Thursday, August 5, 2010


I have reviewed the DOJ’s Report to Congress entitled “National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction” that was released earlier this week.

The Report is 280 pages, and the text is here. It’s an Adobe file, and there is a 7 page differential between the Adobe pagination and the actual page number of the text: so page 15 in Adobe will be page 8 of the actual text and will appear as “15/8”.

I’ll mention the points that struck me in the text, and then offer a few concluding thoughts.

The Report begins with a quotation from Nelson Mandela to the effect that you can most keenly judge a country by the way it treats its children. This is instantly followed by “given the current statistics surrounding child pornography this is a country that is losing its soul”. (8/1) The second quote is taken from an Ohio Congressman, John Adams, although – curiously enough – it is cited as being from the text of a court case.

There are a lot of things over the past decade or two that have led me to think that the country is losing its soul – and Thoreau and the Puritans before him had been greatly concerned. The last decade’s wars of choice haven’t helped a lot of now-deceased kids. But the Congressman and the White House and a whole bunch of federal agencies want to go with this initiative, so it is what it is.

The Report immediately makes the point that “the sexual abuse and exploitation of children” will “rob children of their childhood, irrevocably interfering with their emotional and psychological development”. (8/1) Many will recall the incident a decade or more ago when a meta-study of already approved and accepted studies discovered (much to the researchers’ surprise) that the research actually did not support the assertion that children were permanently and hugely harmed (and I do NOT support the sexual abuse or exploitation of anybody, let’s remember). Congress instantly got so worked up that for the first time in American history it passed a Resolution condemning scientific findings and sent the dark message that any researchers who ever discovered anything else like this was going to lose funding.

Sort of like the Vatican and Gallileo.

Anyway, at this point then, you have to wonder just what “research” you can trust, since almost all of it is federally-funded directly or through an organization the researchers work for. But the Report will make some interesting statements further on so let’s keep at it.

I do note, here, however, that the Report states (shrewdly) only that a child will have his/her “emotional and psychological development” “interfered with”, which is a long way from the claims of utter and total psychic and maturational destruction that used to be tossed out.

It is, further, asserted that every child has a “right” to grow up free from “sexual abuse, trauma, and exploitation” … which is quite a tall order. First, because those terms are not well defined and so elastic; second, because it would take a government with a power surpassing Stalin’s at its height to even come close to stamping out all that; and third, because it seems not only impossible to achieve on its very face but also implies that a child with no challenges or threats will grow up ‘perfectly’ … and I don’t think that’s true at all. (Again, this is no subtle ploy on behalf of adults imposing sexual experience on minors.)

And in an echo of Martha Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach (see previous relevant Posts) it is asserted that children have a “right” (just, as Nussbaum says, “women” do) not to have sexual experience imposed on them. I completely agree that it is criminal, sinful, and immoral to impose such experience on children; but “rights” are Constitutional things and I don’t like to see this vital and powerful concept tossed around. In the long run such unserious use of the term will weaken it for everyone.

Neatly, while the Report insists on this “right”, it also claims that “it will take our entire society” to achieve it. (8/1) No mention of the Family or Parents or Parental Authority … although such entities would be the first line of defense, and if they were able to do their job then a huge amount of repair work (and costs) would be rendered unnecessary. But the Beltway has actually been pursuing policies precisely designed to undermined those entities, and with no small success. Go figure.

Interestingly, the Report traces government history only back to President Bush’s “PROTECT Our Children Act” of 2008. Nothing further back, such as – oh, say – the Adam Walsh Act of 2006. Which may be a straw in the wind and I’ll discuss my thoughts on that later on.

In making its “Threat Assessment” (9/2) the Report’s compilers tick off all the prosecutors, police and “experts” whom they consulted, among which are listed that National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that President Reagan raised up in 1984. And they also consulted lots of “relevant research”, but again it’s so hard to tell with this combination of ‘advocacy science’ and ‘government-directed’ science. But I’m keeping an open, though careful, mind.

The focus of this new initiative will be on Children at risk from child pornography, online enticement for sexual purposes, commercial sexual exploitation, and child sex tourism. (9/2) Again you may notice what doesn’t appear in all of this, and more on that later.

The US Marshals Service (USMS) figures more largely in this initiative than in previous initiatives. Although it is mentioned that it was the AWA (such references to AWA as the Report makes are mostly in connection with the USMS) that assigned the USMS the job of tracking down “sex offenders” in 2006. The Service claims, according to the Report, to have captured 10,000 SO “fugitives” in FY 2009, (12/5) although I find that rather high UNLESS you figure that many, many of those “fugitives” were simply persons administratively blind-sided by the AWA tier-system and thus became “fugitives” from Registration literally overnight.

