In a gross article crossing into territory any decent person would find morally abhorrent, The New York Times decided to defend so-called “victimless” child sex crimes in a lengthy apologetic for men in prison for soliciting sex with minors.
The article is a surreal read. Rather than focusing on how sex crimes devastate victims’ lives, or the efforts of organizations to halt sexual violence against children worldwide and domestically, or even focusing on the grueling work of the law enforcement agents involved in these vile crimes, the Times waxes sympathetically about the lives of three men who were arrested for soliciting sex with minors online and how it has affected their families.
The Times introduces the first not by his crime, sentence, nor any apology for his actions, but by telling about his hobbies and close relationship with his mother. The paper describes him as an avid online gamer, a “Dungeons and Dragons” dungeon master, and, in the words of his mother, “introverted, sensitive, immature, coddled, nerdy.” Jace Hambrick, at 20 years old, connected with a Craigslist ad for sex that was ultimately part of a net nanny sting.
This wasn’t the first time he had solicited sex online. Hambrick answered an ad and exchanged messages with an undercover agent posing as a 13-year-old girl. The cover identified herself multiple times as age 13, including when Hambrick asked clarifying questions about her age.
From the Times’ description, their age discussion from Hambrick’s viewpoint was as follows: “Was this an elaborate game? Again she claimed to be 13. The photo seemed to tell a different story, and the gaming chair she was seated in looked too expensive for a kid. She used slang a 13-year-old probably wouldn’t know, like ‘FTP’ — ‘[expletive] the police’ — that originated in ’80s hip-hop. The vulgarities and snide tone seemed too adult. Her texts were full of ‘lol’s. Was she an immature teenager? Or a sly adult? Her driving directions seemed too specific for 13.”
Children Are Not Potential Sex Partners — Ever
Regardless of whether you think picking up strangers on the internet for sex is a sound idea, hearing that your would-be sex partner is only 13 years old should bring the conversation to a full stop. That should be a total dealbreaker, not an opportunity to think of situations in which the person on the other side of the screen could be saying they’re 13 but are actually older, or why she might be 13 but somehow more mature, or any of this nonsense.
Driving directions were too specific? Slang that 13-year-olds might not know? What on Earth does any of that matter if there’s even a chance she is a child? These excuses are an attempt to duck and shift blame, but there are simply no situations in which adults should be considering sex with kids.
It should go without saying, but if someone says she’s a child, she is not a potential sex partner. It doesn’t matter how pretty she is, how much slang or how many pop culture references she can spit, or how many mutual interests you share. Children are not sex partners, and hooking up with them or making plans to hook up with them is criminal. No mitigating factor suddenly makes this acceptable, and attempting to normalize this by describing laws tailored to protect children as draconian is bizarre.
New York Times Bemoans Sentencing for Solicitors
The article also spends a significant amount of time complaining about the length of sentences for these internet-based solicitation crimes — wherein people take the further step of actually buying condoms and showing up to meet who they think are young children for sex — versus crimes against real children.
“The men caught in these cases can wind up serving more time than men who are convicted of sexually assaulting and raping actual children,” the Times article reads. “While there are no statistics comparing sentencing among different states in such predator stings, Washington’s criminal code has some particularly draconian provisions that result in unusually lengthy sentences.”
Another section of the article again casts the perpetrator as the victim, especially with sentencing, saying, “Unfortunately for Wright, there was no victim in his case, or in any of these cases. In Washington, a man could be caught fondling his niece and potentially qualify for an alternative sentence, but if he sends lewd texts to an undercover detective, he does not.”
As Tim Ballard, CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that rescues children from human trafficking, told me in an email in response to the Times’ article and portrayal of perpetrators:
I’m saddened to see an article like this come out that sympathizes with child predators. We are seeing a shift in society where sympathy is somehow given to these monsters who show up to rape children. The New York Times’ criticism of the Net Nanny operation having ‘no victims,’ is appalling and to that I would ask, what would have happened if it wasn’t law enforcement on the other side of that door?
…Operations like Net Nanny are successful in pulling dangerous people who are scavenging the internet for children off the streets. While the New York Times didn’t include this in their article, once perpetrators are arrested in operations like Net Nanny, oftentimes you will have past victims of theirs come forward or law enforcement is able to investigate other child assault crimes and these offenders are properly brought to justice.
Don’t Normalize Child Sex Crimes
I feel for the parents in this article. It must be devastating to watch your child be arrested, tried, and dragged through the media for attempted sex crimes against a child. I can’t imagine the stress of worrying about them in prison, especially with the reputation of how awful prison is for sex offenders. But I’m also taken aback by the idea of fighting these sentences and blaming the law enforcement officers involved, as well as organizations such as O.U.R.
It’s clear from the communications to those convicted of these crimes from the undercover agents that the potential sex partner in these situations was a child — and sometimes a very young child. Some of the net nanny setups involve hypothetical children as young as six years old. Until the men walk through the doors of the sting house and see the waiting police officers, they don’t know it’s all adults and no real children. They’re walking into situations with sex with a child in mind.
There’s no reason to create sympathetic narratives around these situations and the people snared by these online ads. Decrying the sentencing because a real child’s life wasn’t actually destroyed, just planned to be destroyed, is baffling and horrifying. The very last thing we need is child solicitation and rape to be normalized in any way, in any medium, in our society.