Sex Crimes

Rise of the Carceral Left, John Grisham Child Porn Edition

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Mega-author John Grisham was recently interviewed by The Telegraph's Peter Foster, and the topic turned to overincarceration in America. Grisham—best known for producing the paperbacks your dad reads on vacation and every plucky-young-lawyer-rights-wrong movie of the past two decades (The Firm, A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief…)—has a history of advocacy on this front, and the whole conversation would be pretty unremarkable had Grisham not veered into talking about sex crimes and child pornography. 

"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," he said in an exclusive interview to promote his latest novel Gray Mountain which is published next week. "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."

Grisham goes on to talk of a "good buddy from law school" who went to prison for three years after downloading porn featuring 16-year-olds*: 

"His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled 'sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that'. … 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."

You can probably guess how the online progressivesphere reacted.

Now granted, Grisham's assessment of the problem here comes across a bit like someone's drunk uncle at a wedding conversation you don't want to be in. "Grisham certainly could have chosen his words better," as Radley Balko wrote in a wonderful analysis of this Grishamgate at The Washington Post. "But he isn't wrong, and the invective he's receiving right now is both misinformed and wildly over the top. There are Twitter users calling him a pervert, or for his home to be raided by the FBI."

Exemplifying the critiques is this Think Progress piece from Jessica Goldstein. Right away Goldstein makes it a matter of who the "real victims" are, painting herself as the champion of sexually-exploited children and Grisham as singing sympathy for child abusers. Nevermind that Grisham said nothing of the sort; merely suggesting that mandatory minimums for those who view child porn are unwise was enough for a sharpshooter like Goldstein to intuit his pro-kiddie porn stance.

After setting up this false dichotomy—you are either for all of our current criminal justice policies concerning child porn (no matter how ineffectual or unfair) or you're indifferent to the suffering of child victims, you monster—Goldstein mocks "Grisham's concern for the 60-year-old men," adding: 

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.

Why is it a contest? Can't we care about minimizing the U.S. police state in general? Isn't it possible to advocate—as Grisham does—for rolling back mandatory minimums for both aging white dudes who look at teen porn and black teens who get caught with pot?

Grisham has already apologized for his comments, writing on his website that, "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." The man has a new book to promote, so his backtracking is understandable. But his original sentiments shouldn't require an apology.

According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the average prison sentence for possession of child porn was 95 months in 2010, up from 54 months in 2004. As Reason's Jacob Sullum noted here in February, federal law requires a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for "receiving child pornography", which could mean looking at or downloading a single image. With enhanced criminal penalties "based on factors that are extremely common", people who look at sexualized images of minors can be punished more harshly than making and disseminating the images or those who actually molest children. And in 30 states, the age of sexual consent is 16, notes Balko—making it a crime to download sexual images of a 16-year-old but not to physically have sex with them.

Goldstein scoffs at the idea that viewing child porn online is different than directly sexually abusing children. "If you engage in pedophilia on the internet, you are a real pedophile," she writes.

But there is no way to "engage in pedophilia." It's a mental disorder, defined as "an intense and recurrent sexual interest in prepubescent children". Because U.S. jurisprudence is (theoretically) based on people's actions, not their private thoughts or desires, we have laws against things like sexually abusing children, creating or distributing child pornography, and selling minors into the sex trade, but not against pedophila per se. Pedophilia alone is an illness, not a crime.

Some pedophiles do engage in criminal acts against children, but many don't. Conversely, many of the people who do molest, traffic, or make porn featuring children are not sexually attracted to them. "In fact, research shows, about half of all child molesters are not sexually attracted to their victims," according to law professor Margo Kaplan in The New York Times.

Putting definitions aside, Goldstein is suggesting that viewing child porn online is morally equivalent to making child porn or personally physically molesting children. She keeps coming back to how a hypothetical victim would feel once they were older, knowing 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." People who look at these images are contributing to the victim's pain, she admonishes.  

But while the victim scenarios Goldstein conjures and relays are horrific and heart-wrenching, how is the solution possibly to get tougher on people who had no contact with these children and nothing to do with producing these images? In what way does that make anyone safer? The solution to all of our social ills can't simply be to keep casting wider and deeper prison nets.

