Everything Wrong With John Grisham’s Defense Of Old Guys Who Look At Child Pornography

CREDIT: Jose Luis Magana/AP

Ooooh boy, John Grisham.

John Grisham, mega-bestselling legal-thriller-writer, had some choice things to say to the Telegraph about child pornography. John Grisham is deeply concerned about the real victims here. The real victims of child pornography, according to John Grisham: Sixty-year-old white men.

“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. But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”

Apparently, to Grisham, child porn is just something you stumble into, like an old friend at Trader Joe’s.

Grisham went on to describe the case of “good buddy from law school”:

“His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff – it was 16 year old girls who looked 30.

“He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys. He didn’t touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people – sex offenders – and he went to prison for three years.

“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… I have no sympathy for real paedophiles. 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.”

Here, in no particular order, is everything wrong with John Grisham’s take on child pornography and its victims:

1. 16-year-olds are minors. They are children. They are children if they are “dressed up to look 30 years old” (as determined by “she looks about 30 to me” expert John Grisham). They are children if their images are posted under a banner that labels them “wannabee hookers.” They are children whether or not you want them to be children. There is no legal difference between looking at pornography of a 16-year-old and looking at pornography of a 10-year-old.

2. Looking at the photos causes harm. It’s not a victimless crime. Those men Grisham claims have “never harmed anybody” have, in fact, caused plenty of harm. The criminal activity does not start and end with the person or persons who photographed the victim. To download those images is to be complicit in their creation — it creates the demand that inspires the supply — and there is no loophole through which you can jump and land in a place where viewing child pornography is anything but a sex crime.

3. This idea that Grisham’s “good buddy” is innocent because “he didn’t touch anything” demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both the purpose of anti-pornography laws and the impact the distribution of child pornography has on its victims. (The victims, as in, the children in the pictures, not drunk, AARP-card-carrying men.) Take Nicole, one of the subjects of Emily Bazelon’s New York Times Magazine feature from last year on child pornography victims:

“It was the worst moment of my life,” Nicole said of seeing the pictures of herself [online]. “In a way, I didn’t remember it being that bad with my father — and then I saw that it was. Knowing that other people, all over, had seen me like that, I just froze. I could hear my mother crying, but I couldn’t cry.”… For Nicole, knowing that so many men have witnessed and taken pleasure from her abuse has been excruciating. “You have an image of yourself as a person, but here is this other image,” she told me. “You know it’s not true, but all those other people will believe that it’s you — that this is who you really are.”… For Nicole, knowing that her photos were circulating was an unrelenting burden…

Nicole got a series of messages on Myspace from a man who said he had been looking for her for five years. He asked, “Want me to come visit u?” When Nicole blocked him, he wrote to one of her friends on Myspace, telling her that Nicole was a “porn star” — and sending two images. “That’s when I fully realized what it meant for these pictures to be out there,” Nicole said. “I couldn’t get away from it, not really. I started getting paranoid and having nightmares.”

These laws are in place to punish offenders and deter would-be offenders before they do something abhorrent and disgusting. They exist to protect future potential victims so that they never become victims, so they can make it through life without being violated first by someone who would take advantage of them face-to-face and then over and over and over again by a million strangers and John Grisham’s good buddies from law school, clicking in the dark.

4. “Like they’re a bunch of perverts.” As my parents would say to me when I used “like” as a filler: are they “like” perverts, or are they perverts? They are perverts.

5. “I have no sympathy for real pedophiles.” They are real pedophiles. The internet is a real place. The internet is not Narnia. The crimes committed on the internet are real crimes. If you engage in pedophilia on the internet, you are a real pedophile.

6. Grisham’s concern for the 60-year-old men in this situation is just hilarious. Because that’s definitely the problem with our prisons: they are overrun with middle-aged white dudes, serving time for insignificant non-crimes. Not black men who were busted with marijuana, no siree.

7. “A good buddy from law school.” Really don’t care how good of a buddy he was, John.

8. What about who these girls are? What about their “good buddies”? Is it not a “harsh sentence,” to know that images of you, of underage, naked you, are circulating the internet as you try to go about your life and there is nothing you can do, and there is no way to know if anyone you ever meet has seen them or not? Isn’t that significantly harsher than three years in prison? Isn’t that a life sentence, in a different kind of prison?

9. The way that Grisham just dehumanizes the actual victims here — well, they look 30 and besides they aren’t 10-year-olds and they aren’t boys! — is sickening. Like they don’t even matter. Like they aren’t too young to be legitimate pornography, because they aren’t too young for a 60-year-old man to find them sexy. Like a violation of them is not so violating because John Grisham decided it wasn’t. Now they are being violated all over again, a hat trick of violations: first by being photographed, then by having those photographs seen by who knows how many people, and then by having a high-profile person in a position of cultural power dismiss those first two violations as really not being so bad after all, relatively speaking.

10. Just want to take a moment and tip my hat to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who, within a week, found this guy and arrested him in what sounds like a quite efficient and well-executed sting operation.


Within hours of this story being published, John Grisham posted the following statement on his personal website:

“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.

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.

I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all.”

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