Overheard on CNN.com: Communities, families grapple with sex offenses, child porn
Matthew Smith celebrates his 21st birthday with his family before going to prison for possession of child pornography.
May 14th, 2012
05:00 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Communities, families grapple with sex offenses, child porn

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

One could say there's another side of sex offenders: the way their offenses affect their families. This story, which focuses primarily on younger offenders accused of downloading child pornography,  garnered a powerful reaction from readers who debated the nuances of sex offender laws and the sexuality of young people.

Mothers of sex offenders share responsibility, burden of label

Some readers were appreciative of the article's perspective.

yellowrosela: "Thank you Emanuella Grinberg ... I doubt that any voice of reason will be taken seriously here, but I think this article was an honest presentation from the mothers of registrants. Everyone, except those that blatantly state if you let me go I will 'do it again,' deserves a second chance. That includes you and me. My Bible says in John 8:7, 'He who is WITHOUT SIN let him cast the first stone!' And, by the way, God doesn't grade on a curve. –Vicki Henry"

And some readers didn't feel sorry for these parents. This reader apparently wrote from outside the U.S.

Lauro Andrea: "This is such a disappointing article. It's mothers whining about the quality of life for their sex offender children. No real introspection. No concrete midway solution. Just how they are being persecuted? I was looking to see some redemptive inward look into attempting to trace causes and take responsibility. Instead, whine, whine, whine. I can tell you that if they were in lesser country, their sons would have been full-blown active pedophiles or have been torn to pieces by an angry mob. If you can visit Cambodia and see the damage wreaked by pedophiles who slipped through the net (the hundreds of children every year that get victimized is just staggering) you would kiss your ankle bracelets and be thankful. Better yet, if you can see the horrid prison conditions here that await foreign sex offenders, you wouldn't whine about the liberty you get there."

A lot of commenters wrote in about their personal experiences with various sexual offenses and abuses, involving themselves or others.

Insiteful: "I can truly relate to this. I had an acquaintance who went to prison for such. He had been his mother's No. 1 tech support for her home computer. While her son was in prison, his mom started to lean on me for her tech support. And of course, every phone call or visit, moved onto talking about her son, what he did, and her own feelings of guilt."

Others took a different perspective.

stimpage: "On a daily basis, I see firsthand the damage that is done to victims of child abuse. It never goes away, and these kids are scarred for life. Forgive me if I'm having difficulty conjuring up even a single solitary tear for poor Matthew Smith and the unfortunate situation that he put himself in ..."

People who view child pornography are sex offenders, this reader says.

NoRadicals99: "The moms say that their children only downloaded images, but do not mention that most of the child porn stems from child sex slaves. For that, they do deserve to be labeled sex offenders."

Comments about computer and Internet restrictions led to discussion about children's perceptions of sexuality.

doonerist: "I've always thought the 'no access to a computer' condition to be ridiculous. It's like prohibiting access to a television, or phone. One of the problems with the 'sex offender' label is the lack of levels within the class. There is a world of difference between an immature college kid downloading a few images of child porn out of curiosity and recklessness (and possibly under the influence) and the 30-something man who has thousands of such images and videos stored - evidence of an established, fully considered perversion and knowing violation of the law. And then there is the guy who has gone further and physically harmed children. Yet they all get the same label."

alexDW: "Even little kids are curious about these things. My 4-year-old daughter saw by accident a boy peeing and kept talking whole evening about the little thing hanging out from the boy. Should she be locked up as a sex criminal and pervert? She was certainly curious about things. You think nobody should ever be?"

Some folks talked about the sexualization of young people.

daskollaps: "Our popular culture deems it acceptable to market sex appeal to children, yet it is taboo to view them as sex objects? I don't think pedophilia is OK, but if our government really wants to keep people from treating children as sex objects, they should start from the advertising agencies and the popular media, not just spending money on trying to catch one Internet pervert at a time. I mean, seriously, have you seen the way our teenagers dress nowadays?! Can you seriously tell me that they're not marketed to dress like little sluts?"

This person made a jab at child beauty pageants.

aubrie: "Personally, I see it being equally perverse and sick for parents to dress up their little girls for 'pageants' with heels, died hair, gobs of disgusting make-up and Hoochie Mamma outfits and parading around wiggling and singing very adult songs. They should also be charged with this type of crime. I see no difference. Jon Benet Ramsey would be alive today if her parents had dressed her and treated her like a little girl instead of a street walker."

Another person said they think we have to find a way to rehabilitate sex offenders.

Thx4Fsh: "We cannot imprison every sex offender forever. It behooves society to make sure these people will not re-offend. Who is more likely to offend - the person who has a job, home and hope for the future or the person who lives under a bridge, with no job and no hope and only humiliation? The revenge of making them suffer forever may feel good, but it is often destructive and accomplishing the opposite of our goal - to keep children safe."

