it is the inclination toward molesting children that causes the use of child pornography, or whether it is the use of the child pornography that causes the molestation? Of course it does. It also matters whether there is some external variable that causes a person to be inclined toward both of those other activities.

The limitations of the study that the Times reported today should not be cause for putting down the research itself. Rather, they should be used as a guide for interpreting the findings and for highlighting where more study needs to be done.

The Times has, in the past, discussed the difficulties with studying sex offenders. While some of the challenges are methodological, and some are ethical, in an article published in March, a professor from a law school in Minnesota pointed out that some are cultural:

Professor Janus said he hoped for “an explosion of knowledge” about how to prevent sexual violence before it happened, which he said would prevent far more sex crimes than civilly committing offenders.

That sort of research is unlikely to happen in the United States, Dr. Berlin and other experts said, because so many Americans believe that the only investment in sex offenders should be punitive.

Research on sex offenders, on their treatment, and on preventing sex crimes is all very important and needs to be encouraged. It’s difficult to encourage research in an environment like ours, where findings — whatever they indicate — are so potentially explosive because of the moral panic that characterizes our approach to policy around kids and sex and crime. If as Dr. Berlin suggests many of us believe that punishment is the only thing to consider when we address sex offenders, we will never get any clear understanding of how to prevent those crimes in the first place. Such an attitude essentially guarantees that more kids will be harmed and more adults will become criminals.

In encouraging more research on sex offenders and sex crimes, we need to keep the following goals in mind:

1. To develop prevention strategies that work so that harm is avoided in the first place.
2. To develop treatment strategies that work to reduce rates of reoffending.
3. To better understand adult sexuality, childhood and teen sexuality, and to better understand consent so that we can distinguish between criminal acts with real victims, and loving, affectionate or simply playful acts that harm no one.

This last is a controversial goal to be sure. When Bruce Rind and colleagues published an article in Psychological Bulletin (a peer-reviewed and widely respected academic journal) in which they found that not every instance of sex between a child and an adult caused harm to the child, they were the subject of a firestorm that even led to their being “unanimously condemned by Congress.” And when Judith Levine published Harmful to Minors, perhaps the clearest discussion of kids, sex, and policy out there, she writes that “overnight I became the author of ‘the pedophilia book,’ even though the book only touches on pedophilia in a few of its 300+ pages. University of Minnesota Press, which published the first edition, was overwhelmed with calls “demanding that the press’s management resign and Harmful to Minors — and maybe its author — be burned.” (p. 229, Afterword, Harmful to Minors, 2002 edition.) The book went on to win the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and its 2002 edition, published by Thunder’s Mouth Press, has a foreword by Dr. Joycelyn Elders.

Yet this last goal is ultimately important if we are to avoid the kinds of harm we cause to children, teens, and adults when we make policy based on fear rather than on evidence. Prevention, treatment, and a clearer understanding of the sexuality of kids, teens, and adults are all essential if we’re going to get a handle on sex crimes.

This entry is published on SexinthePublicSquare.org and also SexinthePublicSquare on WordPress.com

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Filed under culture, moral panic, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex crimes, sexuality and age

Genarlow Wilson is not yet free

Many many thanks to our indefatigable virtual-girl-reporter JanieBelle for her continued updates on the Genarlow Wilson debacle. She’s been leaving her updates in the comments on this post, but I thought I’d summarize here.

Last Thursday Wilson’s defense team was in court before Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson asking that he be released because he was being improperly imprisoned. This was a habeas corpus action. The judge issued his ruling on Monday,and according to a CNN story pointed out by JanieBelle the ruling stated that:

Genarlow Wilson’s punishment was cruel and unusual and voided it on constitutional grounds. The judge reduced the sentence to one year and said Wilson should not be put on Georgia’s sex offender registry, as the old law required.

Georgia’s Attorney General Thurbert Baker immediately appealed. At issue according to AG Wilson is whether the Superior Court judge has the authority to modify a sentence passed by a trial court. On a habeas corpus action a judge can throw out a sentence, but he generally can’t modify it. (Tom, do please consider stepping in here to keeping me from drowning. I’m just about over my head!)

So, Genarlow Wilson remains in prison despite what sounded like good news earlier in the day, and the lawyers will fight over an important procedural point that may not lead to justice when what is really needed is a quick path to a just and rational outcome.

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Filed under civil rights, culture, discrimination, Genarlow Wilson, inequality, News and politics, public discourse, racism, sex, sex and the law, sex crimes, sexuality and age

Sex Ed(itorials) in the New York Times.

The New York Times had two important editorials in the past three days dealing with important issues of sex and policy.

Today‘s took up the case, again, of Genarlow Wilson, the young man in Georgia who is still serving time in prison for the consensual oral sex he had when he was 17 with a girl who was two years younger. Specifically, the Times chastises the DA in the case for continuing to focus on the rape that occurred at that party (of which Wilson was acquitted) and even circulating the video that was made of the rape, as part of his lobbying effort against Genarlow Wilson’s release. This after the legislature in Georgia corrected its own laws to make the sex that Wilson had a misdemeanor rather than a felony as it was when he had it. (My other posts on Wilson’s case here, here, and here.

And this past Saturday, the Times called on Congress to drop the “abstinence only” and encourage teaching about abstinence to be a part of a comprehensive sex education program. This after a major study, mandated by Congress, of four abstinence only programs implemented in middle schools showed absolutely no impact on the choices that subjects made about whether and when to engage in sex. Saturday’s editorial mentions that at least 9 states have given up the federal matching grants because they could not, in good conscience, bring themselves to “forbid the promotion of contraceptive use and require teaching that sex outside marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects” which is what the federal program requires.

It’s good to see sensible sex talk in the mainstream press, and since it happens not-as-frequently as I’d like, I’ve decided to spotlight it when I can. If you come across an editorial about sex that you think is particularly appropriate for this site, please feel free to send it along! (Use the Email Elizabeth contact form.)

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Filed under abstinence only, Education, Genarlow Wilson, Health, News and politics, public discourse, sex and health, sex crimes, sex education, sexuality and age

Coming Soon …

I know, I know, I just got back, and now here I am headed out again for a couple of days. I thought it might be nice to let you know what I’m working on so that you’ll know what’s coming up when I return:

  • A discussion on the treatment of sex offenders, specifically dealing with the recent signing of a law in New York allowing for ‘civil commitment’ of certain sex offenders after their prison terms are up. I’ll be asking whether we should treat pedophiles like regular criminals or like people who are considered too disturbed to be responsible their crimes, but who need treatment and to be confined. It seems in New York we want to have it both ways.
  • Some happier posts! My mother says I don’t write enough upbeat stuff, so in the coming week look for a review of the book “Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex but were afraid they’d ask.” And also look for an interview with the guys from Nekked, a great electronica/pop band that I first mentioned back in September. (I’m thinking about making book reviews a more regular feature of Sex in the Public Square. Feel free to send recommendations. I’m thinking about books that contribute something interesting and useful to public discourse around sexuality, and that have a down-to-earth, sex-positive spin.)
  • A first post in a series about monogamy. Specifically, I’m talking about the kinds of nonmonogamous commitments people make in serious long term sexual relationships. (If you have a nonmonogamous relationship you’d like to talk about, drop me an email using the link on the sidebar!)

So that’s what’s coming up. If you’ve had a comment moderated and posted already, you can comment without moderation while I’m away. (Otherwise comments will be held until I can get to a computer.)

I’ll be back soon. Be good! (That means you, JanieBelle!)
Elizabeth

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Filed under book reviews, marriage, nonmonogamy, polyamory, sex, sex crimes, sex offenders