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Pending bill raises penalty for child porn

March 20, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

Every time someone looks at a piece of child pornography, the child in the image becomes a victim all over again, and Maryland law on possession of such images is too lenient, a local legislator contends.

In response to a Southern Maryland case successfully appealed last year, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, has a bill pending in the House Judiciary Committee that would increase the penalty for possession of child pornography from the current sentence of one year in prison to up to 10 years, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Shank told the committee last week of the St. Mary's County case of Jonathan George Moore, convicted of using his computer to download hundreds of images of minors engaged in obscene acts or sexual conduct.

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The prosecutor had equated the act of downloading the images with creating them - which carried a considerably tougher sentence than possession.

But the appeals court ruled that the words "depict" and "describe" contained in the state statute on child pornography did not correspond to "download." The best the courts could get was possession.

Shank said the case file described "horrific images" in Moore's possession, many of them including toddlers. Included, he said, were images of a 3- to 5-year-old girl who had been raped.

"These are crime scene photographs," Shank said, and the possessor "should be punished with more than one year in prison victimizing children over and over again is exactly what child pornography is all about."

Viewing such pornography desensitizes victims and legitimizes behavior, he argued.

"Possession is creating a market that drives demand," he said, adding that child pornography spawned multimillion-dollar enterprises and more than 100,000 Web sites.

"We're not talking about dirty old men trading pictures in restrooms anymore," Shank said.

Both the attorney general's office and the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography support the bill.

Maryland is one of seven states that treats possession of child pornography as a misdemeanor with a one-year sentence, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Graeff told the committee. Shank's bill would bring the state into line with 35 others, which authorize sentences of eight years or more.

"The harm to the child is exacerbated each time the image is viewed," Graeff said. "It is used to break down the resistance of victims and it does fuel other crimes."

Eva Murphy of the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography said the group gets "lots of calls of concern about child pornography," which she said is growing faster than any other form of pornography.

"Users of adult pornography graduate to child pornography because they want more," she said.

Balancing act



Del. Neil Quinter, D-Howard, has been an outspoken foe of sexual abuse. In this year alone, two of his proposals, one to include child abuse as a crime of violence in Maryland criminal law and one to criminalize visual surveillance of a person's "private areas" without consent, are pending in the Senate and already approved by the House.

But he worried that Shank's bill would make possession "the moral equivalent of inducing a child" to take part in pornography, handing the possessor a 10-year penalty.

"Do you arrest the recipient of drugs the same way as a trafficker?" he asked.

Shank replied that the bill allowed for lower sentences.

But he argued that possessing child porn was "worse than peddling drugs - we need to dry up the demand, and one way to do it is to enhance the penalty" for possession, he said.

"Clearly child pornography is going to proliferate. That demands a response."

"It's easy to propose a change," Quinter said, "but it needs to make sense."

Shank didn't disagree with Quinter, but countered that Maryland had been "for too long at the light end for how we deal with possession."

Quinter agreed with Shank's point, but said "that doesn't mean we should bootstrap possession with distribution."

If the Judiciary Committee approves the bill, it must then be approved by the full House of Delegates before it is considered by the Senate.

- House bill 1193

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