Also, the Internet task force on child-crimes has apprehended or prosecuted only 17,000 since 1998 (12/5), so either the USMS is overstating matters, or it simply toted up all the ‘fish in a barrel’ that it ‘shot’ simply through the workings of the highly-dubious, much-contested, and greatly-resisted-by-States AWA tier reclassification.

Among the “broad goals” of this new initiative will be increasing education of federal, state, local, and tribal (the Tribes figure largely in this Report and in a way it reminds one of reading government documents from the Indian Wars era of the 19th century) judges in “the difficult issues involved in child sexual exploitation” . (14/7) I fully support education of everybody involved in any SO matters, especially if they are officially involved. But I hope this isn’t code and govspeak for trying to inveigle the judges into cutting jurisprudential corners in light of the ‘emergency’, which is a gambit the SO community has been seeing for many years and which in some jurisdictions has seen the erection of highly-questionable “special courts”. These entities, often seen in the Domestic Violence regime, seem to understand their role as short-cutting Constitutional protections (viewed by the courts as “obstructions”).

The Repot claims that “there has been a dramatic increase in cases of sexual exploitation of children”, including not only the four areas of concern noted above but also “sexual molestation of children since the 1990s”. (15/8) So after all of this past 20 years of massive SORNA regime, things have increased? But perhaps it is only the internet-mediated stuff, corresponding not only to the development of the Web but also all the social-networking sites that kids nowadays seem to spend a huge amount of their time on.

Figures are given: by 2006 U.S. Attorneys were handling 82.8 percent more child-pornography cases than they had in 1994; states saw a 230 percent increase in documented cases of child-enticement between 2004 and 2008. (15/8) And again I note that between 1994 and 2006 the Internet grew exponentially and the social-networking sites (and omnipresent personal communications devices in the hands of children) did the same. And if Family and Parents and Parental Authority were already in the process of being Deconstructed in 1994, before the Web and social-networking, you can imagine what has happened since then.

Even more interesting revelations: “It is no surprise then that most sexual abuse of children can be attributed to those who have a relationship of trust and authority relative to the child in addition to ready access to the child”, and that 69 percent of child-pornography cases involved abuse/exploitation by people familiar to the children”. (28/21) The Report lists “parents, other relatives, neighbors, family friends, baby-sitters, coaches, and guardians’ partners”: this would seem to indicate that the government was going to be going after a group of persons mostly overlooked in the previous incarnations of the SO regime – i.e. it's not going after the ‘stranger’ sex offender but rather adults who know kids closely, and perhaps other kids.

Indeed, the text immediately goes on to quote NCMEC figures to the effect that “only a small fraction of the victims (4 percent of the NCMEC data set) were victimized by individuals with whom the child had no relationship”. (28/21) Again, this indicates a far different ‘target population’ from anything previously seen in the SO regime’s 20 year reign. And seems to re-focus away from the now-classic ‘stranger-danger’ SO prowling around the nation like a slavering wolf or vampire.

The USMS again gets some stats in about itself: since 2006 (the year of the AWA’s passage) marshals have “apprehended approximately 40,000 fugitives wanted for sexual assaults, sex offender registrations and other sex crimes”. (53/46) In addition to the ever-necessary caution in any government agency’s self-reported figures of its ‘success’, you have to factor in here the sly conflation of ‘sex offender registration violations’ as ‘sex crimes’. The AWASORNA ‘violations’ may have been the simple administrative type automatically created overnight by the AWA, and administrative technicalities are not ‘sex crimes’ – although clearly at least some government agencies are counting them as such to keep the numbers up. I’d also wonder how many of those ‘apprehensions’ actually stood up in court, or will – as the AWA saga winds on its frakkulent yet declining path.

The NCMEC gets a section all to itself, wherein revelations are revealed: it has NCIC access and access to “other public databases” (one can only wonder) thanks to Congress; from 1984 to 1990 its “recovery rate” of missing and exploited children was 62 percent, but “since 1990 it has climbed to 97 percent”. (100/93) I have a clear recollection that it had been discovered goosing its ‘numbers’ by claiming as its own handiwork any and every child ‘missing’ even for an hour or so, lost rather than abducted, and things of that nature. Yet the Report puts it all out there as if it were gospel.

The NCMEC, by the way, got 24 million in government funding in FY 2008 – although, the Report piously reports, it is a not-for-profit. As my long-deceased granny used to say: At least Jesse James had a gun – you KNEW what was happening to you.

The Report concludes with almost 150 pages of Appendices (A through F) , and a couple of them are actually quite worthwhile.

Appendix C (starting on 167/B-7) lists Academic Research and reviews numerous studies. Impressively, the Report includes research that does not support the size of the purported emergency, although the Appendix is opened with a disclaimer that simply being included doesn’t mean that the government accepts all research findings.

