A good idea gone bad: How the PA Senate sabotaged the sexual abuse prevention plan

By Randall Hayes of PARSOL

In September 2019, the increasingly prevalent and in-demand problem of online images of child sexual abuse (CSA) or “child pornography” rocked the Senate of Pennsylvania in a big way. The influential Chairman of the State Government Committee, Senator Mike Folmer, was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography after uploading an image of an underage female to his Tumblr account. Following his resignation, he was eventually sentenced to a 1-2 year term of confinement and 8 years of probation.

His replacement, Senator David Arnold, is a former county-level District Attorney. Given his background as a prosecutor, the scandal surrounding Senator Folmer, and the public outrage in anticipation of a lenient-sentence double-standard for a State Senator vs. an average Joe, it did not come as a surprise when Senator Arnold introduced Senate Bill 1075 in April 2020. This bill sought to increase the penalties for child pornography crimes where abuse is depicted or victims are prepubescent.

As Legislative Director for The PA Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (PARSOL), SB 1075 came to my attention as a proposal that ran counter to our mission: A PA Safe and Just For All.

What years of research on a variety of social ills has demonstrated is that tougher penalties are not effective at reducing behavior. As a Sep. 2019 feature in The New York Times details, the unfortunate reality about images of CSA is that this material has only become more popular even as criminal penalties have become more severe.

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