Thursday, April 24, 2014

Capitol Punishment: The Troubling Consequences of Federal Child Pornography Laws

Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Featured Articles, Press |
Posted: Updated:

Co-authored by Galen Baughman


Until Dec. 11, 2013, Jesse Ryan Loskarn was a popular chief of staff for a Tennessee senator. But on that winter day, police broke down the door of his rowhouse in southeast Washington, D.C., and searched for the illegal digital items that had led them there: explicit videos of boys posing nude and engaging in sexual acts.

On Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, Ryan was found dead in his basement.

On Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, there was a twist. Ryan’s mother posted his suicide note online, revealing the great complexity to his story. He wasn’t a faceless headline, wasn’t a cautionary tale, wasn’t a vague story of justice. He became what most people didn’t want him to be: a human being.

What most of us have trouble comprehending — an argument all but forbidden in our current climate — is that Ryan could be understood as a victim himself. For his suicide note reveals a stunning truth: his own history of sexual abuse, one that had far-reaching, complex emotional effects.


The way the government punishes the purchasing, downloading, possession, or distribution of child pornography has become increasingly draconian. According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the length of federal child pornography sentences has increased 500-percent in the last 15 years. The federal mandatory minimum is five years for receipt, distribution, possession with intent to distribute or sell, transportation, or production of child pornography — per image. This conduct could range anywhere from producing explicit images of the violent abuse of children to accidentally clicking on the wrong link or inadvertently downloading a video on a file-sharing network. Yet law enforcement (and society generally) conflates these situations; child pornography becomes a loaded and intimidating institution that needs to be crushed.

The legislative scheme underlying current child pornography laws in the U.S. goes much further than addressing the actual harm caused by viewing or possessing such images. Rather, these sentences address imaginary assertions that those who view or download such illicit images are also guilty of undiscovered abuse in the past or will commit heinous contact offenses in the future.

In 2011 a federal appeals court called into question the justice of current federal sentences for child pornography possession. Current sentencing rules routinely result in prison terms that meet or exceed the 20-year statutory maximum for the charges, regardless of whether the person has done anything more than just look at the wrong photo online. The appeals court viewed such punishment as “outrageously high.”

In a statement from the United States Sentencing Commission last February announcing their report on child pornography, Judge Saris concluded, “Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision.” Despite the strong evidence calling into question the rationale and effects of current U.S. sentencing policy, thousands of people continue to be sentenced under these extreme penalty schemes every year.

At the dawn of the digital age, sex offender hysteria has fueled a new form of witch hunt. Such has historically been the case for groups identified as an emerging threat to society, whether they are composed of the namesake “witches,” who were actually mentally ill or socially ostracized women, gay men in the mid-20th century, or alleged satanic child molestation cultists decades later.

Traditional subjects of witch hunts are easy targets: Already marginalized and disliked by society, they become demonized and portrayed as evil on an unearthly plane. People can slip into this category quickly; with today’s Internet, it’s as easy for a person to download a sexualized image or video of a minor as it is for law enforcement to track down and identify those doing the downloading.

As with the war on drugs, the lowest-hanging fruit is easiest to pick. Law enforcement has found it far easier to track down low-level users and dealers than to stem the large-scale creation and distribution of narcotics. In the war on sex offenders, it’s easier to prosecute teens for sexting or someone for looking at the wrong image online than it is to address the contact sexual abuse of children. At a time when parents feel more insecure than ever about the dangers facing their children, the prospect of the Internet — a space new to this generation, full of dark places and unknown threats — has inspired genuine fear, born perhaps of ignorance more than anything else.


So what happens when someone is arrested for possession of child pornography? They feel as if their lives have been ruined, that there is no going back to a normal life, no way out, no hope for understanding or empathy from anyone in their lives. They are immediately fired from their jobs. Human relationships crumble, and families are shattered. They are almost invariably convicted and sent to prison and are often placed in imposed solitary confinement, which may be physically safe but can be psychologically damaging. In prison, child pornography offenders are the lowest on the totem pole, both ostracized and targeted. They are often subjected to abuse from inmates and staff alike and are sometimes even killed. Having a same-sex victim comes with its own baggage and set of biases, as one now becomes a double offender, transgressing social boundaries of age as well as gender.