In fact, the first study included here is a Harvard one that considers things overblown and public attention – over-stimulated by ‘problematic’ media coverage – to be distracted by sensationalism. Other peers and young adults (18-24) account for 90-94 percent of online encounters, and are often mere ‘solicitations’ or ‘teasing’ rather than ‘harassment’ or actual ‘enticement’. A whopping 69 percent of these do not involve a request for offline contact. (167/C-1)

From 19 percent of encounters that involved sexual solicitation in 2003, the number had decreased to 13 percent in 2006. And of those 81 percent involved recipients between 14 and 17 years of age. Only 4 to 9 percent of sexual solicitations involve persons substantially older than the recipients. (168/C-2)

In cases where the kiddo met the adult offline, most of kiddos were adolescents “who knew they were meeting adults for sexual encounters”, and consequently the adult was charged with statutory rape for nonforcible sexual relations with a minor. The adults were most often in their 20s. And thus, the Harvard study concludes, forcible sexual relations with a young child ‘ambushed’ (my term) by an adult male stranger met online “does not paint an accurate picture of the majority of sexual solicitations and internet-initiated offline sexual encounters.” (168/C-2)

Of “particular”concern, the Harvard study says, are the sexual solicitations between minors and the consequent frequency of statutory-rape rather than more sinister offline encounters. And also that it’s not so much a problem of the type of internet access but rather individual youths’ psychological profile and their willingness to engage in risky behaviors. (168/C-2)

This Study (well worth the read, and only a few pages of quotations from it are in the Report) continues that “known cases involving strangers are extremely rare”. Thus also “the threat of Internet-initiated sex crimes committed by strangers appears to be extremely exaggerated”. Nor do they often involve “prepubescent children”. (169/C-3)

“Significant deception does not appear to be common” in these encounters. (170/C-4)

I am very much impressed that a Study like this got into the Report. It tells me that the Report staff or the reviewing authorities were not all convinced that they wanted to participate in a replay of the SO Mania ‘research’ of 10 and 20 years ago.

Appendix F is a “Synthesis of Major Studies” that starts on page 215/F-1. One study found that girls were twice as likely as boys to be solicited over the internet; youth who were at least 15 years old accounted for almost 2/3s of the exposure incidents; of the ‘adults’ who accounted for 24 percent of online solicitations, most were between 18 and 25; only 4 percent were over 25. (231/F-17)

There is a 50-50 split between adolescents who are troubled and those not troubled who use the internet to arrange offline meetings. (232/F-18)

I would recommend Appendices C and F especially highly.

So then, what do I think?

First, it is clear that AWA has been for all practical purposes ignored – although what stratagems may be involved in that I can’t say for sure. But it seems that ‘sex offenders’ as they have been classically known are yesterday’s news for the government. Perhaps the weight of judicial complications and the chance that the SORNA regime actually has evolved into ‘punishment’, crossing the magic Constitutional line, has become for the government a game no longer worth the candle.

But, second, this ‘children-internet’ initiative may be something devised to distract from the government’s backing-away from the 2-decade old classical SO Mania and its regime. Yet, in best Beltway style, those already on the bandwagon will not be kicked to the curb: clearly, much government money (such as the term applies these days) will still be forth-coming.

Yet, in my view, history is never static and you can’t step into the same river twice – not even if you’re a government. Thus, although the strategy might have been to simply start-up ‘another sex-offense Mania’, such a strategy is not taking place in the same ‘world’ that the now-classic one took place in. Apparently there are persons in government, certainly in research, who don’t wish to repeat what they have seen going on all over the country for 20 years.

But ‘the children’ are a sure-fire draw and there is some legitimate cause for concern (although, as the studies I noted demonstrate, the problem is either being hugely exaggerated or wrongly-aimed, or both).

And this initiative, if it follows the stats reported in those studies, is going to have to start intruding in the lives of a large bunch of heretofore ‘normal’ people, since rarely are ‘strangers’ and actually ‘adult strangers’ involved in this sort of thing. I’m not sure how politically palatable that’s going to be for the program's political enablers.

Third, ‘sex offenders’ seem to be yesterday’s news, replaced by Internet Child Sexual Predators and Exploiters. And while there is a habitual reference by the USMS to this new type of sex-offender, there is no real effort to drum up the hysterical/maniacal response that characterized the wrecking-job done on Sex Offenders during the classical phase.

Fourth, the classical cartoon of the Stranger Sex Offender is clearly not going to be applicable to this new initiative.

Fifth, as with everything nowadays proposed, it's all subject to what I call The National Situation: there is no real money or public wealth left and it’s hardly inconceivable that the world’s governments might choose to dismiss the Dollar as the planet’s reserve currency. In which case, the government will be hard-pressed to keep its essential services going, let alone toss around ‘funding’ for some of the more baroque excresences of the Advocacy-Industrial Complex.

So I’d recommend to you the Executive Summary at the beginning of this Report, and Appendices C and F.

And I’d say that this Initiative is more than just another encouraging straw in the wind.

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