In Wisconsin and throughout the United States, adults are relatively free to engage in consensual sexual activity. As long as the activity is only between adults and everyone consents, it isn’t illegal to engage in fantasy.
Yet here and all across the U.S., law enforcement engages in sting operations meant to uncover illegal sex involving children. Often organized into specialized units, officers involved in these stings are given huge budgets and almost unlimited power.
It’s clear that sexual activity with a child is illegal, as is photographic or video recording of sex with a child. And, most people support the police searching for and arresting people who engage in sex with children.
But that’s not all these units do, according to a doctorate-level sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist who acts as an expert witness in cases around the country. The officers are looking for something other than child sex: people who fantasize about child sex.
It’s not illegal to fantasize about child sex, as long as you only engage in sex with adults and don’t consume child pornography. But it may as well be. Police are actively seeking out people who fantasize about child sex online.
Officers go undercover on adult-to-adult chat rooms looking for targets. They pretend to be children seeking sex with adults, or adults who want to watch their kids have sex with adults. Once they locate someone who finds the idea appealing — as a fantasy — they pounce. They assume anyone who would want to fantasize about sex with a child must be guilty of consuming child porn or actually having sex with kids.
That’s not true, according to the sex therapist/expert witness. Many people have harmless fantasies that involve an age difference. An example is a fantasy involving a teacher having sex with a student, or a “what if” fantasy involving having met their love at a younger age.
The undercover officers often play up their roles, leading people on who are arguably interested only in adult-adult sex. They develop chat and text transcripts that make the person look like they really want sex with a child, when that may not be true.
Fantasy talk can look ugly to the wrong people, and that includes some police.
Even though, in America, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, a chat history with child sex fantasies may well be enough to get you convicted. Juries are only too willing to assume that the existence of the fantasy proves interest in the reality.
People fantasize about lots of things they don’t really want to happen. Fantasies and online chat should not be enough to put you in jail.