FBI CHILD PORN SCANDAL
by Bob Podolsky
A breaking scandal reported by USA TODAY reveals that the FBI ran a “dark web” child pornography website for 2 weeks last year, after taking over the server that hosted it from its original felonious owner. The ostensible purpose of this was to entrap the site’s users in order to charge them with possession of illegal downloaded content.
Child pornography is a highly charged emotional subject; so one can reasonably expect that the public reaction to this revelation will be the object of a great deal of irrational hyperbole promoted by the mainstream media and exploited by everyone with a political axe to grind.
Accordingly, it is important to acquire a dispassionate fact-based understanding of the issue, in the interest of minimizing unethical responses to the revelations of the USA TODAY (USAT) article. Hence this article.
Opinions concerning the USAT article and its implications will vary widely because its readers have widely varying assumptions about how the world works. The assumptions listed below illustrate this point, because some of them are true, some are not, and some are sometimes true and sometimes not.
The making of child pornography invariably involves the sexual interaction of a child with an adult.
Sexual interaction of an adult with a child may be physically damaging to the child.
Sexual interaction of an adult with a child is emotionally damaging to the child.
The child may or may not know, at the time, that what the adult is doing with them is emotionally damaging.
The producers and directors of child pornography are “evil-doers”.
The camera operators involved are “evil-doers”.
Those who process the pornographic imagery are “evil-doers”.
The adult porn actors are “evil-doers”.
The parents of the children involved are “evil-doers”.
Those who watch or observe such imagery are “evil-doers”.
Those who distribute the imagery by various means are “evil- doers”.
The children who are victims of child pornographers are further damaged whenever their images are observed.
It is a proper role of government to identify, find, capture, and punish everyone involved in the child pornography industry.
Laws against the production and distribution of child pornography protect the child victims by discouraging the public from buying the pornographic products.
Punishing the customers of child porn reduces the number of customers.
Reducing the number of customers, in turn, reduces the number of children being abused and exploited.
Running a child porn website to ensnare child porn buyers and viewers is a legitimate strategy for protecting child porn victims from those who exploit them.
Child pornography is certainly a symptom of a serious societal problem, because the victims are seriously damaged…AND if one blindly accepts the above assumptions, the damage can be greatly amplified. In order to get to the bottom of the matter, we need to understand the ethical criteria for what constitutes an “evil-doer” and for the allocation of responsibility to those acting.
The Ethics of Responsibility
After thousands of years of philosophical discussion and debate, the most rationally and scientifically defensible definition of an ethical act is:
An act is ethical if it increases creativity, awareness, love, and/or objective truth for at least one person, including the person acting, without limiting or diminishing any of these resources for anyone.
Rationally we know that the responsibility for an act, be it unethical or not, is divided among all the people who took part in the causal chain of events leading up to the act. However, the one most responsible is the one who had the chronologically last opportunity to prevent the act from occurring. For this reason, despite “legal” opinions to the contrary, the hired assassin is more culpable than the individual who hired him (or her).
In the chain of events leading up to the production of a child porno photograph or video, it is the adult who engages the child sexually that is ultimately most responsible for the harm done to the child victim. The parents who fail to protect their child from such exploitation are arguably the next most responsible. Others involved in the child porn production are also acting unethically, though their participation in support of the crime is less unethical than the actual perpetrators – the adult actor who has sex with the child and the parent who fails to prevent the abuse. These two participants are those from whom the child actually needs protection.
The Objective View: Identifying the Hype
The above definition of an ethical act has a number of logical consequences that yield a dozen important principles that are very useful in applying the ethics to everyday decision-making. Chief among these is the principle that unethical means can never achieve ethical ends. Recognizing that this is so leads to the conclusion that Assumption #17 Running a child porn website to ensnare child porn buyers and viewers is a legitimate strategy for protecting child porn victims from those who exploit them, is FALSE. Therefore, assuming that selling child pornography is unethical, an ethical agency would never resort to doing so…for any reason.
Assumptions 14 through 16 are also false. We know this because they justify the prohibition of child porn, and we know from long experience that prohibition doesn’t diminish the demand for an illegal product, nor its availability. Alcohol, gambling, prostitution and drugs come to mind as obvious examples of prohibition failure.
Assumption 13, It is a proper role of government to identify, find, capture, and punish everyone involved in the child pornography industry. is also FALSE, because punishment of wrongdoers has proven totally ineffectual in curbing crime – especially when the crime is a form of prohibition violation. As an extreme example, consider the fact that drugs are widely available in prisons…where those convicted of selling drugs outside of prisons are routinely sent.
Consider the fact that every crime, as defined in law dictionaries, has a victim – someone who has been physically harmed or whose property rights have been violated. For this reason, Assumptions 10, 11, and 12 are also FALSE. The only victims of child pornography are the children, who are unaffected by strangers seeing their pictures. As much revulsion as most of us feel imagining an adult masturbating in front of a video screen depicting children being molested, the fact remains that the child sex actor shown on the screen is not aware of the event and is not harmed by it. Nor is it a proper function of government to protect us from such revulsion.
Assumptions 1 through 9 are also true, however the first four are qualitatively different than the next 5. The first four serve to simply define the crime that takes place in the production of child pornography…which is ultimately where the crime occurs. Assumptions 5 through 7 indicate the responsibility of the producers of the pornography; but 8 and 9 correctly identify the real culprits – the adult actors and the permissive or absent parents.
Back in the 60’s, in the Vietnam war era, Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote and performed a beautiful song called the the “Universal Soldier”, in which she aptly pointed out that the crime of war could not exist without the willingness of men (most of them practically children themselves) to travel half-way around the world to shoot strangers who had never wronged them.
Today the trigger-pulling soldiers, the bomb-dropping bombardiers, and the rocket-launching drone pilots bear the ultimate responsibility for the international murders we call war.
In similar fashion, it is the child-molesting porno-film actors and the victims’ parents, who abdicate their parental duties, who bear the lion’s share of responsibility for the harm done to children who are thus sexually exploited. While the porn producers and distributors bear some of the responsibility for the harm done to the child victims, the producers don’t usually molest the children personally, and the product distributor issues are just another form of prohibition. And we all know how well ‘The Drug War’ – “works”.
For the creation of an ethical society, free of such evils, it is necessary for a dramatic change to occur in human culture…a change that paves the way for our institutions to make consistently ethical decisions. Fortunately, the knowledge of how this will be accomplished already exists, and more and more people are catching on. For details read Ethics Law and Government and Ethical Organizational Development.