Child Porn crackdown heads to House floor

Feb 1, 2012

A bill aiming to crackdown on child pornographers is now heading to the House floor. But, as Sascha Cordner reports, there was much debate at its last committee stop that even surprised the bill’s sponsor.

Video voyeurism is the practice of spying on someone engaged in a number of things ranging from undressing to sexual activity.

Republican Representative Eric Eisnaugle of Orlando says his bill would crack down on the activity.

“Over the summer, I had a constituent call my office, a father of a 12-year-old girl, who’d been victimized by someone who had committed video voyeurism against his 12-year-old daughter. He was very upset because he had just found out that even though this guy admitted to committing video voyeurism against his 12-year-old daughter at a local Wal-mart, and pleaded guilty, that he wasn’t going to have to register as a sex offender. I was also shocked and upset about that, and so I started working on this bill.”

House Bill 437 would make it a second degree felony if someone commits video voyeurism against a minor, and require that anyone who commits video voyeurism against a child register as a sex offender.

Under current law, someone who is charged with video voyeurism would only be charged for the video, not the number of victims depicted in the video. Eisnaugle’s bill would allow prosecutors to charge someone for every victim depicted in video.

But, Gail Colletta disagrees with the amount of penalties Eisnaugle is putting in place. She’s the president of Florida Action Committee, a group that seeks to make the public more aware about myths versus facts regarding sex offender issues.

“I’m also the Mom of a young man who got caught up in all of this, while he was in a manic phase of a bi-polar event. I’m not here simply to tell you my son’s story, but I will say that prosecutors are not separating out those that pose a threat from those that actually made a mistake even if it was a single occurrence. We’re taking away the lives of young men who really do not understand what it is that they’ve done.”

As a person who was sexually abused for five years, Colleta says she understands the intent behind the bill, but legislation driven by emotion, not research, is irresponsible.

For example, research shows child pornographers are at a lower risk for re-offending than actual sex offenders, and would be better suited to rehabilitation.

And, South Florida forensic psychologist Eric Imhof agrees. A specialist in sex offenders for 20 years, he says lawmakers are jumping the gun, and lumping all sex offenders together, before doing the research.

“The current research shows that there is no bearing on the number of images on the risk that an individual poses. Research is also is inconsistent and doesn’t show consistently that pornography leads to commission of hands on offenses or more sexual violence. We have tools that will help us sort out who is high-risk and low-risk, and I don’t think at this time that these tools are being used effectively.”

Many lawmakers on the panel still said they supported the bill. But, after hearing some of the testimony, Democratic Representative John Julien of North Miami Beach says one area was a concern for him:

“I’m a parent of five, and one of the last things that I would ever want is to see an image of my child in child pornography. But, I am however, concerned we would penalize a person who possesses the material, very offensive material, but we would penalize the person who possesses the offensive material more than the person who manufactures, who creates and distributes the material.”

But, Eisnaugle, who was sure his bill would move quickly through committee, says he does not understand where all these concerns are coming from. He says all his bill is about is giving the victims a fair shake and bringing child pornographers to justice:

“Child pornographers use technology to put them [victims] all into one file way so that they can have thousands of victims, but only one charge. That’s the current state of the law. If we stand by up here and allow that, frankly I don’t know how I would go home and see my two kids. And, look, if you think every child deserves justice, if you don’t think every child deserves justice, then vote against this bill.”

The bill passed favorably among members of the House Judiciary Committee, with only one dissenting vote in Democratic Representative Elaine Schwartz of Hollywood. But, some supporters of the bill still had concerns that they hoped to work out with Eisnaugle. The bill now heads to the House floor. Its Senate companion, Senate Bill 964, is in its second committee stop.