"There is no legal difference between looking at pornography of a 16-year-old and looking at pornography of a 10-year-old," writes Goldstein (emphasis mine). True, and yet: the absence of this legal difference doesn't make 16-year-olds in fact equivalent to 10-year-olds. The absence of this legal difference currently isn't something we must take as now-unchangeable. The absence of this legal difference is, in part, what Grisham was railing against. 

It may be wise to have a cultural norm against lusting after teenagers as a grown person, but is it really the same thing to look at sexualized images of 16-year-olds and those of 6-year-olds? Probably not. And pretending it is—and crafting criminal justice policies as if it is—doesn't make any children any more safe from the people that are actually interested in harming children.

Yet responses like Goldstein's point to larger trend: the rise of the carceral left. Or call it the illiberal left, as Conor Friedersdorf did at The Atlantic yesterday. When it comes to eradicating Really Bad Things, these folks deftly demonstrate the true difference between being "liberal" and "progressive".

To them, demonstrating that you find child porn morally reprehensible requires giving zero fucks about things like due process or America's monstrous prison industrial complex or the social and economic costs of it all. Same goes when the issue at hand is sexual assault, bigotry, homophobia, or domestic violence. What are a few false rape convictions if it makes men more likely to embrace affirmative consent standards? Why not add an extra few years prison time because an assailant was motivated by racial animus?

It's maddening, and it's making things worse for the very groups of people progressives claim to to be helping (in addition to, you know, everyone). As Freddie de Boer wrote recently, the burden of increased state power "will inevitably fall on the poor and the black, because that is who the white police state prosecutes with greater zeal than any other." This is the reality of our criminal justice system. 

"Let's talk about the prison state we have and not the one you wish we have," de Boer implores carceral leftists. "Let's talk about this America and not the one that you've invented. Because in this America, we know what happens when you give prosecutors and police greater license." 

Progressives are able to see our criminal justice system as intolerant, corrupt, and overreaching when it comes to things like the drug war—and yet they cling to the belief that somehow this same criminal justice system is totally capable of handling other issues fairly. They look at a prison system that may be bloated, racially biased, and rife with abuse and say, but if we just expanded it in the right ways… They look at civil liberties and think they'll remain meaningful if we embrace them ad hoc.

It's genuinely strange, and possibly dangerous. "If illiberal attitudes prevail … the consequences will be dire for all victimized innocents, and for particular classes especially," writes Friedersdorf. But I kind of hope these progressives keep it up. The more willing they are to expose their true colors, the easier it is to challenge the idea that they differ at all from the authority-loving, Constitution-indifferent social-conservatives they once decried.  

* It turns out that Grisham was wrong about his friend, who was—The Telegraph later discovered— actually arrested for possessing "13 images, all of children under 18, some under 12." But as far as we know Grisham did not know this—those lampooning him over the past few days certainly didn't—and besides, the particulars of this friend's case are not really the point. 

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  1. “There is no legal difference between looking at pornography of a 16-year-old and looking at pornography of a 10-year-old,” writes Goldstein

    So if abortion was made illegal tomorrow. Goldstein would be explaining to everyone how it’s murder the next day, right?

    1. Three felonies a day, Jessica.

      Someone named Goldstein really shouldn’t be inviting us to go Godwin or Orwell on her ass…

  2. how is the solution possibly to get tougher on people who had no contact with these children and nothing to do with producing these images?

    Dammit, Elizabeth, we have to do *something*!

  3. Good lord, these people are disgusting.

  4. But I kind of hope these progressives keep it up. The more willing they are to expose their true colors, the easier it is to challenge the idea that they differ at all from the authority-loving, Constitution-indifferent social-conservatives they used to decry.

    This has been obvious from the French Revolution which is were the terms “left” and “right” and much modern political terminology comes from. The left was opposed to war and supportive of liberties until they came to power where they became pro-war and killed their opponents.

    1. Or as I like to say, there is essentially no difference between Northeast Puritans and Southeast Bible-thumpers other than who they decide should be ruined by the almighty and whatever hare-brained justifications they can come up with for doing so.

      But, dammit, they’re hell-bent on ruining somebody! Which is essentially the definition of sociopath.

      1. The original Puritans were Bible-Thumpers weren’t they?

        Also I find it funny that is used to be considered puritanical to complain that pop culture was catered to the interests of young men and that rape was too sensitive a subject to discuss. Those were part of the justification for the Hays Code and the Comics Code.

