The Gavel and the Damage Done

    Given the recent national furor over Catholic priests' sexual offenses, most people, I think, would be outraged by a sexual relationship between an adult and a thirteen-year-old -- especially if the adult were the child's teacher. Yet New Jersey Superior Court Judge Bruce Gaeta didn't see a problem with the tryst between a forty-something middle-school teacher and her thirteen-year-old student. Gaeta dismissed the relationship as a way for the boy "to satisfy his sexual needs." At sentencing Gaeta said, "I really don't see the harm that was done here, and certainly society doesn't need to be worried." Instead of the plea bargain of three years in prison -- down from a possible twenty -- the woman received only five years probation. We can be grateful that the resulting uproar led to a disciplinary review of the judge and his swift reassignment. An appellate court reversed the decision, and the teacher will head to prison after all. But while justice was eventually done, Judge Gaeta's decision reveals a real problem in our judicial system today: the lack of an understanding of the threat posed by the sexualization of children. The law is intended to protect us against real threats, whether it's corporations disclosing operating losses or adults having sex with children. But when it involves one of our nation's great idols -- unfettered sexual license -- this understanding of law is crumbling. This unwillingness to recognize the threat to children led the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act this spring. Because no actual child is used in the production of virtual pornography -- computer images created to look like children having sex -- the majority could find no reason to ban it. Missing from their reasoning, however, was how images of children -- real or virtual -- gratify the violent lusts of pedophiles and inflame them to violate real children. Similarly, the Court found the Child Online Protection Act unconstitutional because it called for measures deemed not the least restrictive -- meaning inconvenient for adults -- as a means of preventing children's access to pornographic websites. The justices decided that adults' right to easy access to pornography trumped that of society's desire to shield kids from even the most damaging material. The Third Circuit Court used similar reasoning when it issued an injunction against the Children's Internet Protection Act that required federally funded libraries to install filters on their computers. Despite provisions allowing the filters to be unlocked for legitimate research, the judges thought that this might make adults uncomfortable. Christians understand that shame is one of God's great roadblocks, a deterrent to people who want to destroy others or themselves. Unfortunately, many Americans have so embraced sexual sin that their consciences are unable to guide their decisions -- even where children are concerned. As Edmund Burke wrote so eloquently, society cannot exist without restraints on human will and appetite. But when it comes to sex and children, we seem determined to remove all restraints. We need to elect leaders who will appoint judges who are law-abiding, not law-bending. And we need to get senators to confirm those judges, which the current senate leadership is not doing -- and we need to do this for the sake of our kids. For further reading and information: Michael and Diane Medved, Saving Childhood: Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence (HarperCollins, 1999). Jan LaRue and Frank York, Protecting Your Child in an X-Rated World (Tyndale House, 2002). Paulo Lima, "Teacher in tryst is spared prison,", 23 May 2002. Paulo Lima, "Teacher-teen sex case judge reassigned,", 20 July 2002. Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, No. 00-795. Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, No. 00-1293. BreakPoint commentary no. 020520, "Changing the Equation: Culture and Internet Porn." Roberto Rivera, "Virtual Virtue: Time to State the Obvious," BreakPoint Online, 1 May 2002.


Chuck Colson


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