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Suicide Rate Shockingly High Among Child Porn Suspects

From a purely legal perspective, child pornography-related criminal charges in the United States are some of the most difficult charges to face. New prosecution laws and minimum sentence requirements that have been enacted in the past few years have made defense of a child pornography crime difficult.

Perhaps more damning, though, to those charged with possession or distribution violations of child pornography-even if not convicted of the charges-is the social stigma which is attached to them. If such a charge becomes widespread knowledge, it can color the opinions of co-workers, friends and even family.

A recent report on LAW.com demonstrates the personal toll taken on an individual in this situation, recounting how suicide attempts and successful suicides have risen dramatically among those charged with child pornography-related crimes. In the northern district of California, according to the area’s leading legal newspaper, The Recorder, four suicides and one suicide attempt have been recorded in the last nine months.

With less hope than ever of a successful criminal defense, perhaps this upturn is not surprising: since 2006, after all, indictments for child pornography increased by 27%. With more severe crimes, a plea bargain is often the best hope that a criminal suspect has of regaining some control of their own life; yet, the child pornography laws in many states offer strict mandatory minimum sentences that serve to stifle any plea.

The record of defense, too, has not offered many suspects a clear path for a legal defense: of the 1,209 child porn cases completed by the Justice Department in 2006, 95% led to convictions and 92% resulted in guilty pleas. Certainly, it seems plausible that the unlikely prospect of avoiding conviction could lie at the heart of this tragic rise in suicide rates.

Of course, other theories have been offered to explain the connection. One therapist quoted as a source in the article who works mainly with sex offenders believes that because those addicted to child pornography dissociate the addiction with their rational, day-to-day selves, facing criminal charges may make some unable to deal with the issue psychologically.

This very real problem has been starting to be addressed within the justice system itself, as judges and others in pretrial services are more consciously determining whether or not the suspect is a suicide risk, and, if so, taking more steps to ensure proper custody and treatment. Some therapists believe that therapy as part of the penalty for first-time offenders would do more to reduce the risk of suicide but also assist the convicted offender with the seemingly impossible task of controlling addiction.

Yet for all the steps that could be taken to minimize the instances of suicide attempts, the problem will likely continue, as the harsh sentencing and nearly ironclad conviction rates are not going away. Though it wants to prevent individuals from taking their own lives, it’s clear the criminal justice system also wants the toughest penalties on child pornography offenders, and it can’t have it both ways.


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