        Not to mention the left used to love artists who “pushed the envelope” and offended moralists. However today those guys better not offend the feminists…

        1. The only place I disagree with you is in the fact that thumpers of any stripe are usually thumping Old Testament claptrap or the one book of the New Testament that contradicts the gospels in the NT – Revelation.

          The same brain damage that makes one believe in the sanctity of an omnipotent-yet-authoritarian God is the same brain damage that makes one believe in the sanctity of government-enforced-via-violence morality.

          1. You Know who else thought religious belief was insanity?

          2. Stupid argument. Authoritarianism and atheism run together often, probably more often than theism. Libertarian ideas and Christianity have been together often, in many of the founders for instance.

      2. Religion is mental illness. Most people engaging in superstition realize that it has no basis in reality.

        Religious practitioners are less insightful.

  5. Progressives are able to see our criminal justice system as intolerant, corrupt, and overreaching when it comes to things like the drug war?and yet they cling to the belief that somehow this same criminal justice system is totally capable of handling other issues fairly

    Not really. At least with people like Goldstein and her TEAM OUTRAGE fellow travelers, they have zero interest in justice or abused children or anything else other than looking for any situation where they can gotcha someone and portray themselves as the noble victim advocate. Their behavior is incredibly narcissistic and that’s why you see no consideration of what Grisham meant or his overall point. He said some words that triggered her attack mode because she saw an opportunity to grandstand and make herself look like the noble warrior against…pedophiles, I guess.

    These people are opportunistic scum who literally wait around for someone high profile to say anything that they can use to aggrandize themselves. They are essentially parasites, with a side order of bullying, because let’s face it, these people clearly get off on forcing people like Grisham to grovel and apologize and run for cover. It makes them feel powerful.

    1. He said some words that triggered her attack mode because she saw an opportunity to grandstand and make herself look like the noble warrior against…pedophiles, I guess.

      Excellent choice of words, if I may say so…

      1. I grant you leave to say so.

        (waves hand magnanimously)

        1. Excellent choice of words, your Smugness.

    2. Ultimately, their narcissism is the best way to attack these idiots. It must be made clear what they are really doing.

    3. At least with people like Goldstein and her TEAM OUTRAGE fellow travelers, they have zero interest in justice or abused children or anything else other than looking for any situation where they can gotcha someone and portray themselves as the noble victim advocate.

      Politics as a positional good. I think I read about that in some magazine?

  6. Let’s not forget about this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_v._Dalton

    Dalton was convicted of child pornography for things he wrote in a personal diary. That’s where this shit leads.

    1. But if I read the article correctly, the conviction was vacated and the case remanded, and the charges were later dismissed.

      1. That’s cold comfort for a man who served two years in prison merely for writing down his thoughts, however socially unacceptable they might have been.

        Imagine surviving two years as a child pornographer in prison, if you can.

        1. I would assume he’s in a diaper now. And not sleeping very well.

        2. Now imagine the man not writing down the thoughts but merely saying his thoughts to a psychotherapist. Since the therapist is licensed by the state, he is essentially an agent of the state and can bring such thoughts to the attention of law enforcement.

  7. “In fact, research shows, about half of all child molesters are not sexually attracted to their victims,”

    I didn’t RTFA nor any associated research, but that sounds like one of those “rape is about power and control, not about sex”-type phrases.

    1. I doubt it matters to the child who has been raped what it is ‘about’.

  8. “You can probably guess how the online progressivesphere reacted.”

    Actually i can’t.

    They’ve spent so much time pants-wetting about ‘regular people having sex’ and calling it ‘rape’, i can’t conceive of how retarded their perceptions of anything more transgressive actually are.

    i do find it odd how they are so unbelievably psychotic and prudish about normal heterosexual interaction….

    …but then will in the same breath express the most sincere support and appreciation of people who like to dress up like a furry and be sodomized. MORE! those people should have their own bathrooms and be granted special treatment: furry-friendly laws must be passed, the youth must be furry-educated so that they are informed and mature…

    but god forbid they touch a girls boobs!!

  9. Progressives are able to see our criminal justice system as intolerant, corrupt, and overreaching when it comes to things like the drug war?and yet they cling to the belief that somehow this same criminal justice system is totally capable of handling other issues fairly.

