Possessing, receiving, and trafficking child pornography are serious federal crimes. As the U.S. Supreme Court wrote 30 year ago, “The distribution of photographs and films depicting sexual activity by juveniles is intrinsically related to the sexual abuse of children ... [T]he materials produced are a permanent record of the children’s participation and the harm to the child is exacerbated by their circulation…”
Penalties for child pornography offenses have skyrocketed in recent years. Congress has increased statutory penalties and issued directives to the U.S. Sentencing Commission to increase the guideline sentences. The result? In 1997, child pornography offenders received a mean sentence of 20.59 months. In 2010, the mean sentence grew to 118 months. This change represents a 500 percent increase in the mean sentence imposed for this class of offenders in just 14 years.
The rapid increase in sentence length, driven mostly by Congress and not empirical evidence, has led judges to depart form the guidelines at an increasing rate. Some judges have also expressed concern that not all offenders are equally culpable and therefore do not deserve the harsh one-size-fits-all penalties that usually apply.
Over the past few years, FAMM has heard from a growing number of family members who have been devastated by lengthy statutory and guideline-driven sentences for offenses involving the viewing, downloading or sharing of images of child pornography. For example, we heard from the sister of a man who received a 15-year mandatory sentence after downloading two digital pictures from his teenage girlfriends and taking and downloading others. Though his girlfriends consented to the pictures, had consented to an ongoing sexual relationship with him, and were of legal age to marry him, they were children for purposes of the statutory mandatory minimum. The sentencing judge pointed out the absurdity of the sentence but had no discretion to avoid it.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission is in the midst of a comprehensive review of sentences for child pornography offenses, including departures and variances from the guideline recommendations. FAMM supports that review.
Resources and support:
In the news:
 2010 Sourcebook at 29.
* FAMM is not affiliated with and does not endorse any of these organizations and cannot guarantee the accuracy of their websites' content.