Much of this article talks about child porn, and uses the term sex offender, which to me, is making it appear as if many or most sex offenders download or create child porn, which is not true. Overall the article is good, but I personally don't like the way they use the terms.
By Erin Rhoda
Many factors to account for, experts say, and each case is different
Some people who create or view child pornography know it's wrong and feel shame after they commit the crime.
Others are considered psychopathic and either don't understand child pornography is wrong or don't care.
Some perpetrators were physically or emotionally abused as children. Others weren't.
Sometimes there are physiological factors, and people's baser brain functions override their logical prefrontal cortex functions, making them more likely to want to view child pornography.
With a former Jackman kindergarten teacher pleading guilty recently to federal charges of producing child pornography, and other recent arrests across the state -- sometimes of people in respected positions -- the question becomes: Why?
There is not one answer to why some people make or view child pornography, or why they are aroused by lewd images of children, according to psychologists and research. What is known, however, is that the number of perpetrators is increasing, particularly because the Internet creates easy availability.
A greater number of suspects in child pornography cases are being prosecuted. More are being convicted. And prison sentences are increasing, according to data compiled between 1994 and 2006 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is a component of the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice.
A large number of convicted offenders are white, educated, middle-aged men.
Eighty-nine percent of people arrested on child pornography charges in 2006 were white; 99 percent were male; and 58 percent had attended some college, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The median age at arraignment was 42.
The former Jackman kindergarten teacher, [name withheld], 42, pleaded guilty June 15 in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Maine State Police found digital photos of his students that [name withheld] took in his classroom of five- and six-year-old girls in costumes, with their genitals exposed, according to court filings. The images were not shared with others, and the children were not assaulted or made to perform sexual acts, according to the documents.
[name withheld]'s attorney declined to allow [name withheld] to be interviewed because he awaits sentencing.
Each case is different
Ask a psychologist why some people desire to view or make child pornography and you'll probably get an answer like this: Each case is different and complex.
"There's a whole range of phenomena, from the very innocent to extremely egregious, so we're really talking about a number of different syndromes," said Ronald Feintech, a licensed psychologist and sex therapist at the Couples Center in Portland.
There are patterns, though. Childhood abuse can lead to what Feintech refers to as the "victim triangle" in adulthood.
Depending on the severity and circumstances of the childhood abuse -- whether it was sexual, physical or emotional -- people may try to subconsciously work through their issues in adulthood by being a victim, rescuer or perpetrator.
When people become "professional victims," they put themselves in similar, abusive situations throughout their lives, Feintech said. Those who become rescuers may counsel people with issues they themselves have faced.
People who become perpetrators do to others what was done to them, not necessarily for reasons of revenge, Feintech said, "but mostly a defense mechanism called 'identification with the aggressor.'"
Feintech said, "If you often look in their history, that was done to them, and they're trying to resolve it psychologically, work it through, by developing this exploitative pattern."
Not all sex offenders were abused, and many know that viewing child pornography is wrong, but they are "overcome by the compulsion to do it," Feintech said. "When caught, they're flooded with shame ... Very often prior to getting caught there are elaborate rationalizations."
With others, "They may know it's illegal or that it's wrong in some sense, but they don't care," he said. "There's a blunting of the sense of conscience."
Often there's a biological component as well, Feintech said, where lower parts of the brain hijack the higher, more rational parts. Childhood trauma can alter a person's brain chemistry.
A significant number of offenders suffer from pedophilia, which the American Psychiatric Association defines as a disorder in which an adult's primary sexual attraction is to prepubescent children -- generally younger than 13. Some pedophiles are attracted to children of the same sex, but most are heterosexual.
- This is one example of what I was talking about at the top. Many from the general public, when reading this, will see "a significant number of offenders suffer from pedophilia," and they will immediately assume all sex offenders are pedophiles. At least I think the general public sees it this way, from experience.
Climate of hysteria
There are authentic, horrendous examples of child exploitation, but Feintech cautioned people against over-reacting to more innocent actions, such as parents taking pictures of their children in the bathtub.
"I think we live in a climate of almost hysteria about child pornography, and I think as a society we sometimes do more damage than what it is we're trying to protect against," he said.
It's also important to match appropriate therapies to different offenders, he said.
Some respond to counseling, while others require a more structured system involving tracking or surveillance systems, regular polygraph tests, psychotherapy or random home visits from probation officers.
Sgt. Glenn Lang with the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit said he's often surprised by who is caught with child pornography.
"I think it's a crime where people know it's wrong. It's not an educational thing. These people are just wired differently than the rest of us," he said.
There are more child pornography cases in Maine than law enforcement can realistically handle, he said. Though he didn't know a precise yearly number, he estimated the caseload to be "hundreds and hundreds."
The computer crimes unit has four full-time officers who deal with all types of computer crimes. Lang said he could keep 10 detectives busy year-round just with child pornography cases.
There is a misconception, he said, that mainly misguided teenagers view child pornography and that it's a victimless crime because there's no interaction.
It's not true.
"It's a symptom of a much greater problem. If you're interested in seeing a six-month-old child being raped, you're a danger to children. It's as simple as that," he said.
Seeing such graphic images desensitizes people, he said. And the impact on child victims can be profound.
Children who were exploited to produce pornography can show a number of symptoms, such as physical illnesses, withdrawal, anti-social behavior, depression, fear, anxiety and moodiness, according to a theme paper prepared for the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
One challenge for law enforcement, Lang said, is showing that children in the images are real human beings and not digitally altered.
"A lot of the child pornography that we encounter -- they're of children that have not been identified yet," he said, so some defense attorneys argue that the images were electronically manufactured.
"The truth is these people are thirsty for the real thing. They're not after morphed images," Lang said. He said he's been with the agency 10 years, and arresting people with fake images has not been an issue.
It's difficult to pinpoint how many sex offenders released from jail are likely to commit a new sex offense, as different studies focus on different sex offenses over varying time periods and don't include unreported offenses.
Victim advocacy groups report higher recidivism rates.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics states about 5.3 percent of sex offenders released from prison in 1994 were re-arrested for an additional sex offense over the following three years, and 24 percent were re-convicted for a new offense involving all types of crimes.
Those numbers include violent sex offenders such as those who committed molestation or rape.
Sex offenses involving children account for a relatively small number of the total crime load in the U.S. Just 2.5 percent of the more-than 83,000 suspects prosecuted in federal courts in 2006 had committed child sex offenses, according to the federal statistics bureau.
Sex offenses are, however, among the fastest-growing crimes handled by the federal justice system. Just 431 suspects were arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service in 1994 for a sex offense. In 2006, the number was 2,191.
About 60 percent of child sex crime suspects were prosecuted in 2006, up from about 40 percent in 1994. About 90 percent of defendants were convicted and sentenced to prison, up from 80 percent in 1994. The median prison sentence also increased, from 36 months to 63 months, according to the bureau.
Ninety-five percent of child pornography defendants were sentenced for materials depicting a minor younger than 12, and 97 percent were sentenced for the use of a computer in the offense.