Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, announced new legislation Thursday that would increase penalties for the possession of child pornography, with the intent of targeting the worst offenders.
The bill, SB 145, is sponsored by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office. Assembly Member Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, has signed on to be the principal co-author of this important legislation.
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California currently has the nation’s weakest laws for possessing child pornography. Crimes that could net a life sentence in some states may result in only a few months of incarceration here.
In the Internet age, when images can be sent around the world with little effort, children continue to be victimized long after the physical abuse has stopped. Sadly, this was made clear in a recent New York Times story, “The Price of Stolen Childhood,” which details the lives of young people driven into virtual seclusion by the images of themselves on the web.
“Child pornography is a tragic crime with lifelong consequences,” said Senator Pavley. “Many of these incidents are fueled by Internet activity. It is a very disturbing trend that must be addressed on a variety of fronts. This bill focuses on some of the most egregious crimes committed against children and focuses on stopping predators that continually feed the marketplace with images of those crimes.”
In response, SB 145 targets the markets for these images. Under current law, the strongest penalty for possession of child pornography is only three years in prison. This bill would raise the potential sentence to seven years.
Current statutes also do little to differentiate between offenders who have only a few images and hardened collectors who have thousands of photos and videos. This bill would target the worst of the worst by creating a new classification in California law of “aggravated possession” of child pornography, and allowing judges increased discretion to hand down longer sentences to these offenders. Aggravated possession would be defined in three ways:
* Possession of over 600 images, including at least 10 images of a child under 12 or a prepubescent child. It would also clarify that possession of a video counts as 75 images;
* Possession of images with the intent to use them to “groom” children to engage in sexual activity. Evidence of intent can include the possession of images that include both sexual activity and familiar cartoon characters, for instance, or evidence that the offender intended to show these images to children; or
* Possession of images of children engaged in sadistic or masochistic sexual situations.
SB 145 would increase the discretion of judges, rather than creating some new class of mandatory sentences that lump in many levels of offenders. Judges could still assign only probation when appropriate, but would also have the power to send particular offenders to state prisons for longer periods.
“This is an important bill that recognizes child pornography re-victimizes the weakest members of society—children who have suffered unspeakable sexual abuse,” said Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten. “We must increase punishment for this crime to deter people from using these images for their own sexual gratification. I am grateful for Senator Pavley’s willingness to support of this measure.”
This bill would affect only the most egregious offenders, including those most likely to actually sexually abuse children. It would also be consistent with the demands of the state’s prison realignment policies, and the ongoing federal requirements to decrease the overall prison population.
“California’s penalties against child pornographers are currently some of the weakest in the nation, but this legislation will increase those penalties for the worst of the worst offenders,” said Assembly Member Gorell. “As a former prosecutor, I share the frustration that comes from not being able to keep these dangerous predators where they belong, which is securely behind iron bars.”
Senator Pavley will work with law enforcement agencies and other legislators in making California’s child pornography laws a more meaningful deterrent to these horrible crimes.
Sen. Fran Pavley’s 27th District includes western portions of the Santa Clarita Valley.
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