A new law that further defines child pornography and more heavily prosecutes those who distribute and possess it went into effect recently, and law enforcers are hoping it’ll help keep offenders behind bars.
The legislation effectively closes a gap where possessors of “child erotica” — photos or videos of children who are being portrayed sexually or exploited — but aren’t necessarily nude, wasn’t considered child pornography.
They are now.
The law was signed by Gov. Chris Christie in July 2017 and went into effect Feb. 1. Officials say it’ll help keep more predators behind bars and could help stop some from carrying out hands-on offenses.
And there’s more to it beyond child erotica.
What is ‘child erotica’?
The state law expanded the definition of child pornography to include images that portray children in a sexual manner, not just those of nude children.
It means that if the pose, composition or format of the photo is taken or used in a sexual manor, it’s considered pornography. Child erotica also includes photos or video with the purpose “of sexual stimulation or gratification.”
“There are plenty of ways children can be exploited without being fully naked,” Elie Honig, director of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice said. “And this law addresses that.”
Creation of a new crime
The law also reads, someone who “knowingly conspires with others to establish or maintain a child pornography distribution” network can now be charged with being a “leader of a child pornography network,” which is a first-degree crime if the offense involved more than 100,000 child pornography items. It’s punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine.
An offender will be charged with the crime in the second degree if they possess or distribute more than 1,000 items, third-degree if they possess less than 1,000 items.
What is a “super-possessor”?
Law enforcement considers those who possess large numbers of items of child pornography “super-possessors.”
Advancements in technology makes the ability to download large numbers of digital files much easier, the state said in a statement about the new law.
And the ability to share the files with other people makes it harder and harder to catch and prosecute offenders, New Jersey State Lt. John Pizzuro, the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children commander told NJ Advance Media. He said messaging apps like Kik make it easy to talk about and share pornography.
“A new app comes out tomorrow, and we all think it’s cute,” Pizzuro said. “But as soon as predators realize children are on it, they’ll get it on too.”
A recent statewide child pornography bust, called “Operation Safety Net” included the arrests of 79 offenders. Many would be able to be charged additionally under the new law if the operation had occurred this year, Pizzuro said.
Closing a gap
Honig said the new law allows prosecutors to go after offenders with harsher punishments. A few years ago, it was common for offenders to get off with probationary sentences, or for some offenders to not be charged.
But Honig said predators can now be charged with a longer list of crimes and will face more time behind bars. If offenders are out on parole, he added, they’ll face harsher punishments for violating the new definitions of child pornography.
“There were still gaps in the law and the new legislation was effort to close those gaps,” Honig said.
Pizzuro said he hopes to be able to track down and charge offenders earlier in their process of collecting child pornography. He described “child erotica” like a gateway drug to collecting and distributing other items.
“This law enables us to charge when there are certain images that wouldn’t fit the prior definition, he said. “For example, where people might start out looking for [child erotica] photos, they may move into looking for harsher child pornography.”
He added that the new law will allow members of internet crimes units to investigate offenders at an earlier stage, especially those who may move on to hurting kids in person.