Content notice for what the tin says
When I get drunk, I vaguebook or answer the (ahem) after-dark type questions I often get on Ask.fm. It’s not as if laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other web-enabled devices have built-in breathalyzers that redirect you to child porn if you’re intoxicated enough. According to John Grisham, however, it’s all too easy to get drunk and stumble onto images of underage people intended to titillate the viewer. He has valiantly gone on record defending those poor, helpless white men who consume child pornography.
“We have prisons now filled with guys my age — 60-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody,” Grisham said in a recent interview. Grisham said there are men in prison who “got online one night” who “probably had too much to drink” and ended up on child-pornography websites, a crime he said a friend had committed. [However,] he has “no sympathy” for pedophiles. “God, please lock those people up,” he said.
Since when was an action, i.e. consuming child pornography, less worthy of punishment than a state of existence, i.e. being primarily attracted to children?
Due to strict reporting laws in the United States, pedophilia is not as well-studied as a phenomenon with such incredible and obvious potential to cause harm ought to be. What we can gather based on the initial explorations of it is that it’s an attraction rather than (necessarily) an action, as intrinsic to some people as sexual orientation. In fact, it can be argued that pedophiles are individuals whose orientation is towards children. Why “lock those people up” for that?
Then again, Grisham and the various articles about what he said conflate “child abuser” with “pedophile.” This conflation doesn’t help to reduce harm. Pedophiles do not account for all sexual abuse of children. Some who abuse children are acting not because they are primarily attracted to children, but because they are cowards interested in preying on the less powerful. In other words, child abuse occurs at the hands of predators, pedophilic or not.
What does reduce harm is encouraging pedophiles to get help. The warranted fear that comes from mandatory reporting laws often deters non-offending pedophiles from seeking that help. Preventing pedophiles from the one way we know we can steer them away from abusing isn’t a good idea if you care about the wellbeing of children.
If this sounds too sympathetic, it isn’t because I think that pedophilia is awesome. I, like most people, experience great revulsion at the mere concept of sexual attraction to children. However, I don’t think that my personal sense of disgust is a legitimate ethical basis for imprisonment. By that logic, I ought to be in jail, since the mere existence of a fat person is disgusting to many people (not to mention the kinks and the queerness I exhibit that may also elicit disgust).
We should be punishing people for doing harm rather than for the impulse to harm or our own feelings of unease about them. Wilfully consuming images of the abuse of minors perpetuates far more harm than the state of being attracted to children.
And also? It is inaccurate, to say the least, to insinuate that prisons are at all “filled with” old white men, considering the racial issues with the prison-industrial complex.
Update: Grisham apologized. I don’t buy it, but it’s only fair to include it. I’m still getting rid of my copy of The Rainmaker because I need excuses to purge my to-be-read shelf.
- You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now? by Luke Malone
- Tarred and Feathered, This American Life
- What Can Be Done About Pedophilia?, The Atlantic
- Q&A: What Works in Sex-Offender Treatment, Time
- Treating Pedophiles: Reasons for Cautious Optimism, Crime Library
- Frequently Asked Questions, Don’t Offend (a free resource for people who want help with pedophilic urges)