Long prison sentences REQUIRED

Americans found guilty of possessing child pornography on their computers deserve to go to prison and stay there for years. Those actually found guilty of physically forcing children to engage in sexual acts, recording it and putting it online should go to prison for life.

Those found guilty of possessing and distributing child pornography deserve long prison sentences.

Stopping the production, distribution and possession of child pornography is one of the most important functions police and prosecutors have in this Internet age.

So we applaud the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, the Monroe police department and the other agencies that worked with them, including a high-tech State Police unit, for arresting 13 local suspects on child pornography charges. The prosecutor’s office and police announced the charges Thursday.

While the Internet has become one of the most important communication tools and information repositories ever created, it has also made it easier for people to commit certain crimes — the distribution of child pornography being one of them.

Sick people can abuse a child in front of camera in Bangladesh, Thailand or somewhere else on the other side of the planet, and that video or picture can be seen by pedophiles here while it’s happening.

In 2004, there were 3,433 child abuse domains where pedophiles could go to see children being sexually exploited. Two years later, the number of such Web sites had jumped to 10,656 according to the Internet Watch Foundation, a British nonprofit group that monitors child pornography online.

Federal, state and local prosecutors and police have had to shift their priorities to keep up.

In 1994, the crime involving children and sex most referred to federal prosecutors was direct sexual abuse — 73 percent of all referrals, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

By 2006, child pornography topped that list at 69 percent of all referrals to U.S. attorneys regarding children and sexual exploitation.

New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said that over the past two years, more than 100 child porn arrests have been made in New Jersey.

This latest investigation netted seven adults — all from Gloucester County — and six juveniles. Four of the adults are charged with second-degree felonies which could, if they are convicted, bring prison sentences of up to 10 years in prison. The other adults, including West Deptford High School teacher James J. Atkinson III, who has been suspended from his job, face fourth-degree felony charges which could bring up to 18 months in prison.

It is important for police and prosecutors to make these cases public and bring charges that come with the potential for long prison sentences.

Unfortunately, the Internet is a largely unregulated superhighway, and there’s no way to ever completely shut down the flow of illegal material such as child pornography.

However, we can protect children both in the United States and around the world from being forced to perform horrible, unnatural acts by hitting the demand-side of the business here. Because this is a crime that has the most innocent and vulnerable of victims, the punishment for possessing and distributing child pornography must be harsh.

Americans found guilty of possessing child pornography on their computers deserve to go to prison and stay there for years. Those actually found guilty of physically forcing children to engage in sexual acts, recording it and putting it online should go to prison for life.

And police and prosecutors need to keep up their investigations and keep making arrests. The continued threat of prison is the best weapon we have to protect children around the world from this evil.

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