Once released from prison, child porn offenders are placed on a sex offender registry, many for the rest of their lives. Currently nearly 750,000 people are listed as sex offenders on the public registry.

The rules of the registry make it nearly impossible to find work or housing, and this is even harder for those on parole and probation. They are publicly listed on the Internet with a photo, address and description of the offense, which leaves the offenders and their families vulnerable to harassment, violence, and sometimes murder. Recently two registrants were beaten and killed in New Hampshire for being publicly listed as sex offenders. A registrant in South Carolina and his wife were killed by a white supremacist in their homes, once again for being listed on the public registry. Suicide as a consequence of sex offender registries is also common. Last year, in a profoundly tragic situation, a 15-year-old boy in Alabama hanged himself shortly after being arrested for streaking during a high school football game. While there are many factors to suicide, it seems that the school’s explicit threat of prison and sex offender status greatly contributed to his death. Sadly, these cases are not rare.

These facts likely contributed to Ryan’s decision to end his own life. He was smart and worked in politics — he knew the consequences. In his letter, Ryan recounts his humiliation, suffering, and regret around his situation.

The most complex part of his situation is admitted in his letter:
I found myself drawn to videos that matched my own childhood abuse. It’s painful and humiliating to admit to myself, let alone the whole world, but I pictured myself as a child in the image or video. The more an image mirrored some element of my memories and took me back, the more I felt a connection.
This is my deepest, darkest secret.
As a child I didn’t understand what had happened at the time of the abuse. I did know that I must not tell anyone, ever. Later the memories took on new and more troubling meaning when I became a teenager. They started to appear more often and made me feel increasingly apart from everyone else. In my mind I instigated and enjoyed the abuse — even as a five and nine year old — no matter the age difference. Discussing what had happened would have meant shame and blame.
What he is saying is both familiar and counter to the societal dialogue around child sexual abuse. Yet his personal story and complex emotional world are real. Viewing an offender as a victim of sexual abuse, which is so often the case, is hard and goes against our instincts to oversimplify the vilification of an abuser.

The decision to empathize with a person who has caused harm is a deeply personal one. We know that many minds will not be changed on this issue. We are asking you, however, to think about what happened to Ryan, think about the laws, and think about the way society and the media contributes to hatred and hysteria. How do we all contribute to the groupthink? Where did we learn our biases? Are our attitudes and approaches helping address the very real problem of child sexual abuse? Ryan’s death is a tragedy, and we would like to believe that his suicide, and others, could have been prevented. Averting future tragedies begins by understanding the entire picture of child sex abuse, our societal responses to such harm, and the very human core beneath it all.

Florida Action Committee (FAC), founded in 2006, is a state-wide consortium of concerned citizens and professionals whose purpose is to promote the prevention of sexual abuse while preserving the safety and dignity of all citizens through carefully structured laws targeting the truly violent, forced, and/or dangerous predatory acts of sex. FAC believes that many aspects of the current approach to sex offenders seriously undermine justice and actually increase the threat of sexual assault against others, particularly children. FAC opposes a publicized registry of sex offenders and seeks to bring an end to the humiliation of people who have already paid for their crimes. FAC asserts that only by supporting justice for all people—offenders and victims alike can a truly safe society be built and secured for all Americans.

Are Any Offenses Unforgivable? Peter Yarrow to be Honored

Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Press 

Peter Yarrow, one of the lead singers of the iconic band Peter, Paul and Mary, is scheduled to be honored next month by his alma mater, LaGuardia High School, for his contributions to “Peace, Love and the Power of Song”.

The singer, who wrote such classics as “Puff the Magic Dragon” in the sixties, went on to become a political activist, opposing the war in Vietnam and in 2000, co-founding Operation Respect, an organization that brings programs of tolerance and respect to diversity in schools and camps.

