Closing a Loophole for Predators

By Senator Bill Diamond

Last year, Maine passed a bill that I sponsored to close a serious loophole in our laws that protect kids from sexual predators.

It seems that, while it was illegal for a person to download images or videos from the Internet or in other ways possess child pornography, it was not illegal in Maine for a person to view these images. This omission was originally brought to my attention when I heard of a teacher who was being investigated for having extensive inappropriate conversations and e-mail traffic with his female students. When officials looked at his computer, they found he had been visiting child porn websites and had viewed literally hundreds of pornographic pictures of young children.

He was brought to trial and acquitted, and out of this acquittal came LD 580, “An Act to Protect Children from Sexual Predators.” To protect people who stumble across sites, there is language that makes it a crime only if it can be proven that there was “intent to view” these images. While this law couldn’t do anything about the original case, it will prevent such cases in Maine in the future.

This case raised significant concerns, so I wanted to see what the laws on this issue were in other states. I did a little research this spring. What I found was very interesting, and a little surprising. Out of 52 jurisdictions that I looked at (including the District of Columbia and the federal government), 16 have legislatively prohibited viewing child pornography, 11 have court cases interpreting possession of child pornography laws to include those who intentionally visit sites with child pornography, 21 have not addressed viewing child pornography either legislatively or through the courts, three have current bills under consideration that would outlaw viewing child pornography, and amazingly (to me anyway) one — Georgia — has a court decision stating that simply viewing child pornography on a website without actually exercising control over it (downloading, printing, etc.) is not a crime.

The federal law on this topic got my attention. It is a good law, similar to Maine’s, but it only applies on federally controlled property and territories. Therefore, there are two issues to consider. One is that the simplest way to deal with this across the nation would be a blanket federal prohibition. There are problems with this, however, as the Congress generally leaves such matters to the states. I am exploring to see if there is any interest in pursuing such a federal ban. The other thought is to develop a “model bill” on the topic and market it in other states. I have been talking with various organizations across the country to determine how best to do this. I will be interviewed July 16 at 7:30 p.m. on a national web-based radio show on the topic. If you are interested in tuning in, the address for the show is webtalkradio.net/shows/voice-of-american-education/

Protecting kids from sexual predators is a real passion for me, and I think it will be occupying a fair amount of my time in the future. If you have any thoughts on this, or if there is anything else I can do for you, please contact me at my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website, www.mainesenate.org/diamond to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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