But on the other hand, says this reader, there has to be a reason people are making such content.

daguz: "Those who view this horrific trash create a demand for it. So yes, you deserve a lifetime of punishment because that child you were viewing will probably have a lifetime of pain."

Who do you go after?

DelishusCake: "One man takes a photo. 200 people look at the photo. Arrest the 200 people who looked at the photo. I'm pretty sure that just solved the problem. Obviously he's not gonna take another photo."

Torrent with care.

emtnap6: "Remember, if you're downloading this crap from a torrent, when its finished, you're automatically set to upload it so other pervs can download it! YOU'RE HELPING OTHER PERVS OUT THERE! So yes, prosecute them accordingly."

A few readers talked about public urination.

GoAwayObama: "We have to have some common sense about this registry thing. My friend in college was busted for peeing behind a Dumpster one night when we were barhopping. The cop said he could see his private parts while he was peeing so he was arrested for exposing himself in public and now is a registered sex offender for life. All for peeing behind a Dumpster at 2 a.m. There are legitimate people who need to be on this list for life; people who are violent predators. Not some 21-year-old college student who couldn't hold it in any longer."

But this reader said watching child pornography contributes to a sad cycle.

Deziann: "If you're watching a video or looking at pictures of children in sexual situations, you're not a lone perpetrator. You're participating in abuse that causes damage for a lifetime. The kids in those images are real live humans. They are not consenting, they may be kidnap victims, and are very possibly being abused by the people who are supposed to be caring for them. And 20 years from now, those former children may well be committing similar crimes. In many instances, a killer kills just once: the circumstances leading up to the crime may have been jealousy, money, fear. Rape, child abuse, sexual battery, etc., are all part of a pattern of 'I WANT' and a lust for power over victims. I'm very sorry for the moms in this story, but sorrier for the victims."

Many expressed sympathy for the parents involved.

shes_a_coug: "Some of these commenters are failing to put themselves in this mother's shoes. Would you dump your child because of the crimes for which he was convicted? Do you do that to your children or a family member - they make one big mistake and you cut them off for life? I've been in a situation as this woman has been, and it was heartbreaking. Unless you've been there, you really don't know. You've made huge mistakes in life, and don't act like you don't. We all have. So when you're pointing your finger at someone else's problems, you better make sure your finger is clean. Nobody's perfect."

How do we discourage sexual abuse of children?

comeonplease: "While I feel for the offenders and families, when will these guys get it? How much more awful do we need to make life for them until people of their ilk decide not to do these crimes? I am for making it more awful for them if that's what it takes. When I take take my grandkids out in public, I am always fearful for them. I always keep them in my vision. When these crimes move down to one time per year or less in our communities, maybe we can take the pressure off. But when I read the police reports in our local daily papers, this is a crime that repeats itself almost daily."

Be careful, urges this reader.

Sandra Walton: "The bad thing about the parents of sex offenders is they do not think about one thing. It is like a drug problem: once you start it is hard to stop. This is sad but true. It scares me a lot. In the town I am from, we have around 177 offenders. It scares me a lot. Another thing: please watch out, on some websites you can type in something and have child porn sites pop up. Even if you do not go to the sites, it stays on your hard drive, so be careful."

As far as keeping your Internet surfing clean, some readers gave suggestions.

Frederick2: "Can you be arrested if by accident you watch a picture of someone naked that looks above 18 but is not? How can you be sure?"

TimGreer: "Try using your best judgment, and if you feel you've stumbled across something that looks off, report it. Pretty simple."

What's your take on this issue? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Crime • Justice • Overheard on CNN.com
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. DoNotWorry

    I see repeated here "ONE BIG MISTAKE." I was abused by a cousin... he was 17. He abused little girls until he was put in jail for abusing a 5 year old daughter of his "girlfriend." He was convicted in his 40s. One big mistake or one time he got caught? Lifetime scars for victims of abuse. One big mistake? Right.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Your Uncle Ted

      Its called 'get over it'.

      May 15, 2012 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. Rediculously Disappointed

    My first reaction was to feel sadness for what this woman has gone through. But, as I contemplate the article I realized that this woman has no compassion for her child's victims. Victims who will never have the chance to put it behind them, never forget the pain inflicted on them, never have the opportunity to regain their childhood. As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness, but Consequences are also a part of our choices. Hurting our greatest treasures, children, has consequences and her child, a grown man, made the choice he did, his victims did not get that luxury. Now, live the life you chose and stop blaming others.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. April

    Ya know ppl want to worry bout the offenders and how they are gonna make it in life after prison. Lets talk bout the victims cause they may never b able to leave the their prison.(the pain and sufferingthe rest of their lives.)

    May 15, 2012 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
    • DeadIte

      Stop living in the past and move on, who would focus on that small part of their life?

