We nearly got through an entire week without a privileged old asshole making a fool of himself, but then John Grisham came along and spoiled everything. Specifically, he gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph in England, wherein he took the opportunity to expound on how he thinks it’s all wrong to lock up old white men who just happen to enjoy watching some child pornography when they get home drunk. He complained that, “We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child,” and cited the example of a friend who “went to a website… labeled, 16-year-old wannabe hookers, or something… [and] 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… [But] he went to prison for three years.” This, according to John Grisham, is a Bad Thing. Dear god. Where to begin?
It’s stating the obvious, but apparently it needs to be done: the reason that looking at pictures of underage girls on the Internet is illegal is that it’s not a victimless crime. Just because the men Grisham cites “never touched a child” doesn’t mean that they “haven’t harmed anyone.” They have caused harm — by providing a market for this stuff, by consuming it and distributing it, by being part of the reason for its existence. This is something that should be apparent to allegedly intelligent old men like Grisham, no matter how drunk they are.
There is a shitload of porn on the Internet, catering to every possible persuasion, so when you make a decision to look at pictures or videos of underage girls, you’re making a very deliberate choice. It’s one thing, perhaps, to watch a video where the girls appear to be of age and then find out later that they weren’t. But that’s not what Grisham’s friend did — by his own admission, he went looking for “16-year-old wannabe hookers.” He “downloaded some stuff.” None of this sounds like an accident. So the guy’s drinking was out of control? Plenty of people who aren’t rich white men suffer from addiction problems, and it doesn’t keep them out of jail. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Think about yourself at 16, and then think about seeing images of yourself having sex at that age — most likely with older men — broadcast all over the Internet, so people like John Grisham’s best friend can jerk off to them. That is, objectively, without question, Very Fucked Up. You can make yourself feel kinda ill imagining the circumstances in which these videos get made, and the degree of exploitation that’s going on here, and the entire industry that supports it, and the degree to which kids will be damaged by these experiences, and so on. At this point, any sympathy you might feel for John Grisham’s happily anonymous fapping friend will, I suspect, have largely evaporated, which is clearly how the judge felt, too.
Grisham’s bleating concludes with a bleakly hilarious paragraph where he claims, “There’s so many of them now. There’s so many ‘sex offenders’ — that’s what they’re called — that they put them in the same prison. Like they’re a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em. We’ve gone nuts with this incarceration.” Yes. They’re called “sex offenders” for a reason, John. It’s because they are sex offenders.
It’s notable that Grisham claims to have no sympathy for “real pedophiles,” and also notable that he makes a distinction that “it wasn’t 10-year-old boys” (emphasis mine). It’s no accident, I’m sure, that he cites the example of a boy as “real” pedophilia, which is all too illustrative of the way that women’s experiences are minimized in cases like this. Again, Grisham should know that it doesn’t make any difference if abuse is committed by a member of the opposite sex or the same sex — in either case, it’s a gross abuse of power, and the nature of the victim’s genitalia doesn’t make a blind bit of difference either way.
His implication that the younger the child, the worse the abuse… that’s more complex. In this respect, Grisham’s words recall those of Richard Dawkins, another professionally opinionated old white dude, who made similar comments about rape earlier this year. Clearly, most people would agree that, say, a lunatic abducting and abusing a three-year-old is objectively worse than a man looking at pictures of any kind on the Internet. But, at the same time, this idea is used so often to minimize or erase the experiences of victims that it’s pretty much poison.
It’s used in exactly the way Grisham is using it here, to imply that what his friend did wasn’t that bad, c’mon, everyone, it’s not like it was a boy! For a start, it’s not really relevant to this argument, because I have no doubt that the aforementioned hypothetical child-abductor would get a significantly longer sentence than Grisham’s pal. And as with all these things, you can’t make hard-and-fast declarations about what’s bad and what’s worse. This is why we have a justice system: to establish the facts of the case and to mete out sentences accordingly in the case of conviction. Grisham’s friend got caught red-handed with child pornography. He went to prison. That’s how it goes.
And finally, while we’re on this subject: prisons are not “full of 60-year-old white men,” as Grisham suggests. Prisons are full of African American men aged between 18-34, and most of them are there for non-violent drug crimes. (This tweet makes this point rather more forcefully.) If we’re going to get upset about demographics who are disproportionately incarcerated — and we should — 60-year-old white dudes with a fetish for young girls are not exactly at the top of the list. Sorry, John Grisham.