Viewing Child Porn Far Is Worse Than Being a Pedophile

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.

Via Time:

“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.

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Viewing Child Porn Far Is Worse Than Being a Pedophile
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18 thoughts on “Viewing Child Porn Far Is Worse Than Being a Pedophile

  1. 1

    How does one “stumble” across child porn? The highly illegal nature of it forces the sites into the “darknet” where you have to make an active attempt to find it. I assume he’s not talking about amateur porn where you could claim you had no idea one of the participants was 17 (I’m not sure if a claim of mens rea would be applicable in that case as there’s no ID requirement as there is for commercial porn). At least I don’t think he is. Also, the issue with child porn isn’t that we find it icky, but that one of the participants wasn’t a consenting adult. There is the libertarian argument that possession of child porn shouldn’t be a crime, citing free speech, only the production of it, but it never gets much traction as a legal strategy.

  2. 2

    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.

    (content note, graphic content below)

    I always thought the worst cases of child abuse were carried out by psychopaths who were most likely not pedophiles per-se but whose lack of morality led to an absence of sexual taboos, combined with a total disregard for the welfare of their victims. My dad worked in mental health, he dealt with one pedophile who was so consumed with guilt and self-loathing he castrated himself with an elastic band in the hope of eliminating his own sex-drive(those who advocate the forcible castration of pedophiles should note that the poor guy later claimed it didn’t even work) On the other hand my dad also worked with a serious child molester, who ticked all the boxes for psychopathy; this patient was just as happy sexually harassing adult female staff members.

  3. 4

    I’m not defending child porn, but look at what this article is really saying. “Wilfully consuming images of the abuse of minors perpetuates far more harm than the state of being attracted to children.” Maybe so, but is either act doing so much harm compared to actual abuse? The crime is willful consumption of images of [sexual] abuse of minors. How much harm does that do compared to consuming images of nonsexual child abuse? Images of sexual abuse of adults? Images of abuse in general? Images of other violent crime? Does it make a difference if it’s nonfiction or fiction? It’s legal to watch the rape scene in A Clockwork Orange, but looking at a nude picture of someone who is 17 years, 11 months, and 27 days old is illegal.

    Again, this is no defense, just looking at the issue critically using logic (logos without ethos or pathos).

    1. 4.1

      You’re asking a lot of questions regarding a lot of issues that I did not cover. My point is made narrowly and is specific in scope for a reason. Don’t confuse expanding the scope of it and bringing up issues with being more logical. I tend to be very specific and narrow in my discussions of issues precisely because I want to avoid comments like yours.

      That said….

      • is either act doing so much harm compared to actual abuse?
        Nope, but I’m not a fan of Darfuring/Dear Muslima-ing.
      • How much harm does that do compared to consuming images of nonsexual child abuse?
        People do that? Well, that’s harmful, too. Equally as harmful if the demand for such images is as high as it is for sexualized ones.
      • Images of sexual abuse of adults?
        Yep, that’s bad too. There’s a market for that and it’s disgusting and harmful and wrong.
      • Images of abuse in general?
        Also bad. I don’t know if there’s much demand for it.
      • Images of other violent crime?
        Also bad. Again, not sure if there’s demand for it in the way there is for the sexualized kind.
      • Does it make a difference if it’s nonfiction or fiction?
        Yes, it does. A cartoon depicting sex with a child doesn’t abuse an actual child. A kink play rape scene doesn’t involve anyone getting raped.
      • It’s legal to watch the rape scene in A Clockwork Orange, but looking at a nude picture of someone who is 17 years, 11 months, and 27 days old is illegal.
        Yes, the age of consent is arbitrary. That’s another issue entirely.

      So, you have brought up ALL THE ISSUES! Cool.

  4. 5

    Heina:
    Grisham has issued an apology

    Best-selling author John Grisham has apologized for remarks he made criticizing harsh punishments for people convicted of watching child pornography.

    “Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Grisham said in a statement on his website Thursday. “My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable.”

    Grisham previously told the paper that there were men in prison who “probably had too much to drink” and “got online one night” and stumbled onto child pornography. He said a similar situation happened to a “good buddy from law school.”

    “I have no sympathy for real paedophiles,” he told The Telegraph. “God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting.”

    Also, given what you say here:

    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?

    You might be interested in this article from the Daily Dot about rethinking pedophilia.

    According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a pedophile is someone who has “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children.” Because of that almost internal, intrinsic nature, there’s been much debate over whether pedophilia qualifies as a sexual orientation, along the lines of being gay or lesbian. That’s not to say that being gay or lesbian equates to being a pedophile, but it suggests there may be factors of attraction beyond an individual’s control.

