Mark Foley's Statements on Child Exploitation

Former Rep. Mark Foley appeared on Talk of the Nation on April 17, 2002, to discuss child exploitation. Here's the transcript of his appearance.

CONAN: Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida, co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. Congressman, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

Representative MARK FOLEY (R. Fla.): Thank you. Good to be with you.

CONAN: You were quoted in The New York Times today as saying the Supreme Court "sided with pedophiles over children." Why do you think that?

Rep. FOLEY: Well, I think what we've done here is allowed people to get away, if you will, whether it's virtual reality or live children, exploiting them for sexual gratification. I think we're entering a very, very dangerous period. I'm not a prude. I have no problem with adult pornography. People are entitled to read it, watch it, see it in their homes or in public accommodations. Where I have to draw the line is using children for the excitement of those more mature people who should know the difference and know better. So I was troubled by the court's rendering. We worked long and hard on that bill to pass it in '96, and we're prepared to meet with Mr. Ashcroft and other legal scholars to define a bill that hopefully will pass the muster of the Supreme Court when we reintroduce it.

CONAN: What areas do you think you might have to tighten up?

Rep. FOLEY: Well, obviously, they're using the standards of visual reality — meaning you're not really depicting live, breathing humans — in the sexual act or sexual endeavor. And I think we're going to have to find a standard that will at least allow us to further explore, based on the Internet, this new technology, how to limit the production of this very same material. Justice Kennedy, I believe, compared this to "Romeo & Juliet," a Shakespearean work. Well, I have to disagree with him, because it may have been appropriate during Shakespeare's time, but we are in a very, very different time.

Let me give you an example. CoachBoca was his screen name. He was a rabbi from Boca Raton. Basically enticed a young person via the Internet to having a sexual relationship. The Internet is a very powerful tool. It's a positive tool for education, but it also has some unintended consequences. And I think for the judges to simply say by the fact that you're using mechanical or visual reality to create the same situation as if they were live actors, and yet under the cover of visual reality, you can exempt yourself from the law, I just think is far-reaching in the consequence to kids today.

CONAN: An e-mail question from Alice in Rochester, New York. She writes, 'Why can't the burden of proof be put on the defendant in these cases? Why shouldn't it be the responsibility to prove that it is a fake child in the picture and to put that responsibility to prove that on the person charged?' Might that be something you would consider in your new legislation?

Rep. FOLEY: That may be something worth considering. Again, the sad commentary today is we are, in fact, talking about children, and that's where I really think we should find a way legally to draw the line. If you want to show adults in simulation having sex, that's your business. If you want to use graphic artists to create sexual activity between consenting adults and legal, people who've reached the age of maturity, that's one thing. But again, we're endeavoring into the area where you're using 13- and 14-year-olds.

Just recently, we had a large expose of these child-modeling sites that's gaining national attention, where parents are allowing their kids to model on the Internet. Now some have called me and said, 'Listen, Mark, that's just like the Sunday paper. When you get it, there's JC Penney ads where the girls are posing in their underwear. Isn't that pornographic?' No. What I consider pornographic is when you're allowed to interact with a person who has a less than desirable intent. You're asked to model suggestively in outfits that they sent you. This is the reality. This is what's happening on the Internet, and that's why I feel compelled to speak out against the court's actions yesterday.

CONAN: Well, the court's actions yesterday might make it more difficult to prosecute such cases, but they do nothing to make the cases that you're talking about where real children are involved, those are still illegal.

Rep. FOLEY: Those are still illegal. But again, I sense that as we get into this new dynamic of virtual reality, then we will be replacing real people and creating the same materials, just not using live actors. So I guess that would...

CONAN: And...

Rep. FOLEY: ...mean that we don't have to worry about hiring Julia Roberts for the next film. We'll find somebody technically correct or at least anatomically close where we can manufacture that character and get away from a $20 million signing bonus for a movie.

CONAN: Well, Angelina Jolie may have more of a problem considering the movie she made about Lara Croft. But, Congressman, one of the questions that the court had is, Where is the crime?

Rep. FOLEY: And that's troubling. The crime is hard to establish. Because as they're saying, the standard is if it leads to a crime, then we have something to punish with. Again, I look at this more from a child-endangerment aspect. It's not necessarily that we have committed the crime already and can find reasonable cause to prosecute. My concern is it's luring people into the likelihood that they become victims themselves. I think that's a misuse of youth and I think it's a way to soil their future, if you will, by bringing — whether they're in contact with this — now the gentleman earlier suggested that if they are given this material, it's still subject to criminal prosecution. I wholeheartedly agree.

But I think as we get into this Internet debate, there's going to be a lot of areas that are a little bit more gray. They're not as black and white as they are in traditional law, and we have to think more thoughtfully of how to create legislation to at least provide a base level of protection for the most vulnerable in our society.

CONAN: Congressman Foley, thanks very much for joining us today.

Rep. FOLEY: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Congressman Mark Foley, a Republican from Florida, co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, and he spoke to us from his office on Capitol Hill.

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