In 1970, Yarrow served three months in prison for taking “improper liberties” with a 14 year old girl. This offense has caused uproar amongst some parents and students at LaGuardia, who are outraged that a sex offender will be present at the school, let alone be honored.

The controversy prompts the question; are any offenses unforgivable?

Convicted felon rapper 50 Cent, who used to deal drugs in school and was even arrested for bringing a firearm to class, last October produced a television series called “Dream School” which focused on changing the lives of teenagers facing challenges.  Apparently, he’s been forgiven.

Peter Yarrow committed his offense over four decades ago. Since that time he’s gone on to advocate for peace throughout the world, committed thousands of hours of service to numerous communities and pioneered an in-school program that has improved the lives of countless students.

If it’s possible for one individual to redeem themselves and be recognized for turning their lives around, why can’t another?
Florida Action Committee (FAC), founded in 2006, is a state-wide consortium of concerned citizens and professionals whose purpose is to promote the prevention of sexual abuse while preserving the safety and dignity of all citizens through carefully structured laws targeting the truly violent, forced, and/or dangerous predatory acts of sex. FAC believes that many aspects of the current approach to sex offenders seriously undermine justice and actually increase the threat of sexual assault against others, particularly children. FAC opposes a publicized registry of sex offenders and seeks to bring an end to the humiliation of people who have already paid for their crimes. FAC asserts that only by supporting justice for all people—offenders and victims alike can a truly safe society be built and secured for all Americans.

“World’s Worst Mom” to speak at 6th RSOL National Conference

“World’s Worst Mom” to speak at 6th RSOL National Conference
April 15, 2014
Lenore Skenazy, blogger, public speaker, and reality show host is the keynote speaker at the 6th annual conference of Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. being held in Dallas, Texas, July 16-19, 2014.

She was given the title of the World’s Worst Mom after, at his insistence, she dropped her nine year old son at Bloomingdale’s in New York with a subway map and twenty dollars and allowed him to get home on his own. He did, and she has been simultaneously held in great admiration and in despised ridicule ever since.

Her dominating contention is that children of today are increasingly pampered and over-protected and that children who grow up believing the world is too scary a place in which to function will become adults unable to function in the world.

She sees the public sex offender registry as a foolish and useless attempt to protect children from what is actually the rarest of all threatsundefinedassault by a repeat offender.

She finds support in this from Trevor Butterworth, a spokesman for the research center, who said, "The statistics show that this is an incredibly rare event, and you can't protect people from very rare events. It would be like trying to create a shield against being struck by lightning."

Of public registries she says, “Seeing a bunch of dots on a map is enough to make us lock our kids inside, where they get fat, bored and addicted to ‘Halo 3,’ because we think it’s ‘Halo 3′ outside. Goodbye, any sense of community! Which is ironic because community – knowing and looking out for each other – is exactly what makes neighborhoods safer.”

The theme of this year’s conference is Hope. Courage. Reform. Lenore will talk about having the courage to raise children strong enough to be the leaders of tomorrow, and she will show how through reform to laws that cripple not only our children but all of society, hope and courage can be returned to us all.

Register for the conference and all related events, including hotel reservations and airport and shuttle information, here.

Sex Offender Links

When sex-offender laws promote more crimes
Is the goal making sex offenders' lives as miserable as possible? ... get past the bluster and demagoguery sometimes seen on public-safety issues.

Opposing Views
24 Sex Offenders That Definitely Won't Offend You
Founded in 2007, is an independent media site that publishes original journalism on politics, social issues, religion, sports and ...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Role of Media in the Creation of Sex Offender Hysteria.

LAKE MONROE, FLORIDA – April 17, 2014

Yesterday, national newspapers featured the story of Todd Hoffner, the Minnesota State University Coach who, in 2012, was fired and charged for the alleged; “use of a minor to engage in a sexual performance … and possession of a pornographic work involving minors”.

