Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

A Little Empathy Might Help

Take a minute read some of this exchange between Marie, the wife of a man sentenced for possession of child pornography, and a commenter who tries to explain the impact of child pornography on children. (If you have time, read through some of the rest of Marie’s site too.) Her blog is dedicated to trying help people understand how her life and that of her children has been torn apart by her husband’s crime and the response of the justice system.

Two observations. One is how human it is to let our own pain blot out that of others. The trauma that Marie, her kids, and other family members of sex offenders go through is mind boggling—ostracism, threats, sometimes violence. (I wrote an article in part about that here). But I’ve also noticed a troubling tendency among well-intentioned family members to downplay the real effects that their loved ones’ crimes had on their victims. That serves neither their cause nor the truth. (I don’t need to repeat here the sometimes life-altering effects on people of being the victims of sexual abuse and child pornography.)

The other is what a poor medium the Internet is for actually, you know, communicating. Take a look at some of the comments on this page of Marie’s site about her:

• “You should have removed yourself and your children away from that monster the SECOND you found out about this. You disgust me!”

• “How can any mother with children at the age their alleged paedophile husband lusts after bring herself to let them near him?”

• “You are sick, and you want to pretend you have a perfect life and family, when you are married and want to protect a pervert.”

You get the picture. Now contrast that with the support (here and elsewhere) that Marie (and her husband) have gotten from the people whom she’s told about what they’re going through. The difference, of course, is flesh and blood, meeting people up close—not trying to divine their circumstances and motivation in cyberspace or make them an outlet for our rage at screwed-up people and systems.

(If I were king, I’d pass a law that all websites have to do what they’ve done over at the Wall Street Journal and require people to post their real names with their comments. My law would exempt people with a legitimate reason for fearing they’ll be targeted—Chinese dissidents, say, or family members of sex offenders.)

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