PITTSBURGH – Karen Fletcher, the Donora, Pennsylvania woman who ran the RedRoseStories.com Website, which the government charged contained obscene text pieces involving sex with and torture of underage characters, today pleaded guilty to six counts of “using an interactive computer service to distribute obscene materials.”
Fletcher, whose site had 29 subscribers worldwide and charged $10 per month for access – then her sole source of income – received, under a plea agreement worked out between U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan’s office, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman and Trial Attorney Michael Yoon, both of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) of the Justice Department, and defense counsel Jerry Mooney and Lawrence W. Walters, a sentence of five years’ probation, including six months of house arrest with electronic monitoring, plus a $1,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti pronounced the sentence, and could have imposed as much as five years in prison, but the government agreed that such a sentence was not appropriate.
What’s really disturbing about this is that the court is deciding that written words can be deemed obscene, and that you, and I, can go to jail for writing down the things in our heads. We don’t have to act on them, we don’t even have to want to act on them. We write them down, we go to jail because somebody else finds them disturbing or offensive.
Not sexual images of underaged children. Not threats. Not descriptions of actual events. Just thoughts in our heads unapproved by the state. Under such a ruling, Lolita would land Nabokov in jail. Didn’t we already fight this battle? Oh yeah, we did. Timothy Sandefur has the legal dissection over at Freespace.
Most of all, given the fact that the written stories in question are unquestionably fictitious, it’s hard not to see these prosecutions as simple moralizing: as attempts, in the Osborne Court’s words, at paternalistically controlling the heads of the people who write these stories. Now, the general public may find such stories highly offensive, but that is not gounds for prosecuting them. Just about everybody has some sexual fantasy or other that they would be extremely embarrassed to make public—fantasies they would never act out in real life.
My thoughts exactly. But only of course, if the state approves them.
From whence came the art: