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No, John Grisham, There Is NOTHING Okay About Watching Children Be Sexually Abused

I used to see this guy every day at the gym at the University of Calgary, and he creeped me out just a little.

I’m being overly judgy, because what I found strange about him was that he wore a T-shirt that said, “Waiting for healthcare makes me sick.” Nothing wrong with the message on the shirt, because wait times can suck, but what I could not help but notice is that he wore that shirt to the gym every single day.

Five days a week, for years. With rare exception, it was always the same shirt to workout in.

Turns out, the guy was way weirder than that. His name is Tom Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary. He was a sought-after speaker, a regular conservative political commentator on CBC, and he helped bring Stephen Harper to power as prime minister of Canada, and acted as his chief of staff.

Then he said something really dumb, and it destroyed his reputation. This is what he said, back in 2013, during a presentation at the University of Lethbridge:

“I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters, but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.” And did he reap a whirlwind for it. The University of Calgary, the CBC, the prime minister’s office … they all disavowed and lambasted.

Apparently, John Grisham didn’t know about this story before mouthing off to a reporter a year later. He might have decided to keep his yap shut. But Grisham, the multimillionaire author of crime novels, said viewing images of child sexual abuse should not be punished. He was arguing that America’s prison system is out of control (true). But rather than stop at discussing better ways to rehabilitate drug users or other perpetrators of nonviolent crime, Grisham kept talking, and went off the deep end, saying to the Telegraph:

“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.”

And then he kept on digging deeper. “We’ve gone nuts with this incarceration” he said of those who view child sex abuse being put in prison. “But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting,”

Grisham paid the price for his comments. We have a tendency to react harshly to anything that can be seen as endorsing sexual assault against children (unless you’re trying to get your republican candidate elected to the Alabama senate, then it’s all “What would Jesus’s parents do?”).

Grisham later issued a statement on his website that is a 180-degree shift from what he told the Telegraph. He wrote that he regretted what he said, asserting, “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.”

That is the exact opposite of what he said before; can you say, “Damage control”?

Are we too harsh with our backlash against such comments? Fuck no. Because the viewing of child sex abuse isn’t a nonviolent crime. It’s violent as all hell.

Oh, you’re some 60-year-old white man who had a few drinks and decided to watch a child get raped so you could jerk off to it? But you’re totally not a bad guy and don’t deserve to go to prison. Fuck you. Lock your ass up.

The reason you deserve it, the reason your act is violent, is because you are part of the demand that creates the supply.

I will bold, italicize, center, and repeat:

You are part of the demand that creates the supply.

Recently I wrote a piece for the Chicago Tribune about how childhood sexual abuse leads to weight gain and a host of other negative physical and psychological outcomes. For that piece, I interviewed Dr. Vincent Felitti. In the early 1980s, Dr. Felitti uncovered the connection between “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACE) and a host of negative physical and mental health outcomes, obesity included. He spent decades surveying and following thousands of patients, and publishing dozens of research studies, to better understand the phenomenon.

One thing he told me stood out:

“It is wildly unrecognized that childhood sexual abuse is remarkably common.”

Before writing that piece, I didn’t recognize it either. But I had come to learn just how horribly prevalent the sexual abuse of children is. I made a single Facebook post asking for interview subjects regarding such abuse and the link to obesity. I was looking for people who had been sexually abused as children, had that correlate with significant weight gain, AND were willing to be interviewed about it for a major newspaper.

I thought I might get a few messages. I was awakened when over 150 people—mostly women, but some men—messaged me to tell me their stories.

In discussing the piece with a friend, she told me her earliest childhood memory was of being sexually abused. The friend I met her through has been raped more than once. A friend from high school was raped by her older brother a number of times. This is a thing that most people keep secret, and yet I have heard it so many times directly from people I know that I lose my breath at the thought of how many other stories remain untold.

When I wrote “She Doesn’t Owe You Shit,” a piece about how men often act as though they are entitled to women’s bodies, I thought I might get a dozen stories for it, and received over 400. The piece has been shared over 200,000 times on Facebook, it resonates that much with people. For so many, it’s #MeToo. “Me. Fucking. Too.” they proclaim. The world needs to know.

The world needs to know.

Sex abuse at all ages is rampant. Rampant. These stories we’re hearing in the media aren’t witch hunts, it’s a pulling back of the curtain.

We need to stop and look at how bad it is, and the role we play in hushing it, or even creating it. The disgusting countdowns for when Emma Watson and the Olsen twins would turn 18 was but one example of how a culture of sexualizing children is perpetuated. Now there is the disgusting commentary about Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the character “11” in Stranger Things.

Brown is only 13.

And yet one major magazine put her on a list of “Hottest TV Stars.” The August 2017 cover proclaimed, “Why TV is sexier than ever.” That publication? W Magazine. It’s part of the Condé Nast family that has been in print since 1972 and has a print circulation of almost half a million. The magazine has 1.5 million followers on Twitter and 1.8 million on Facebook. That’s taking sexualization of children mainstream.

So, maybe cancel your subscription.

The angrier we get about this, the better. The discussion with Dr. Felitti of how horrible the outcomes are for victims of childhood sexual abuse was disturbing in how eye-opening it was. Rates of drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness, eating disorders, suicide … they all go through the roof. Beyond that, there is a host of autoimmune disorders, heart disease, diabetes, and many other negative physical outcomes that are far higher in adults who suffered such childhood abuse.

It’s not just how rampant childhood sexual abuse is, it’s how horrible the outcome. Their lives are impacted in a negative way that is almost beyond comprehension. It kills the adult they may have become.

And those who watch the videos of it happening, they generate the demand for it. And because there is demand, others will go out and abuse children to create the supply.

You’re damn right viewers of child sex abuse belong in prison.

 

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James S. Fell, MBA, writes for the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, AskMen, the Guardian, TIME Magazine and many other fine publications. His first book was published by Random House Canada in 2014. He is currently working on his next book, which is about life-changing moments.

 

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