    Allow me to chime in with the “not really”s Ms. Nolan-Brown. Ask yourself a question: if the primary targets of the drug war were middle aged white guys or “frat boys”, do you think they’d give a tinker’s damn about the drug war? Hell, they’d probably be the first in line applauding it. Same goes for prostitution or any other issue many libertarians get the bright idea of working with progressives.

    These people aren’t as bad as the bible thumpers. They’re worse. At least with the bible thumpers, you could at least try to appeal to their notions of Christian charity and forgiveness. You can’t do that with the cadres.

    1. Augustinian Christianity may not be the preferred variety on this side of the pond, but any Christian worth his salt appreciates the fallen nature of man.

      However, these “humanity” Marxists actually believe their New Soviet Socialist Man is right around the Progressive corner…

      1. However, these “humanity” Marxists actually believe their New Soviet Socialist Man is right around the Progressive corner…

        Just a few corpses away, comrade. Always just a few corpses away.

  10. You can probably guess how the online progressivesphere reacted.

    With compassion and understanding?

  11. “Why is it a contest? Can’t we care about minimizing the U.S. police state in general?”

    WHY is it a contest? Because the point – as far as the progs are concerned – is not ‘actual reform’ of our criminal justice system: its simply ‘signaling’ that they are on the side of REAL VICTIMS = blacks, women, gays. Daring to include anyone else in the ‘victim’ camp is not part of the story they think makes them morally-fashionable.

    Which is really what its about. Fashion. No matter the issue, whenever i start really questioning progs about their particular ‘passionate issues’, it becomes clear that they only understand what they are advocating on the most superficial level, and have never even bothered to look into the details beyond the mandated talking points. To them, the ‘issues’ are just things to signal their ‘righthink’ to peers.

    1. The bitterest irony, to me, is that so many advocates of “social justice” know nothing of what it is to be genuinely social, or care in the least about Justice.

      For all of the evil in the thought of great minds like Plato and Aristotle, they knew that those things were, if not the fundamental stuff of life, at least essential to that foundation.

      1. The bitterest irony, to me, is that so many advocates of “social justice” know nothing of what it is to be genuinely social, or care in the least about Justice

        Remember, when these people claim to be for something, they are actually for or achieve the exact opposite. When they decry someone or something, you can be sure they are in fact doing it themselves. They are, in effect, nothing but pure projection. Everything they are is defined in opposition to something else, in reaction to something else.

        1. So, they are anti-human in the most Star-Treky (TOS) of senses?

        2. Mencken said it best: one can be a man of morals or a man of honor, it is impossible for one to be both.

      2. Eh, to the SJWs, social justice is government subsidies?

        1. Social justice is being able to tell everyone else how to live.

          1. Social justice is a euphemism for intolerance. Justice as a concept doesn’t need a qualifier like “social” unless the purpose of the qualifier is to cheat.

      1. Progressive doublethink requires both, at the same time.

      2. Yep = my comment at the time was that we already had a name for that ‘signalize’ thing, which was “Moral Narcissism“.

        its ‘morality as avatar’. which is why its all about ‘internet stuff’, hashtag-activism etc. You don’t see these SJWs lined up outside prisons or feeding the homeless on the streets. No, they’re all screeching on Tumblr.

  12. “But there is no way to “engage in pedophilia.” It’s a mental disorder, defined as “an intense and recurrent sexual interest in prepubescent children””

    “Prepubescent” means “relating to or being in the period of life just before puberty.”

    How does a 16 or 17 year old qualify as “prepubescent?”

    Once again, we see scary words like “pedophile,” “rape,” “addiction,” and “racist” stretched beyond their original meanings to justify the statists in their expansion of state power.

    1. How does a 16 or 17 year old qualify as “prepubescent?”

      Exactly in 1984 is when that happened.

      Here’s a Radley Balko article explaining:
      https://reason.com/archives/201…..h-them-jus

      Guy had 16 and 17 year old girlfriends. Legal age of consent. Girfriends themselves offered him nudie pics. Of course, the dude is convicted with what is probably the most worst crime in the public’s mind.

