"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.
"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."Oh my. These poor sixty-year-old white men who pushed the wrong buttons. What a tragedy. How could we possibly convict them of a crime?
This narrative of "accidentally" ending up viewing child pornography is an interesting one. Is it possible to click, click, click your way to accidentally ending up on a site with pornographic pictures of children? Maybe. But as Grisham continued talking, he offered up the story of "a good buddy from law school" that paints a very different picture.
"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,” 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,"Let's take this story step by step.
This law school buddy had a drinking problem. He was out of control.
Then he went to a website labelled "sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that." Does this sound accidental to you? What about the next sentence, "And it said 16-year-old girls. So he went there."
It said 16-year-old girls. So he went there.That is not the description of an accident. This is the description of a man who went to a website looking for underage girls. And then he found them.
But what did he do next? Did he click away as fast as he could, and wash his eyes out with soap? Did he call a friend, and say I need to get my drinking under control? Did he immediately leave that site and search for "fully grown naked women in their 20's"? No. He did something else entirely.
He downloaded some stuff.
"So he went there. Downloaded some stuff - it was 16 year old girls who looked 30."One might (and I still believe this is a very far stretch), might end up on a site with child porn accidentally. But one does not download pictures of sixteen year old girls, clearly labeled as sixteen year old girls, accidentally. It just does not happen. You have to click more than one button to do it. You have to choose which file will store these pictures. There are several small steps on the path of downloading a pornographic picture of a sixteen year old girl, and this law school buddy took each one of them. So when the FBI showed up at his door, and he got a three year prison sentence, he should not have been surprised.
Now that we have set aside any thoughts of this being an accident, let's talk further about what Grisham was actually saying about child pornography in these statements.
What Did John Grisham REALLY Say About Child Pornography?If John Grisham was trying to prove his law school buddy was unjustly persecuted, why did he say so distinctly the age of the children? I believe it was because of this line, "It was labelled 'sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that'."
Sixteen year old wannabee hookers. They wanted it, these sixteen year old girls. They wanted to be hookers. They wanted to display their naked bodies online so men could masturbate and fantasize about sex with an underage girl. They wanted his law school buddy to look at them. They wanted it. Just like every victim of rape who is questioned about how she was dressed, or if she had led the guy on, or a myriad of other questions designed to put the blame squarely on her shoulders, John Grisham pointed to these girls and said, they wanted it.
Grisham goes on to make a clarifying remark about the looks of these girls. "It was 16 year old girls who looked 30."
16 year old girls who looked 30. What am I supposed to infer from this? Maybe the girls were actually 30? His law school buddy was able to tell the age of the girls just by looking at them, and that is why he downloaded those pictures - pictured clearly labeled "16-year-old girls"? Or am I supposed to take away the idea that these girls confused his friend with their 30-year old looks? If only they had looked like proper 16-year olds, he wouldn't have looked at them or downloaded their pictures? And what was it about these girls that made them look 30? It doesn't matter how old the girls looked. What matters is the fact his law school buddy viewed and downloaded pictures of sixteen-year-old girls. As a lawyer, Grisham should be aware that sixteen-year-olds are minors.
Then, Grisham makes a distinction between these girls and other victims with, "He shouldn't ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys."
It wasn't 10-year-old boys. It isn't just an age distinction he is making, some lame plea to recognize the difference between a 10-year-old body and a 16-year-old body as if having a developed body somehow changes the rights and protections of being a child. No. He makes a distinction between boys and girls. It is a subtle rehashing of the age-old misogynistic narrative that boys are more valuable than girls. It wasn't as if he victimized a boy; that would be a real crime. Girls are there for our pleasure, especially girls whose bodies have developed like a 30-year-old, and who want to be hookers. It isn't as much of a crime when you victimize a girl. This is the real message he is sending with these words.
Grisham goes on to say that his law school buddy didn't touch anything. Revisiting his early words that they,"never harmed anybody" and "would never touch a child." Maybe it is true some of these men have never touched a child inappropriately. But it doesn't change the fact that viewing and downloading pornographic pictures of children is a crime and it is a victimization. By doing this, they have harmed someone.