    Addressing the “born this way” debate about pedophilia, Cord Jefferson wrote a piece for Gawker in 2012 to help us understand what it must be like when your basic desires are illegal, even if that’s for the public good. “Imagine a world in which admitting your attraction to busty women or tall men led to alienation, jail time, or your murder,” Jefferson wrote. “Older gay men can probably remember such an era, but nowadays most sexual appetites have been mainstreamed to the point of banality. Pedophiles, for obvious reasons, don’t enjoy the same kind of tolerance, and thus it seems as if they may be locked forever in a sexual prison from the moment they’re born.”

    In an article for the L.A. Times, reporter Alan Zarembo argued that “Pedophilia once was thought to stem from psychological influences early in life. Now, many experts view it as a deep-rooted predisposition that does not change.”

    “The best estimates are that between 1% and 5% of men are pedophiles, meaning that they have a dominant attraction to prepubescent children,” Zarembo wrote. “Not all pedophiles molest children. Nor are all child molesters pedophiles. Studies show that about half of all molesters are not sexually attracted to their victims. They often have personality disorders or violent streaks, and their victims are typically family members.”

    Zarembo quoted Dr. Fred Berlin on the issue, who called pedophiles “good people who are struggling,” attempting to call into question the dominant stereotypes surrounding those attracted to underage children. What are these archetypes? In an August article for Medium, Luke Malone broke them down as such: “There is the playground lurker, the chat-room predator, and the monstrous (often religious) authority figure. These men are usually middle-aged, unrepentant serial abusers who are caught only after remaining undetected for years.”

    For these folks, Malone argued that they lack the kinds of communities that exist to help others figure out their sexualities. The Internet has been a boon to LGBT people who need a safe space to understand their sense of self, but where do pedophiles go for comfort, recognition, and understanding?

    “Anecdotal evidence suggests that most pedophiles first notice an attraction toward children when they themselves are between 11 and 16, mirroring that of any other sexual awakening. It can be a confusing time for any of us, but imagine realizing that you’re attracted to little kids. How do these young men and women negotiate that with no viable role models or support network? There is no It Gets Better for pedophiles.”

  5. 6

    I think we may need to concede that the word ‘pedophile’ has, in common usage, come to mean ‘active sexual predator of children’, as opposed to the original ‘someone with a sexual attraction to children’. Part of the problem is that we like single-word descriptors (they can be strung together for a more complex picture, but each word is, by preference, a single facet of the thing being described). So, lacking a one-word designation for an adult who prey sexually on children, the popular press opted to use the word for an individual with the desire to do so, regardless of their actual behavior. (The closest English has to a one-word term for a sexual predator that I’ve found is ‘pederast’, which only focuses on one specific form of predation–a man who has sex with young boys).

    So yeah, I think he was using the wrong word. That said, of course, even if we are talking strictly about someone who has never personally abused a child, but does view child porn, he’s still ignoring the fact that in order for child porn to exist to be viewed, a child must first be victimized. The fact that some folks seek it out means that there will be others who wish to provide it (and of course, for many [most?] child pornographers, the act of distribution is part of the abuse itself).

    As for ‘accidentally finding yourself looking at child porn’, I suspect I know what he is referring to. If you view enough relatively vanilla porn online, especially if you’re dabbling in free sites, you’ll see a lot of clickbait ads for yet more porn, much of it less vanilla. Click on those, and I have no doubt that some of them are for sites that are even more off the range, and so on. Eventually, the idea goes, you find a link (perhaps in a vaguely worded forum post) that leads to a kiddie porn site.

    However, THIS NOTION IS NOT BASED IN REALITY. Sorry for shouting, but I needed to make that clear. It’s part of the whole mythology about the internet itself. There’s a lot of really, really awful shit out there, and some of it is genuinely easy to just wander into from a single incautious click. I’ve accidentally walked into forums run by RAHOWA (Racial Holy War) and animal torturers and… yeah. The link was couched in language that made it seem edgy-but-innocuous. When it happens, you shut the window as fast as you can, swallow the bile, and try to shake off the unpleasant encounter.

    Real live kiddie porn is not one of those things. The operators of these sites know that they cannot operate in that fashion, because if they do, they will be caught and go to prison. Instead, from what I’ve read, there’s generally a butt-sniffing process where the peddlers engage potential seekers in order to sound them out, and figure out how likely they are to be cops. You aren’t going to get invited to view a site until they’re sure you actually want to see it.

    1. 6.1

      And, unless your local laws are atrocious, accidentally clicking on illegal material should not lead to prison time.

      All cases I am aware of people getting caught for kiddie porn, are caught with hundres of pictures and movies on their PC. Not the result of a drunken night on your laptop, where you accidently clicked a link.

