Mass Hysteria

Whenever mass hysteria seizes a country, perfectly sensible, intelligent and educated people seem to lose touch with reality. Such is now the case with child pornography.

Justin Berry, 19, of Bakersfield, Calif., is being trotted around by the New York Times and his lawyer as a "victim" of child pornography. Whoa, Nellie. Berry was the child pornographer, a sex performer for pay and a prostitute. He made, according to the Times, hundreds of thousands of dollars selling his sex act to customers he solicited. Now, he’s being called the victim, and his customers are the "predators."

Horse apples. At no time, according to his story, did anyone coerce or threaten him. Most of the time he was performing in front of a Web cam in the safety of his own home. Later, he rented an apartment for his performances, and after that, he moved to Mexico, where his father joined in his enterprise. Berry was an Internet entrepreneur. He was and is a hustler. Before the age of 18, he hustled voyeurs, and now he’s hustling the Justice Department, the Times and various journalists. Look at this guy’s face — I wouldn’t buy a new car from him, much less a used one.

It’s strange, too, that the New York Times found him a lawyer, a doctor and helped him cut a deal with the Justice Department for immunity from prosecution. The Times claimed this departure from standard journalism practice was necessary to save "other children." Of course, the so-called children are teenagers voluntarily selling images of themselves for hard cash, just like Berry did.

Part of this problem is semantics. Adult politicians have arbitrarily decided that everyone is a child until his or her 18th birthday. This is a prime example of a law being in opposition to reality. Childhood ends with puberty, and what comes after puberty is young adulthood. In most of the world and for most of the centuries, puberty was recognized as the gateway to adulthood.

The law seems to think that young men and women between 13 and 17 are helpless, asexual morons incapable of making any decisions on their own and incapable of saying "No." That’s another load of horse apples. Anybody who was ever 13 or ever had teenagers in the family knows they have minds and wills of their own — and they think a lot about sex. They might lack the judgment that comes with experience, but they are fully capable of thinking and making decisions, even if they are wrong ones.

Justin Berry, at age 13, got a Web camera, and when some guy offered him $50 to take his shirt off, he recognized a business opportunity and leaped at it. All he had to do to save himself from the life he now claims to regret was say "No" or "Get lost."

There are some pornographers who take advantage of street kids and children from dysfunctional families and force them into posing for pornographic pictures and videos. These monsters should be hunted down and, once convicted, never the see the light of day again. At the same time, it is necessary to recognize that not all teenagers are innocent, and they are not children. If you doubt that, visit your local juvenile court and juvenile prison. People like Justin who sell child pornography should certainly be prosecuted. I think it’s crazy, however, to impose long prison sentences on otherwise law-abiding people just for looking at pictures. Passive voyeurism should not be considered a felony, since it involves no contact, much less harm to any child. A misdemeanor, perhaps.

As for those creeps who get caught in sting operations trying to have sex with what they believe is a pre-18-year-old, I have no problem prosecuting them, as long as everyone remembers they wouldn’t show up if the teenager, real or a cop, had not invited them.

By and large, criminal law should apply to force and fraud. Simply bad or unwise, but voluntary, behavior should be the province of priests and parents.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.