Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mischief and punishment

By Capt. Fogg

We hear of cases like this too often and the only thing that distinguishes this one from most in my mind is that it's from Canada, a country that I somehow am inclined to see as more rational, less hysterical than the United States. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if a 16-year-old girl sends "explicit" JPEGs of her 17-year-old boyfriend's ex-girlfriend to a few of her acquaintances via cell phone it isn't the kind of "child pornography" we pass draconian laws to suppress. It's perhaps more of an example of adolescent lack of control and the kind of hurt that young people are likely to feel at rejection. 

Canadian courts have nonetheless found her guilty of distributing child pornography and she is awaiting sentencing. Somehow I agree with her attorney that although the deed was inappropriate and perhaps actionable in some way, the kid isn't a "child pornographer" and that the laws in Canada and the U.S. weren't designed to punish such childish acts with huge prison sentences.

Is there really a "law" of unintended consequences? I have no idea, but there's a strong tendency to write bad law in proportion to the ire of the zealots and activists that draft them. There's a strong connection between "zero tolerance" for misdeeds and zero forethought. There's a strong tendency to force events into the scenarios provided by our own fears and loathings and anger and it applies not only to failing to discriminate between people who prey on children and children doing childish things. The six-year-old who plants a kiss on another six-year-old isn't a rapist and doesn't deserve to be branded as one. The 12-year-old who takes a picture of herself or of another kid isn't a pornographer and isn't deserving of our pious rage and punishment. 

Perhaps sometimes our own best motivations make us blind, stupid, pompous, and inhuman.

(Cross posted at Human Voices.)

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