Another Day, Another Prominent Dude Defends Sexual Predators

[Content Note: Rape culture; child sex abuse; exploitation.]

Author John Grisham has given a very strange and contemptible interview in which he argues that US jails are full of people who don't deserve to be there.

Which: Yes. That is true. He is correct that there are a very lot of people in US jails who do not deserve to be there, for reasons like racism; sexism; the criminalization of need; the war on drugs; the substitution of the prison system for addiction and mental illness treatment facilities.

But Grisham's primary concern is all the old white men filling prisons because they accidentally looked at ch1ld p0rn:
"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 ch1ld p0rn."
Um. This is not something that happens. I have never gotten online drunk and "pushed the wrong buttons" and whoopsy daisy ended up accidentally looking at, well, anything at which I didn't want to be looking.

That sounds like an excuse someone who got busted for accessing ch1ld p0rn might make, though, and sure enough:
The author of legal thrillers such as The Firm and A Time to Kill who has sold more than 275m books during his 25-year career, cited the case of a "good buddy from law school" who was caught up in a Canadian ch1ld p0rn sting operation a decade ago as an example of excessive sentencing.

"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," he added in his loft-office in Charlottesville, Virginia.
One of the most common features of rape/abuse apologia is drawing distinctions that are supposed to sound reasonable (to other straight men with healthy, predatory libidos), but are not remotely reasonable, given the slightest bit of scrutiny from a perspective that centers victims of abuse instead of centering predators.

Here, Grisham draws several of these distinctions. Sixteen-year-old girls "who looked 30," versus sixteen-year-old girls who "look 16." Teenage girls who want to be "hookers," versus teenage girls who don't. (And here we see the frequent intersection of rape apologia and sex worker shaming.) Sixteen-year-old girls versus 10-year-old boys, as if teenage girls cannot be victimized. (And here we see the frequent intersection of rape apologia and homophobia, because a man who sexually objectifies an underage girl is "normal" but a man who sexually objectifies an underage boy is "deviant.") "Real" perverts versus men who just make mistakes. (Much like rapists who are good boys who just didn't know any better.) Looking versus touching, as if harm only happens once there is physical abuse.

The interviewer asks Grisham about that last distinction, and naturally he has an answer for that, too:
Asked about the argument that viewing ch1ld p0rn0graphy fueled the industry of abuse needed to create the pictures, Mr Grisham said that current sentencing policies failed to draw a distinction between real-world abusers and those who downloaded content, accidentally or otherwise.

"I have no sympathy for real paed0philes," he said, "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," adding sentencing disparities between blacks and whites was likely to be the subject of his next book.
"Real-world abusers." That's certainly an interesting phrase, which draws on the idea that the internet is not "real life," despite the fact that it is clearly very real indeed for the children being exploited on it. We are meant to understand, and agree, that abuse which happens on the internet is not "real-word abuse," and the people who look at images of exploited children are not "real paed0philes."

On the internet, everything exists outside of reality. Thus, these cannot even be "real crimes." If that's something one believes, of course it seems profoundly unfair that real police enforcing real laws should make real arrests and send someone who just "pushed the wrong buttons" to a real prison for a real prison sentence.

What Grisham is doing here is essentially the same thing as the distinction men draw between "real rapists" and the men—often their friends; so many men defending so many friends—who just made a stupid decision, made a mistake, had too much to drink and went too far. It's always some other guy who's the real problem. Some stranger in a bush. Some guy who's the one taking the pictures.

Would that the men who claim to be so concerned about the "real" predators were as concerned about the real victims. Maybe then they'd be less inclined to excuse the behavior of their friends, which looks a hell of a lot like the behavior of "real" predators, from victims' perspectives.

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