John Grisham, the famous crime writer, has been condemned today for his comments regarding sentences for men who view images of child abuse. Just to be clear – it is not ‘child p0rn’ – the latter word implies consent. These are images of child abuse.
[Just so you know, I have to spell p0rn that way because on previous occasions of writing about similar issues I have had search terms come to my blog that have made me wonder if I should call the police]
Grisham argues that men who view images of child abuse online, but who would never actively abuse a child, do not deserve harsh prison sentences. He argues:
‘We’ve got prisons now filled with guys my age, 60-year-old-white men, in prison, who have never harmed anyone. Who would never touch a child, but they got online one night, started surfing around, probably had too much to drink whatever and pushed the wrong buttons, and went too far and went into child p0rn or whatever.’
Excuse me while I try and lift my head up from my desk.
There are so many things wrong with Grisham’s statement I don’t know where to start. But we could start with the fact that in the US, the prisons are certainly not filled with 60-year old white men.
But the main issue with his comments is his utter lack of empathy with the children who are being abused in these films and images. What is so startling about Grisham’s comments is the refusal to acknowledge the children. His empathy only extends to the men who look like him – the white 60-year-old American male. He is determined in his comments to ignore the actual victims. Instead, he recasts the victims as the men who look at the images.
Grisham argues that men like his friend, who is in prison for viewing images of child abuse, would never harm a child. But what he is ignoring is that in searching for and looking at the images in the first place, his friend *is* harming the child. It’s not rocket science. Through his search, he is feeding an industry that sexually exploits children, as well as fuelling the demand for that industry.
This colossal lack of empathy is not a one-off, and the comments are not unique to Grisham. Similar arguments to his were made when Chris Langham was was found guilty on charges of possessing child pornography and made to sign the sexual offenders register, or when Peter Townshend was placed on the sex offenders register for five years in 2003, after admitting he had used his credit card to access a website bearing the message "click here for child p0rn". Both men claimed ‘research’ as their reason for accessing these images. Their defenders argued that as a result they shouldn’t be criminalised. Looking for these images as research, they posed, was different than looking at them because you’re a paedophile. After all, the debate ran, these men weren’t getting sexual pleasure from these images. So what’s the problem?
But what these arguments missed, and what Grisham misses, is that it doesn’t matter to a child why a man chooses to look at the images of them being raped. It doesn’t stop the rape, because one man is looking for research, and one man is looking because he’s drunk, and one man is looking because he gets off on it. The individual viewer’s motivations don’t change what has happened to that child. It doesn’t matter why a man looks, because the fact remains that a child has still been abused for them to view.
As long as men are looking for these images for whatever reason, people will continue to make them. And that is why the men who view these images need to face justice. They’re complicit in the abuse, whether they like it or not.
How could Grisham justify his comments, if faced with someone whose abuse was filmed and shared online? How could he explain to that child that his friend didn’t mean any harm? What difference would his friend’s drunken justifications make to the child? It wouldn’t undo the harm done to that child. It wouldn’t change anything.
When men look at images of child abuse, they are committing a crime. They are complicit in the rape and abuse of a child. Their motivation doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to the child being abused, and it certainly doesn’t matter to their abusers. All the former knows is that someone is willing to pay to view their pain. And all the latter knows is that someone is willing to pay them to abuse a child.
Think about that, John Grisham. Try to feel empathy for someone who doesn’t look like you. Think about that child, and how your friend’s ‘mistake’ is complicit in the abuse of that child. Then maybe think about apologising. And then maybe donate some dollars to a charity tackling child abuse.
If you need to talk to someone about rape or abuse, you can call Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999. You can also call the NSPCC on: 0808 800 5000
And I know none of my readers are as rich as John Grisham. But if you want to, you can donate to Rape Crisis or the NSPCC and help tackle sexual violence.