Looking at headlines from 2012, the media was very quick to indict Coach Hoffner, comparing him to Jerry Sandusky and calling him a monster. However, once the dust settled and the investigation proceeded, the courts dropped the charges and the public learned that the alleged “sexual performance” and “pornographic work” were camera-phone videos of Hoffner’s own children post-bath. Probably the same bath time photos or videos that have been taken in most American homes.

Fortunately, Coach Hoffner had the financial resources and fortitude to fight and after being fired from his tenured Coaching position and having his reputation destroyed, was successful in having the criminal charges dropped and following a two year lawsuit for wrongful termination, compelled the University to rehire him.

What if Coach Hoffner hadn’t fought back? What if he’d reluctantly taken a plea rather than face decades in prison? How would the rest of his life be living under the stigma of being a sex offender and perceived no differently from Jerry Sandusky?

Life for Coach Hoffner would probably be much like the lives of the over 60,000 registrants in Florida, some of which are innocent or committed benign offenses, most of whom are extremely Low-Risk, but all of whom are plagued by a horrible public perception and hysteria perpetuated by politicians looking for votes and media looking for ratings.

Sheriff's Office releases identity of man found hanged in Seville; hanging victim was sexual predator

Obviously there is more to this than meets the eye. Because someone is a sex offender or considered not worthy doesn't mean that he doesn't deserve justice with a full and sound investigation from Florida Law Enforcement.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. demands full investigation of inmate beating and death

An innocent man was allowed to be beaten to death while in the custody of the TriCounty Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg. He was awaiting trial on the charges of sexual molestation of a child. Our constitution and our justice system assures an assumption of innocence until guilt is proven. Therefore, David Piersol, 39, died an innocent man on April 11 at the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton Ohio after receiving his life-threatening injuries in the TriCounty Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, on April 5, 2014, while under the “protection” of the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office.
Mr. Piersol’s death comes midst an unacknowledged wave of vigilante attacks that are often made possible by public sex offender registries, as well as by politicians and media reportage that give license to vengeance. Every story about the incident that has a comment board is filled with vigilante remarks such as, “KARMA!!! He got what he deserved…” and “I have no pity on this piece of trash.”

The WHIO Facebook page, under the article about his death, garnered this as a comment: “Tax payer money savings plan.” And a person claiming to be a “deputy sheriff of 30 years” said in reply to someone who pointed out that he had not been convicted, “Take off those rose colored glasses and recognize that he got what he deserved.”

Vigilante action against registrants has blasted its way through many years, aided by the ready access of the public sex offender registry, through horrendous murders years after the conclusion of a sentence, vicious and cowardly attacks, and even over the radio waves where popular talk-show hosts delight in the death of a registrant who burned to death in a house fire.
But Mr. Piersol was not a target to be tracked down by a killer using the public registry as a road map. He was under the custody and protection of law enforcement.

RSOL asks for Ohio elected officials to condemn this terrible death. Those responsible–including officials who may have improperly placed this man in general population–must be brought to justice. We call for a thorough investigation conducted by authorities completely independent of the Champaign and Union County criminal justice systems.
Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. extends to the family and friends of David Piersol our deepest sympathy at this tragic loss of your loved one. We will continue our demands until those responsible for David’s death are held responsible.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Trailer for 15 TO LIFE Kenneth's Story "The United States is the only country to sentence children to life in prison."

Directed by: Nadine Pequeneza 
USA, 2013, 83 minutes
Florida Premiere 

The United States is the only country to sentence children to life in prison. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Graham v. Florida decision that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes. The United States has sentenced 129 juveniles to life for non-homicide, and of those, 77 were in Florida. Kenneth is one of those 77 now eligible for possible release. At 14, Kenneth committed armed robbery. His guilt is not questioned, but should the actions of a child, coerced by his mother’s adult crack dealer, condemn him to die behind bars? Has his decade in prison rehabilitated him? Is Kenneth the same person he was at 14? In a country that favors punishment over rehabilitation can we at least offer our children a second chance at life? The important and compelling 15 TO LIFE KENNETH’S STORY makes a powerful argument that his case, and most likely a few others, need to be reconsidered by the Florida judicial system.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

American Justice: It’s Not What You Did, It’s Who You Know.