      In Denmark we have a DNS based blocking of suspect sites, where all the ISPS block the DNS of sites on certain lists. Child porn sites are on the list. If you try to go to one of blocked sites, you will be shown a web page telling you the site is blocked.

      Politicians first wanted to log who tried to go to the forbidden sites, and possibly make it actionable, but sanity prevailed.

      The list of sites was leaked a couple of years ago, and I know of persons who tried the blocked sites, just to see what was hidden, (it is so easy to circumvent – set your DNS server to 8.8.8.8 , or some other public DNS server), and most of it was just clickbait sites, or non existant sites.

  6. 7

    I would just add that juveniles who experience sexual arousal from children are not necessarily pedophiles. The actions of one during puberty and adolescence are not necessarily predictive of behavior as adults. IOW teenagers can grow out of it. OTOH, adults pedophiles tend to remain adult pedophiles.

  7. 8

    Chump:

    Maybe so, but is either act doing so much harm compared to actual abuse? The crime is willful consumption of images of [sexual] abuse of minors.

    Well, they’re not always unrelated. By consuming, they’re encouraging the creation of more content. Contributing to the demand. I’d say it’s basically becoming an accessory. Just because the person didn’t actively abuse the child, doesn’t mean they’re not contributing to the abuse.

  8. 9

    @Chump

    If you consume child porn – you are providing a market for it, and supporting it. You are at best an accomplice to the abuse.

    This means that in real terms you are part of the process of abusing the children involved.

    It is like saying one shouldn’t prosecute receivers of stolen goods.

  9. 10

    To add to Radioactive Elephant’s point, the continued viewing of the images is, in fact, continuation of the abuse. The unwillingness to comprehend that is one of the things that permits participants in bullshit like the “Fappening” to look at themselves in the mirror–“Oh, I just looked at the images. It’s not like I’m the one who stole them.” It ignores the fact that each viewing of illicit material is, in fact, a further compounding of the original abuse.

  10. 11

    This whole thing pissed me off. JG tries to defend 60-year-old male lawyers who view child porn? And his argument is that it’s probably just an accident? But damn those Real Paedophiles™, lock them up and throw away the key.

    What a load of crap. The criminal justice system has plenty of problems actually dealing rationally with sex-offenders and this is the best criticism he can come up with?

    Also, I’ve worked with child sex offenders and the vast majority of them weren’t paedophiles. Used to annoy me whenever someone would use the word “paedophile” to mean child sex offender.

  11. 12

    I had a friend tell me they were attracted to children a long time ago. We were both around 20 I think. Back then neither of us had money to send him into therapy for it (and honestly had no idea we could have negotiated the price – learned that out MUCH later). So we basically talked about it together. I helped him find pictures that did not victimize anyone (he didn’t have internet at the time) and just was available to talk about things with. In return we agreed it would be a good idea for me to be available if he found himself likely to be around children when not in public. Turned out that never happened (it was easy for us to avoid by explaining he was awkward around children). We had to work out all the details ourselves but ended up coming to the same conclusions Heina did. They seemed the only ethical way to go.

    I guess by this point I may have disturbed someone. All I can say is that I only saw three real choices at the time. First, I could walk away and hope that after calling out for my help, everything with him just magically turned out for the best. Second, I could light the fires and sharpen the pitchforks – get just enough info then start the witch hunt. But he hadn’t actually done anything. Third, I could do what I did.

    As far as accidentally finding child porn… I don’t think that can happen. Unless you’re willing to really expand your definitions beyond abusive sexual acts and into simple nudity there really isn’t child pornography just waiting around online to be seen. If you expand it that far though you’re either at or near the point where you run into problems with art like the album cover for Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy or the album cover for Soul Asylum’s Grave Dancer’s Union or nudist family photographs as you might find in Jock Sturges art books. Laws about porn sound kind of insane but all of the above are still available for retail so as far as I can tell they’re legal in the US. So expanded definitions don’t appear to reflect reality.

  12. 13

    Hm. I’m going to have to disagree about the “never finding it by accident” sentiment that is prevailing here. I do think you are very unlikely to see a full size image of anything illegal by accident, but many porn aggregating sites have hundreds of thumbnail images on pages with mixed categories. If we include in our definition small “thumbnail” images that might be young-looking adults but very possibly are not, I have seen those on searches for completely unrelated porn. If I was paying for my porn like an upright citizen, I could have avoided seeing things like that more easily. But google is not ur friend when safe search is (by necessity) off.

    1. 13.1

      Well, here’s the thing about “accidentially” stumbling unto child pornography. Once that happens there are three options:
      1. You close that window, empty your cookies, probably burn your harddrive and hope that nobody everfinds out because OMFG.
      2. You call the police. Even if they’re not interested in it it means you create a paper trail.
      3. You go on and watch it since you’re already here.

      One of the options is not like the others…

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