Group Distributes Sex Offender Flyers About Super Bowl Performer Pete Townshend

February 1, 2010 by David S. Seltzer

As a Miami cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I was paying attention in 2003 when Pete Townshend, guitarist for legendary rock band The Who and a British citizen, was detained in that country for looking at child pornography. Townshend told British police that he had paid for access to a child pornography site to research his own autobiography and a campaign against child pornography. He was never charged with a crime, but British law enforcement put him on their sex offender registry for five years. That five-year period is now over, but at least one Florida group that opposes child pornography isn’t satisfied. ABC News reported Jan. 29 that Protect Our Children, a nonprofit from Brevard County, has mailed hundreds of postcards in Miami Gardens and around SunLife Stadium, warning nearby families that Townshend will be in the area Feb. 7.

The postcards, in English and Spanish, say Townshend will be “at large” in Miami when his band performs at the halftime show of Super Bowl XLIV. They say only that he was registered as a sex offender at home “for an offense related to child pornography.” According to ABC, Protect Our Children and another group, Child AbuseWatch, protested the NFL’s choice of The Who as Super Bowl halftime performers because of Townshend’s past conviction. The NFL told ABC that Child AbuseWatch was the only protester to write to the network, and that it had no qualms about the appropriateness of The Who’s performance. Similarly, NBC Miami reported Jan. 28 that Protect Our Children was unsuccessful in its attempts to convince the federal government to keep Townshend out of the country.

Regardless of whether Townshend deserved to be on the sex offender list, it seems to me that the anti-child-abuse groups are focusing their attention on the wrong target. For one thing, as a West Palm Beach cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I know Florida law does not consider Townshend a sex offender for registration or residency purposes, because his time on the sex offender registry has expired. For another, Townshend got in trouble for looking at child pornography, not for molesting children. While looking at child pornography is correctly condemned for creating demand for the materials, it’s not the same crime. And unfortunately, statistics show that the vast majority of adults who abuse children sexually are family members or other trusted adults -- not random strangers children meet on the street.

The stated motivation behind the Townshend postcards -- protecting children -- is worthy. But as a Fort Lauderdale cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I wonder whether the reaction is completely reasonable. Townshend has served his time on a sex offender registry and undergone an extensive investigation by Scotland Yard, which declined to charge him with a crime. His home country seems to believe he is no longer a threat, and the evidence that he ever was a threat is weak. It’s easy to target celebrities whose legal trouble has attracted lots of media attention, but much harder to find information on the everyday people who may commit far more serious crimes. Targeting people like Townshend may help anti-child-molestation groups drum up a lot of media coverage, but it punishes them further without doing much to actually protect children.