If you have never thought about what that looks like for the girls (and boys) on the other end of those pictures, or if you think pictures are not really that big of a deal, I would encourage you to read The Price Of A Stolen Childhood, and note this quote from Judge Emilio Garza,
“It seems to me that we’re in this brave new world, where not only was there an actual rape, but I’m going to suggest to you there is a continuing digitized rape,” the judge said. “Possession of the digitized recording of the rape contributes to the system, contributes to the economic benefit of those who produced this thing.”These pictures do matter. In the original Telegraph article, the author notes that there is debate in America over sentencing for sex offenders and those who view and download child pornography, and points out there there have been instances of people who viewed child pornography being sentenced more heavily than people who committed physical acts against children. I won't deny that this does feel wrong. It does not mean we need to lessen the sentences of those who viewed child pornography, but rather, that we should heighten the sentences of those who committed physical acts against children.
Grisham wants us to believe that his friend is neither a pervert nor a pedophile, but his actions prove him to be exactly that. His friend wasn't viewing and downloading sexually explicit pictures of children because they grossed him out.
John Grisham's ApologyIn a statement on his personal website the next day, Grisham said,
"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."I understand that he regrets having made these statements. But his apology rings hollow for me. It does not convince me that he does not believe the things he said, only that he is sorry to have said them in a public forum. And saying he thinks people who view child pornography "should be punished to the fullest extent of the law" does not mean he agrees with the law as it is written now, only that he believes the law should be enforced. That is a slippery lawyer apology right there.
An Important Update.After the original statements from Grisham were made public, Salon did some further digging into this case of John Grisham's law school buddy. What they found was interesting, and I believe it enforces my interpretation of Grisham's story. Salon and The Telegraph both point to the case of Michael B. Holleman who attended the law school of the University of Mississippi and, like Grisham, earned his degree in 1981. In the 90's, Holleman was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 18 months for "sending and receiving" child pornography.
This is hardly the three years Grisham would have had us believe his law school buddy was in prison.
The story is not quite as "accidental" as Grisham tried to paint it, either. The Telegraph obtained unseen newspaper reports from Holleman's 1997 trial from the Sun Herald newspaper. In these papers we are told,
"An undercover agent who asked for some of Holleman's pictures over the Internet earlier this year received 13 images, all of children under 18, some under 12. They depicted children during sexually explicit conduct, including intercourse," said the report from November 1997, quoting a US justice department lawyer, Kathy McLure.It seems that his 18 months sentence would have been higher, with additional charges of transmitting pornographic images to Maine added on, if he had not pled guilty.
Grisham's friend clearly did not just stumble upon child pornography. He was viewing it. He was downloading it. He was sending it to other people. This was no accident.
And as to that, "it wasn't 10-year-old boys" statement Grisham made, it was clearly under-12-year-old children of some type. So how does that (invalid) qualifier help now? Did these children under the age of 12 look 30? Did they "want it"? Were they boys? It doesn't matter. We are still talking about the same crime. Holleman was engaged in viewing, downloading, and disseminating child pornography. Period.
Are you wondering what happened to John Girsham's old law school buddy Michael B. Holleman? He is now working as a personal injury lawyer in Gulfport, Mississippi. His law license was reinstated in 2002. During that hearing, Holleman's petition for reinstatement was supported by approximately 60 letters of recommendation, one of which was penned by John Grisham.
John Grisham, who wrote a letter asking the Supreme Court of Mississippi to reinstate his buddy's law license, must have known the real facts of this case, even as he presented them very differently to The Telegraph to make his point that 60-year-old white men are being unjustly imprisoned. You don't wade into something this serious without looking into what actually happened.
So, yeah. Grisham doesn't show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes - he only tries to diminish the extent of their crimes when speaking about them publicly and writes letters to help them regain their law license.
Thanks for that clarification, John.
I will be sure to remember it the next time I'm deciding which book to purchase at the bookstore.