      So Balko sheds light on the history of how this came to be:

      But as Hamilton points out in his sentencing statement, there is no indication that Congress had this rationale in mind when it raised the age of consent in 1984. Instead the congressional record indicates the reason for the change was that prosecutors usually are not able to track down the women depicted in explicit photos to verify their ages. With the cutoff at 16, prosecutors were having problems winning convictions if the girls depicted in the images showed any signs of puberty.

      Raising the age to 18, a House committee reported, “would facilitate the prosecution of child pornography cases and raise the effective age of protection of children from these practices probably not to 18 years of age, but perhaps to 16.”

      1. This btw coincides with raising the drinking age to 21.

        The next year, in 1985 there was more pants-shitting with Congressional/Senate hearings that lead to the non-removable warning labels on all the music CDs you now see:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P…..rce_Center

    2. How does a 16 or 17 year old qualify as “pre-pubescent”?

      Here. Here. Before the crackdown on the dispenaries here in San Jose I’d see HOT 17yr old chicks who, clearly, are ready for dating in the adult sphere. And by hot I mean HOT and by dating I mean “Fuck”

  13. Thinkprogress is the outfit that “the assumption that what matters is individual virtue.” So yeah, they are pretty much endorsing tyranny and you can’t have that without lots of cops and prisons.

  14. I wonder if there has ever been a historical analysis of the ages of people at the time of marriage in various nations. It’s possible that what we consider now to be sick and deviant (sexual attraction of someone over the age of 18 to someone under the age of 18) was actually the norm in human sexual relations in certain nations and certain times.

    1. Here’s some for the US:

      http://www.census.gov/hhes/soc…..12figs.pdf

    2. In the past, people of reproductive age were commonly considered adults for a variety of purposes, including reproduction.

    3. Yes but it is really all over the place.

      There were places in Europe that allowed marriages between 2 and 3 year olds, however they were not allowed to consumate the marriage until much later (usually around 9 – 10), this also pretty closely matches the Islamic tradition.

      That said the one thing that is a major difference is that the very idea of a period of your life between when you were a child and when you became and adult is an invention of the industrial era. “Teenagers” was a phrase unheard of until the late 1800’s. Even in places where the average age of first marriage was in the 20’s you were considered an adult by 15 – 16, you just held off on getting married because you needed to secure rights to a piece of land capable of supporting you and your spouse before you could afford to get married. It was not a belief that you were too young and immature that raised the average age of marriage, it was the economic considerations.

      Ultimately yes, sexual attraction to post pubescent (regardless of their actual age) teens is completely and utterly normal and historically sex with prepubescent children was not really considered inherently criminal in most places (the circumstances mattered more than the age of the kid).

      Not saying that was a good thing, it is just how it was.

      For reference you may find this interesting…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L…..th_mothers

      1. Most were raped but a few of them were either married or engaged

        Especially check the dates for 1884 and 1893, the youngest grandmother ever recorded was 17

      2. And “teen age” Is an artifact of number language. In French you don’t enter your teens until 16. In Italian you enter your teens at 11.

  15. This from the same Left that wants explicit sex education in schools.

  16. Suppose someone you don’t know sends you an email with a file you can’t open. You delete both the email and the file and give it no further thought. Except that at some point in the future, someone becomes aware of the existence of the file, opens it, and finds kiddie porn.

    Guess what?

    You’re guilty.

    Five years in prison. A quarter million in fines.

    Per image.

    Say the file is a zip file with 100 photos.

    Your life is over.

    Kiddie porn laws are so stupid that they actually punish the alleged victim. Example: In Florida, a 16-year-old girl sent naked “selfies” to her 17-year-old boyfriend. Under state law, they were LEGALLY having sex with each other – but the nude pictures constituted “kiddie porn” and last I heard, they were facing prosecution.

    Insanity.

    1. It would be an interesting but risky defense to try.

      During the trial get a copy of an image the is technically child porn. Hand it to the judge or prosecutor or the jury.

      Then seconds after doing so tuen around and request that the bailif please arrest you for distribution of child porn and everyone holding a copy of it for possession.

      1. Under federal law and every state law on the subject that I’m aware, possession of child pornography has a “knew or should have known” component. If you just hand a piece of child pornography to someone and they immediately drop it upon seeing what it is, they haven’t committed a crime (although if you knew what you were handing them, you’ve committed a crime!). That’s why people have successfully defended themselves against possession charges based on evidence that their computer was infected with malware, the materials were sent to them unsolicited, etc.

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