Just days after sparring with President Joe Biden’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court over her perceived leniency with child porn offenders, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has introduced legislation to ensure harsh punishments for those who view such content.
Hawley — alongside Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) — introduced the PROTECT Act of 2022 on Tuesday. If signed into law, the legislation would institute a five-year-mandatory-minimum sentence for the receipt and possession of child pornography, more accurately called child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
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The law, if approved, would furthermore prohibit federal judges, like SCOTUS nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, from sentencing below federally established guidelines’ range for facts found during trial or admitted by the defendant in question.
“The horror of child pornography is exponentially worse than it was a decade ago, and judges handing out lenient sentences for these criminals is a big reason why,” Hawley explained in a statement to Fox News. “While the White House continues to dismiss concerns about leniency toward child porn offenders as a ‘desperate conspiracy theory,’ the numbers speak for themselves. Congress must act before this problem becomes even worse.”
To provide some perspective, it is important to grasp just how widely available CSAM has become since the dawn of the internet age.
Less than a decade ago, there were just shy of one million CSAM images online. By 2018, that number skyrocketed to a stunning 45 million images and videos, according to The New York Times. In 2021, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported there were nearly 85 million images and videos of CSAM on the internet.
At least 16 states across the country have declared pornography consumption in general a “public health crisis” and several have called on the U.S. government to tackle what has been dubbed the “porn epidemic.” Not only are more and more children accessing pornography, they are also posting illicit content of themselves online.
Despite these deeply troubling realities, much of the debate over child pornography laws has become mired in partisan politics. The latest episode in this saga came after Hawley — and several other Republicans — questioned Brown for the ways she has sentenced CSAM offenders.
Sen. Lee, for his part, argued for harsher sentencing guidelines, stating, “Those who view and share child sexual abuse material (CSAM) fuel demand for the sexual abuse of children. Last week’s hearings showed that activist judges will not do their job unless Congress mandates minimum sentences for these violent crimes. This bill would make the law in this area crystal clear: If you view or share CSAM, you’ll go to prison for a very long time.”
“Our communities must be protected from sick individuals who exploit and victimize children, and also from liberal activist judges who abuse their sentencing discretion to let offenders off the hook,” added Sen. Scott. “Federal sentencing guidelines for these heinous crimes are critical, and I am proud to support this good bill to ensure guidelines are strictly enforced.”
Democrats, however, have been critical of Republicans’ questioning of Brown on this issue.
In an appearance this week on MSNBC, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) accused the GOP of pandering to QAnon conspiracy theorists who have, seemingly in his mind, made concerns over the proliferation of child pornography a bigger deal than is necessary.
Durbin did, though, concede the minimum-sentencing laws should be updated to meet the current problem.
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