LAKE MONROE, FLORIDA – April 7, 2014

You hear it all the time; a man gets caught soliciting an underage girl and the public cries out! He’s called a “monster”, a “predator”. Chances are he will spend several years in prison and live the rest of his life labeled as a pariah; a “registered sex offender”. Unless, of course, the man is politically or socially connected.

We recently saw two examples of the double standard when it comes to prosecuting individuals for sex offenses. Last week actor James Franco, 35, solicited an underage girl on vacation. The series of texts and Instagram messages were publicly broadcast when the teenager posted them online. He apologized for the incident on Live With Kelly and Michael, said he learned his lesson and seemingly will be allowed to go on with his life. Two weeks ago, a former Tennessee Alderman, Richard L. Smith, was sentenced to only two years probation and only two years on the registry for also soliciting a minor through texts and social media.

What distinguished the actions of these two individuals from the thousands who serve long prison sentences and a lifetime as a sexual offender? Their political and social connections.

The most glaring examples are Joshua Lunsford and John Walsh themselves. Joshua Lunsford is the brother of Jessica Lunsford, who was abducted and killed in 2005 and after whom several sex offender laws are named. Two years after her death Joshua Lunsford was sentenced to only 10 days in jail, one year of probation and no registration requirement for fondling a 14 year old girl. John Walsh, father of Adam Walsh, another child victim and after whom the country’s most elaborate sex offender law is named, admitted to dating his wife when she was a minor. He even joked about it on a Biography Channel documentary.

Florida is not without its own double standard. In 2006, Florida Congressman Mark Foley, who was chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, which introduced legislation targeting sexual predators and created stricter guidelines for tracking them, himself was caught in a sexting scandal targeting an underage congressional page. He was never charged.

Apparently, in America justice is not blind. It’s not what you did that determines whether you should serve a lifetime of punishment, stigma and shame on the sex offender registry, it’s who you know.

Florida Action Committee (FAC), founded in 2006, is a state-wide consortium of concerned citizens and professionals whose purpose is to promote the prevention of sexual abuse while preserving the safety and dignity of all citizens through carefully structured laws targeting the truly violent, forced, and/or dangerous predatory acts of sex. FAC believes that many aspects of the current approach to sex offenders seriously undermine justice and actually increase the threat of sexual assault against others, particularly children. FAC opposes a publicized registry of sex offenders and seeks to bring an end to the humiliation of people who have already paid for their crimes. FAC asserts that only by supporting justice for all people—offenders and victims alike can a truly safe society be built and secured for all Americans.

Links of Interest

“In Florida, Governor Rick Scott made the process to have civil rights restored following conviction MUCH more difficult. For registered citizens, the process is even more difficult, if not impossible. Please participate in the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer’s survey on restoration of civil rights and take the opportunity to share the difficulties of a criminal conviction and the subsequent loss of civil rights on your lives.

The survey can be found here:


Task Force on Restoration of Rights and Status after Conviction

NACDL is in the midst of a major study that will lead to a report issued in 2014 on the countless ways in which a person’s rights, ability to work, and the like, are affected by a criminal conviction. As part of this effort, NACDL needs your help. If you are interested in sharing your story of lost rights and privileges resulting from a plea or guilty verdict, please complete survey. Before we would take your story public, someone on our staff will contact you to ensure that we have the necessary and correct details to make your story a part of this important effort to shed light on this serious problem.

Other Links of Interest: 

Why are kids in the U.S. spending life behind bars?

In our opinion: Roll back mandatory minimum sentences and allow judges to measure out punishment

Study showing that a significant percentage of boys and young men are victims of sexual coercion needs to be rejected as dangerous and inappropriate

One To See Change Past Posts

One to See Change Blog List

"When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."
~Adlia Stevenson U.S. Vice President (1893–1897) and Congressman (1879–1881)

On a Personal Note

Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts regarding the issue of citizens’ rights, particularly addressing certain sex offenders’ crimes that do not fit the devastating, inequitable and endless punishment given.

