I'm not going to talk about the debate tonight. Not here, at least. I'm confident the rest of the Internet can pick up my slack, as I'm sure most of the blogosphere is awash with the names Obama and McCain. I'd like to call attention to a name not being mentioned.
Ken Oswalt, a prosecutor from Licking County, Ohio has pursued criminal charges against a fifteen year old girl, who is now under house arrest. She has been charged with production, dissemination, and distribution of child pornography, which sounds terrible until you learn that the material in question consisted of nude photographs that she took of herself with her cell phone and passed around to her friends.
Actually, it's still fucking terrible.
This girl is being charged as an adult, and if convicted she could be forced to register as a sex offender for twenty years. In case anyone missed it, on its very face this is fucking absurd. The very fact that she's appearing in court means that she's a child in the eyes of the law, but according to this asshole who might become DA some day if he can prove that he's TOUGH ON CRIME, the "crime" she committed makes her an adult.
The twisted paradigm of our criminal justice system that allows children as young as 10 to be tried as adults aside, is anyone else out there angry?
If I asked any of you out there what the purpose was of laws against child pornography, I'd bet it wouldn't take much thought. To prevent the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors. To Protect The Children. I call on ANYONE to come up with a good argument as to just how this case furthers that goal.
Oswalt has since been to area high schools to warn against the impact that this sort of behavior can have on the rest of someone's life. Which strikes me as well, pretty fucking twisted, given that the power and authority to ruin the lives of the students he's lecturing rests firmly in his hands. It leads one to wonder if any of the students called him out on his behavior.
This sort of thing has happened before. A quick Google search will reveal dozens of cases wherein minor children have been charged with production of child pornography for taking pictures of themselves. The relevant statutes don't even require that the material be distributed-- If somehow the authorities had discovered that this girl possessed nude stills of herself, she could have been charged even if no one else had seen them. Also of note is the fact that in terms of legal defense, her parents would be on firmer ground than her if they had taken the photographs because they could claim that they were taken for medical purposes. No such provision, even under that same rationale, exists for a minor.
So if this has happened before, why hasn't the inherent and unjust absurdity been addressed? Because the people with the power to right this wrong are fucking cowards. But that cowardice is the product of an electorate that stands perpetually ready to grab its torches and pitchforks if ANYONE suggests that laws regarding sex offenders are misguided. Any attempt at sane discussion is shouted down with a zeal and fervor more worthy of Orwell than an allegedly free society.
At least one Ohio state representative spoke up this time. State Rep. Jay Hottinger, a Republican from Newark and the author of Ohio's Megan's Law analogue, said that the case did not reflect the intention of the statute. But even he doesn't quite get it.
Clearly it was in an illegal act. Clearly it was an unacceptable act, and there needs to be consequences from that, but we need to make sure the punishment is a reasonable punishment.In the United States of America, the law of the land, above all others, is the Constitution. And under our Constitution, our rights to free expression cannot be abridged unless they stand to bring harm to another. It was to that note that legendary Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said. "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." He also said that "State interference is an evil, where it cannot be shown to be a good."
All of which isn't to say that this girl should be immune from any consequences. But this is a matter that involves her, the school whose code of conduct was almost certainly broken in the course of events, the students she sent the photos to, and all of the parents. Anything further isn't just excessive, it's unconstitutional.
It should go without saying here that I'm not defending child pornography. But because the torches and pitchforks get particularly sharp and hot on the Internet, let me say that again. Child pornography has no place in our society, and the exploitation of children is a serious crime which requires the tireless efforts on the part of lawmakers, prosecutors, and police to combat. But who are we protecting by sending this girl to jail? Who are we protecting when we make her register as a sex offender until she turns 35? Is this case anything other than a fascist looking to "punish the slut?"
Absent any reasonable answer to those questions, this prosecution is, as defined by one of our most historically influential judges, and as defined by the principles of a free society, an evil. An evil which, to grudgingly borrow another cliche, prevails when good people fail to act. None of us will sit in that jury box, and most of us aren't from Ohio, but we owe it to our principles, our country, and yes, our children, to decry this evil. Even if there are those who would demonize us for it. Tell them to get the fuck out of our country and stop polluting our democracy with self-aggrandizing zealotry.