Should Criminals Who Are Still Dangerous Be Kept Locked Up?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

In her pieces for The New Yorker, journalist Rachel Aviv follows subjects with complicated legal or medical problems, such as homeless LGBT runaways living with HIV, or whether teenagers who commit heinous crimes should be given life sentences. 

Aviv's latest piece, "The Science of Sex Abuse," looks at child pornography and civil commitment through the story of a veteran named John, a man convicted in the late 1990s of possessing child pornography and using the internet to persuade a minor to have sex. 

Once John was released from prison, he was again caught with child pornography and convicted of possession. Once he completed his second term, however, John was not released. Instead, he faced a civil-commitment hearing, in which a Massachusetts judge determined that he was a "sexually dangerous person." John was sentenced to the Butner Federal Correctional Institute in North Carolina, where he will complete a scientifically dubious program of treatment.

"Sex abuse is very hard to detect, and to prosecute, whereas child pornography use is much easier," Aviv explains.

John's civil-commitment judge could not determine if John had ever physically abused a child. As Aviv says, "There is this assumption that if you have these fantasies which you are expressing online, then you have also acted out on these fantasies, or maybe you will," so the criminal justices system believes that perpetrators like John must be treated and detained.


Rachel Aviv

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jillian Weinberger

Comments [6]

socraticmethod09 from usa

I have to admit that I'm torn.I always believed the recidivism rate to be higher for convicted sex offenders.Likely a result of the media's tendency towards "if it bleeds it leads".The article paints a sad picture, to be sure.It could have been helped by individual success stories of reformed convicts.The field itself is clearly mired in a lot of political concerns and given the heinous nature of the crimes that are committed,I don't see that likely to change.I agree that we don't understand the underlying causes well enough to have a perfect solution.I'm also sure that some of these men would,if released,never commit another act of abuse or seek access via the internet to child pornography.But,I can hardly say that erring on the side of caution is the worst option.If these types of programs do bear fruit to the root causes and effective treatments are realized then the studies will be a hallmark for the future.It's unfortunate that eggs have to be broken to make an omelette and I don't want or mean dehumanize any of the subjects of the study,but progress does have a price.None of these men are there for doing nothing.It could happen to less "deserving" people.

Feb. 25 2013 05:05 AM
David from Columbia, MO

I have to wonder if all who are commenting have actually *read* the article. Aviv's point is that "John"'s term of imprisonment has extended well beyond sentence guidelines pertaining merely to *possession* of child pornography. He remains incarcerated, instead, because of the way in which a quasi-industry of "expert" testimony relying on extraordinarily ungrounded "science" has created a system in which such prisoners have little chance of being released. Such expert testimony claims/"predicts" that he will commit physical crimes on victims if released--even though NO evidence exists that he has EVER committed such crimes in the past. He is being incarcerated through predictive measures that have no little-to-no validity and instead are relied upon because of the politics of victims rights and "getting tough" on crime. Read the piece--it's not an excuse of John's porn addiction.

Jan. 14 2013 07:02 PM
Sarah from Brooklyn

It should be a crime to view child pornography - on par with actually committing a sexual act width a child. A child was harmed in the creation of the pornography; if there was no demand for it - it would never be created and those children wouldn't have had their lives destroyed. Viewing this disgusting material is participating in a sex crime.

Jan. 09 2013 04:02 PM
Christine from Westchester

The discussion somehow suggesting that viewing downloading this crap isn't a bad thing, is just not right. Children who are abused and appear in these images are harmed when people download them. He's committed a crime against these children. Would he not have committed a physical act against the girls he thought he was meeting? He didn't go there to buy ice cream. He's done the crime; no pity that he's doing the time. They should put more sex offenders away and toss out the key.

Jan. 09 2013 03:55 PM
B. Obefelder from Michigan

The man commited no crime. He has spent 13 years in prison receiving therpy and never commited a crime. The State has over reacted and the man has had no life. It is time, at his age, that he be released and given a chance of making a life for himself. He claims he has not watched idnternet for many years. Enough already. Why keep spending money oon jail and wasting what is left of his life? He ia human being and deserves to begin a new life. I will say the story was well written, but when I read the last paragraph and he was still in jail, my heat aches for him!

Jan. 09 2013 10:48 AM
James Wolynetz from Hollywood, FL

Mr. Hockenberry, I was truly appalled by your and your guest, Rachel Levine's, complete lack of sympathy and empathy for the VICTIMS of the child pornography trade - the thousands of innocent children who are raped, molested, physically abused and scarred for life due to their "participation" in this business. Not once in this story did I hear a word about the affect that the viewing of such pictures has on these poor children. You were more concerned about parsing the act of viewing by "feeling sorry" for the perpetrator and wondering if this was a true crime or just "intent", thus, insinuating no REAL crime was committed. It's viewing means no demand. No demand means no supply. Your "poor" prisoner is personally responsble for the fate of the children he "innocently" viewed.

Jan. 09 2013 10:13 AM

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