      May 15, 2012 at 5:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. cabs

    I know 1 thing... if I ever get an unwanted email attachment, or click he wrong link... there is absolutely no way I'd even consider reporting it. Sorry to all of the mothers / fathers and victimized children out there, but there apparently is a don't pass go policy with this filth. Now I know how black people feel about the drug war, and why they won't talk to the police. All it takes is one misunderstanding or an Leo with a chip on his or her shoulder, and boom, before you know it, you're paying 10 grand for a competent lawyer, so you're not forced to take a plea bargain.. and that's only if you can afford it. Sometimes I wonder if the college kids, like the ones in this story, were even really guilty, or just bullied into taking a plea for financial reasons or just overall confusion about how the system works.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. Scrim

    People need to get over this stuff, whining about it 10 years later does nothing for you.
    So someone played with your butt, or weiner, big deal its not like you were murdered.
    Stop living in the past, and playing the victim role.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:48 am | Report abuse |
    • ImpishLisa

      sounds like you do those things. I can't wait for the day technology can reverse stream and when people like you make comments like this, they can scan your hard drive and see what you have on there.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Zimmerman

      If only it were that simple. I used to have a similar mind set, until I learned the ins and outs of the abuse my now wife has undergone. As life would have it, her son ended up abusing our daughter we had together when she was four. It's easy to say "get over it" if you've never been in those shoes. Those images, sensory, emotions stick with a person for decades with or without proper help and therapy. For some, it's as if it happened yesterday. For others, they can have flashbacks and be "re-victimized" on a daily basis. Don't speak on something you know nothing about.

      May 15, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bohemer

    In some states the laws are so drastic that I wonder why some of the young ones that were caught in the dragnet due to downloading do not thumb their noses at the US justice system and go leave the country to seek a job and new life elsewhere. I doubt the parole officials can order such people to stay in the country, or even ask for your passport.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Cheri

      You can't leave the county when you are on parole or probation without the officer's / courts permission, let alone leave the country. You will be a fugitive. Then what?

      May 15, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  7. AMI65

    There is a time to stand behind yur child when then do something wrong, you never stop loving them. But you can not continually forgive these types of mistakes that are made over and over again with the hope the mommy and daddy or my family will bail me out each time adn welcome me back with open arms as if nothing is wrong. They will not learn that they have hurt people..family, victims, etc..... Love, you love your child forever, but loving your child doesn't mean that you have to condone and "forget" what they did over and over and over again....if you don't accept it...maybe they will think twice before doing it again if they know they might not have a family or friend to turn to.....

    May 15, 2012 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  8. Garden Lobster

    I read the story, I have read most of the comments, and I am dealing with this now. My son is a tween and put his hands on a younger friend after she told him not to, over a period of months when our families got together. The first time, we thought it was curiosity; she was curious, too, and liked him. The second time, she was told to stay away from him and out of his room. I tried to find out then if someone was doing the same to him, that it was wrong, and if he did it again he would be in serious trouble. The third time, she let her father know he was actively trying to get her to his room. It was all we could do to stop the dad from beating my son. I called the police myself and filed a report against my own kid. He's a gifted & talented student. Required psychological evaluation yields nothing about abuse elsewhere. Best they can gather, he has poor impulse control. He's a good kid. A normal kid. With a normal, suburban family. I didn't raise a monster. He's been grounded indefinitely. The DA hasn't stated whether it's pressing charges. It's been a month or two now. We're in limbo. Friendships are strained. I'm severely depressed. I was molested by a family member when I was little, so I've always been one to teach my kids respect, to hate these things, to fight against these things. I've been for a death penalty for child rapists since I realized there wasn't one. I don't give birth to monsters like that! How could that "thing" be my flesh & blood? And then the reality hits – he's a boy. He's MY boy. He didn't penetrate an infant or sell child slaves, he just made a friend uncomfortable and vulnerable. But, am I rationalizing? Is there a difference? Maybe it would be easier to hate him if he had really hurt someone with true malice. It would be easier if the case were clear cut, if he were going to juvy, if there was a real path to follow to rehabilitation. We're so lost. Now I know, there are moms out there, whose kids got in trouble, who are treated like monsters even though they never put a hand on anyone. How much worse is my own for doing so? How can I quell the rising hatred against an idea when it exists in my own flesh & blood, that I love? So we go to counseling. We hope for normalcy. Someday.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Maya

      Your son is not an adult. His brain has not reached the stage of development where he can be expected to fully control his impulses. The "monsters" to which you refer are developed enough to control their impulses (unless they are psychopaths, which is another matter), even though it may be very difficult due to severe pathology. I'm no expert, but it seems to me that if you've already ruled out the possibility that someone has abused your son, you still need to find out why he did it. By "why he did it," I don't necessarily mean a psychologist's opinion about why he did it. That is certainly valuable, but it is also very important to know why HE thinks he did it, and he may not be willing to talk about that with a stranger. It certainly could be that he simply has poor impulse control, which can be helped by something like behavior modification therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.

      May 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
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