As you know, many young men and women lives across the nation are being destroyed by incarceration, life-time registry and restrictive laws that do more harm than good. For those individuals, there is no second chance.

Below is a personal letter to President Obama:
* * * *
“Dear President Obama,

I truly agree with your sentiments that individuals, such as ex-felons, should be able to receive a second chance at life. Since we all know that one can veer off that path of life and travel along rough, rocky terrain, sometimes running off and ending up in some ditch. We all have made our fill of mistakes and sometimes those held a costly consequence that changed life forever. So we lived through it, trying harder to make things right with family, friends and those around us, but what about those who aren’t able to make things right even if they tried…because they’re labeled as too dirty, a leper, a person who is rejected from society and home.

But what if they’re a seventeen year old and had sex with a fifteen year old, consensual at that? Or they’re a teen that had gotten so enraged after a breakup that he sent out naked pictures of his girlfriend on his cell phone or email? Or an individual urinates where someone just happens to see them?

All are wrong and a travesty but do they deserve the life of no second chance with a registry that ends all. They are labeled, no jobs, no where to live…they have been deemed a menace to society, a plague. These certain circumstances, and many other situations similar to these, I believe still deserve a second change.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

After my son’s early release and two years of prison, I thought I had handled that fact graciously knowing after serving his time he would be able to get that fresh start, that second chance. He was an exemplary inmate, GED, college courses and vocational classes. Little did I know that a second chance on the outside was the farthest from the truth? He now struggles and lives in a trailer park sharing a trailer with another and surrounded by others in the same rocking boat, one to float endlessly in shark infested waters. I see him little because of probation requirements (he couldn’t live with us because we were 800 feet near a school). My family is afraid of what would happen to them if he lived with them…vigilantism. My son has no other place to stay since others condemn him of his crime that is screamed from the highest rooftop. Sex offender, sex offender!

Not all sex offenders are pedophiles or predators but some are simply young kids that make one stupid and rash decision that eventually changes everything, and they have no idea what they’ve done until their life is never their own. Exactly, where is that second chance for those sex-offenders who are lumped together with pedophiles and predators? Now, it makes me sick to think of my son’s future and many like him that are on the registry and many with no second chance…ever. I am asking you as a mother and as another concerned citizen of the United States that these laws are looked at again and taken into serious consideration in what they are doing to the Constitution of the United States, not for sex offenders in general but the future rights of every citizen, before anymore are put into effect. They unjustly strip an offender of their rights and place them in a guillotine that can be easily set off by anyone and at anytime. Where is the second chance for ex-sex offenders in the present, pending and future laws?”
* * * *
What truly saddens me is the weakness and deterioration of what the sex offense issue is doing to our once, great nation. Across Europe, others are seeing the injustice and disregard of rights, but we ignore this problem and it makes me wonder where humanity is heading….

We have become a hysterical society in which our latest witch-hunt is a sex offender--no matter his/her crime.

Below is a email sent from a foreign advocate to a father of a sex offender:
* * * *
“The tragic story of your son's death is just so sad that it's difficult to explain how. It was very hard to read your letters. It seems almost unbelievable that this can take place in a democracy! From our point of view, there is no justice in this. Not in any way: not for you, your son, the former girl friend – or even the state.

It is an abusive legal system. It seems barbaric. And we are so very sorry that this takes place. That's why it's so important for us to try to neutralize the debate with this…, hopefully making some changes. ….. to show the every day life of the sex offenders, trying to show how they keep on being punished, even after served prison time…..But we will for sure tell the story of the injustice that your son has been exposed to.”
* * * *
I appreciate everyone's commitment and backing to protect everyone's civil rights, plainly as noted in the Constitution of the United States and is presupposed, giving ALL men are “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”