Capitol Punishment: The Troubling Consequences of Federal Child Pornography Laws

Post Date: February 19, 2014

(Huffington Post) — 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. Read more