John Grisham’s Defense of Casual Child Porn Consumers Is Every Level of Terrible

640px-John_Grisham

John Grisham, writer of legal thrillers and rich old white dude, has decided that America has a prison problem. And it’s not thanks your usual suspects, like unduly harsh drug laws or mistreatment in jail or the privatization of prisons. No, what’s really going wrong with America is that we’ve all been far too mean to consumers of child pornography.

It seems like a treacherous beach to storm, but Grisham really charges that shore headlong in an interview with The Telegraph, in which, based on a friend of his, he determines that we’ve really “gone nuts” with incarcerating sex offenders.

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 porn or whatever.

Oh, Grisham. Come on. Leaving aside that sex offenders are in fact, six percent of the prison population (as opposed to a whopping 48 percent of prisoners put there for drug-related offenses), and that white dudes around the age of 60 are not really the guys who have Johnny Law on their tail, that is a ludicrous reason to go easier on viewers of child pornography.  If this was an excuse that one of the defendants in your books used, a lawyer would shred them to pieces. I know that the internet seems like a wild and crazy place, but you do not just accidentally fall into a cache of child pornography. Other types of porn: Really, really easy to find! Child pornography: Not that easy to find, horrifying and illegal for a reason!

Unlike pornography that involves two consenting adults, child pornography is visual evidence of the sexual abuse of children. And the reason that viewing and downloading child pornography is illegal, as anyone who has ever watched an episode of Law and Order: SVU well knows, is because when you download or view it, it creates a further demand for the product. You are actively complicit in the abuse of further children. Jesus, what possible argument can there be to defend that kind of behavior?

A friend of mine, ten years ago, was drinking. His drinking was out of control. And he went to a website—it was labeled, 16-year-old wannabe hookers, or something, some stupid website. And it said, 16-year-old girls. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff. It was 16-year-old girls who looked 30. You know, they were all dressed up and whatever. He shouldn’t have done it, it was stupid. But it wasn’t 10-year-old boys and he didn’t touch anything. And golly, a week later there was a knock on the door. FBI. And it was a sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people—sex offenders. And he went to prison for three years.

A friend of yours? Well it can’t be that bad then.

I hate to break this to you, John, but I seriously doubt that you got the whole story on that one. And even if you did, the rationalization is astounding. The “16 year olds who look 30” line is pretty classically along the lines of “she asked for it with that dress.” The law cracks down particularly hard on those trading in images of prepubescent minors, but that doesn’t mean that 16-year-olds somehow don’t count as victims of child sexual abuse, or that they aren’t being coerced into making bad decisions. Were you totally confident in your choices and body at age 16? Is women’s sexual exploitation somehow less important than men’s? Grisham would have no sympathy, he said, for “a real pedophile.” But consuming content designed for pedophiles, providing an audience for pedophiles to force children into having sex on camera, that’s better? The entire defense is not only very #NotAllMen, it’s #NotAllSexOffenders.

But this is nit-picking. Grisham’s whole speech is galling, not just because it’s tonedeaf and wrong, but for the truly dazzling level of privilege on display. How dare the Mounties take away his friend, sure, a lush, but otherwise a pretty good guy? The prison system is to blame! Men are being trapped into downloading saucy children doing naughty things! The government must be stopped! There is no sympathy for the children on the other end of the video, no recognition that 60-year-old white men are not the actual victims here. (Also note the emphasis on white dudes in that little speech, implicating that his friend, were he black, might be more guilty of a crime.) Suffice to say that, no, John Grisham, people aren’t being unduly persecuted for consuming child pornography. Please don’t give anymore interviews on the subject. Publishing has enough problems.

Follow Margaret Eby on Twitter @margareteby

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