Child Porn: My View as a Mother After My Cousin’s Arrest

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Seven years. That was the sentence my cousin received as the result of an undercover sting operation charging him for possession and receipt of child porn after receiving forwarded e-mails. My cousin: a college graduate, military recruit, and responsible son, with a life of promise that he had just obliterated by an uninhibited quest for a heinous arousal.

man arrested
Image: Officer arresting young man, Shutterstock

After the news of my cousin’s arrest, I immediately thought back to the weekend we spent together at a family wedding months before. I had flashbacks to my little girl on the seat across from him on a chartered bus, each moment together now taking on a different meaning. My daughter was only three, dressed in a turquoise summer dress with a tie back and white sandals -- a change from her normal, tomboyish attire of Thomas the Train shirts and no-frills jean shorts. Unaccustomed to wearing a dress, she flipped her skirt up and exposed her cottony, pink panties. I normally reserve the word "panties" for adult women, but after learning about my cousin’s perverse fantasies, I envisioned my daughter being sexualized without my knowledge. Every flashback was now twisted and convoluted in my mind.

I wondered how I would ever move on, as a parent and as a relative to someone guilty of a crime as demonized as child porn. My cousin’s public profile was now amongst the strangers’ faces I’d once vilified -- images, mostly of men, one looking like the next, most sharing a despondent stare signifying a permanent mark of irreversible shame. A list of felons I’d dutifully perused since becoming a mom, mapping out their residences as places of imminent danger and endless deviance. My cousin, the newest member of society’s worst fraternity.

My cousin was released from prison over a year ago. He served five years before being released for exemplary behavior. In prison, he was required to undergo counseling, where a psychologist determined that he wasn’t a predator and never had the desire to have any physical contact with children. This conclusion determined that my cousin’s crime wasn’t due to an innate defect, but, rather, a moral lapse.

I corresponded with my cousin a few times during his incarceration. I felt an obligatory urge to offer my support to a prisoner who was more than a number, but a remorseful man I knew by name; a man in his mid-thirties who was paying for his mistakes. I encouraged him to look ahead to the future, beyond the punishment and rehabilitative phases. At the end of the day, I believe in second chances.

And then I learned the harsh reality: This type of crime carries a lifetime sentence that will never be fully served. I call it infinite justice.

Punishments for any type of crime related to child pornography are enforced by a one-size-fits-all justice system intent on sending a strict message of intolerance in the same way mass numbers of people flooded prisons during the zero-tolerance sentencing in the 1980s. Besides the obvious restrictions on voting, my cousin is prohibited from possessing a firearm, which for an antique gun collector and avid hunter is nearly as punitive as reporting to a probation officer for the rest of his life. There are restrictions on my cousin’s internet use and where he can live, creating a roadblock to affordable housing and canceling out the option of living with relatives. While organ donation is often signified in bold on a driver’s license, my cousin’s license indicates that he’s a sex offender. His time on earth will forever be linked to the regrettable, life-altering mistakes that not even a five-year prison sentence could undo.

As a mother, I won’t ever know why my cousin sought pleasure in viewing child porn or why he didn’t click away when the images of victimized children appeared on his computer screen. I may never know the true origins of a habit he supposedly picked up while serving overseas in our military; a type of sickening oxymoron, to combine children and sex for adult pleasure. I would never pardon my cousin or defend his actions; neither would he.

Yet I think serving five years in prison and registering as a sex offender for life is enough justice served. Does it even matter that the psychologist counseled my cousin and determined he wasn’t a predator? Should my cousin be lumped together with those criminals who’ve had physical contact with minors? The answers may be simple in theory, until the offender is someone you know and love.

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