Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law"

An interesting case here in Oregon sheds light on the concept as to how the internet is completely disrupting the ways in which pornography is defined by law. Earlier this month, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that it is not illegal to look at child pornography online, as long as those images are not downloaded, printed, or paid for. In other words, if you do not actually take some sort of action to "own" the images, you are not in possession of the material, and therefore cannot be punished for simply looking at it. Quoting the article in the Oregonian:

“Looking for something on the Internet is like walking into a museum to look at pictures — the pictures are where the person expected them to be, and he can look at them, but that does not in any sense give him possession of them.” -- Justice Michael Gillette.

Clearly, this protects people who stumble across images they did not intend to view (though for child pornography, how likely is this, really?). However, child pornography laws were first created in the 1970s for the distinct purpose of protecting the actual children (defined as anyone under 18 in 1984 through that year's Child Protection Act) involved in making the materials. It wasn't until 1990, in the case Osborne v. Ohio, that the high courts ruled a state could punish someone for "possessing" the images. The justification of this law was that making it illegal to possess images would decrease the market for them, and thus protect children.

However, as the internet became more established, it was clear that the laws related to child pornography were by no means designed to deal with images distributed electronically. Additionally, there have been several legal battles to define what child pornography actually is. Since earlier laws were written to protect children, what if a person created an image that only looked like a child engaging in sexual acts (using computerized image construction), but in reality no child was actually used in creating the image? With all the programs out there, this is a pretty easy thing to accomplish.

Currently, the courts go back and forth as to whether creating images of child pornography without actually using children is legal. To my knowledge, the legality of childless child pornography is "winning" in most cases, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 2002.

Other problems arise in the enforcement of child pornography laws. With the international accessibility of the internet, the United States needs to acknowledge that not all countries have child pornography laws, and even those that do have varying ages of consent and definitions of a "minor." In fact, according to this study, most countries have NO child pornography laws. How can the US uphold its rules about making and possessing child pornography now if it (A) can be made legally in many other countries -- or virtually through computer-generated images, and (B) be accessed online without penalty, as long as the images are not saved or purchased? It's a surprising dilemma.

What hurts the case for restricting child pornography is that there is essentially no research on the effects of its viewers. Such taboo topics need to be examined -- no matter how difficult it is to do so -- if laws restricting access to and viewing of images are to be upheld. Because right now, child pornographers are finding legitimate legal loopholes which allow them to view images. Just so long as they don't store them anywhere.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

School-based Social Workers Unsure about Dealing with Cyberbullying

A recent study reports that almost half of school-based social workers do not feel prepared to handle cases of cyberbullying, even though they recognize it as a problem.

I read this, and felt sad -- mostly because dealing with cases of cyberbullying should not be all that different from dealing with cases of face-to-face bullying. Sure, technology-based bullying may be harder to discover because it's not overhead in the hallways, but the interventions should be the same -- support the youth being bullied, identify perpetrators and decide on adequate consequences for their actions (interesting idea coming out of the UK -- have bullied students help decide punishment). But maybe the fact that 20% of the respondents believed that their school's policy on cyberbullying was inadequate had something to do with them feeling ill-prepared? I honestly don't know how much school personnel rely on policy to back up their actions. Anyone out there want to speak out on that?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Teens view sex information with a critical eye

A new report from Guttmacher staff (summarized here) finds that teens do not consider the internet to be a main source of sexual health information. However, I do want to point out that the sample only consisted of 58 youth, some of whom came from New York, where arguably the access to information from other venues (health clinics, sex ed classrooms, community centers) may be higher than in more remote areas.

Nevertheless, the fact seems to remain that teens prefer more personal sources for information about sex. These include family members (voted number one again as has been found in previous research), school, medical professionals, and friends. While I commend youth for reaching out to more human resources, this fact does concern me because both in the literature and in the community, I have found time and again that the adults mentioned in this previous list are extremely hesitant to talk about sex -- which leaves youth to rely on each other for information. Many parents, doctors, teachers, and other trusted adults express discomfort at the very idea of having "the talk" with youth in their care (note: the idea of "the talk" is not really accurate, as a sex conversation is hardly a one-time thing, but more of a process over many years!).

How can we best reach adults and support them so that they are more comfortable to talk about sex? What resources do they need? I don't fault adults for not starting conversations -- many of them were raised in ignorance and didn't have role models of adults whom spoke openly with them. Adults can't simply start talking about something without guidance -- especially something so value-ridden and complicated as sexual relationships and health.

So the question becomes -- who teaches the teachers? Maybe there are some good online resources...

Actually, there are a few places that have some good basic tips:
Mayo Clinic
Families Are Talking
Children Now

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

California Law Targets Cyberbullying

Happy New Year to All!

'Tis the season for all things new --resolutions, calendars, and laws! In California, there is a new law on the books that makes it illegal to create a fake social networking profile "to harm others." Violation of the law can result in a year jail time and/or up to a $1000 fine.

Will be interesting to see if something like this makes a difference -- probably not until it is tested in courts and people become more aware of it.

CA schools could possibly take advantage of this by connecting it to safe school policies to strengthen those. It's difficult to enforce a bullying policy if the actual bullying takes place either off campus and/or through the use of personal devices such as computers or cell phones. But, perhaps, with this impersonation law, schools can demonstrate that the bullying of students is still against school regulations even if it happens after the bell rings. I'm no lawyer (though I do love me some SVU!), but perhaps this logic will help build a case against a serious offender?