Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Am I the Only One…

…who sees a problem here?

As you may have heard by now, super-famous author John Grisham did an interview with the British paper earlier this week in which he made some…interesting…statements (the interview will run on Saturday). Somehow in the course of the interview, they ended up on the topic of incarceration. And from there, they ended up on the topic of incarceration for people who download child pornography. In Grisham’s view, the sentencing for people who do this are too high, and he points out instances where some people who were caught with child porn on their computers got heavier sentences than those who actually raped a child.

This is very touchy and sensitive stuff, and may well be a debate that needs to be had, but it’s not what got me ratcheted up. During the interview, Grisham related the tale of an old law school buddy of his (it’s not clear how long ago this happened, or how close Grisham is to this man at this point in time). His old buddy dowloaded pornography. Quote from Grisham:

“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.”

Turns out Grisham’s law school buddy got caught up in an FBI sting operation. He was arrested within a week and spent three year’s in prison. The very next sentence in Grisham’s interview?

“It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys.”

Okay, hold on, I’m not sure I read that correctly. I must be wrong.

“It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys.”

OH, okay, then, sorry for the misunderstanding, off you go, sir. We can’t give you your porn back, but don’t worry about jail time. You were only looking at 16-year-old girls. If you had been looking at 10-year-old boys, however….

For the record, I think this is a case where what Grisham said and what Grisham meant are two different things. I don’t think he’s a man who gets his freak on by looking at child pornography (though I have to say one of the creepier passages in the interview came when described how a man might find his way into it, quite by accident, of course. It sounded a little too experiential, if you know what I mean, but then again that’s what writers do: we make things sound and feel experiential.). But that statement…oh, that statement.

Two problems with that statement. First, is the sliding scale of age thing. We have laws that designate when someone is defined as being ‘of age’ for a whole lot of things: driving, voting, buying cold medicine, marriage, age of consent. You may not agree with these laws, but you damn well better obey them. As adults, we’re supposed to look out for children, not look for them. We tend to react more viscerally to sex crimes in particular the younger the victim. Guess what? It’s horrible no matter what the age.

Worse in my view is the girl/boy thing. Grisham seems to dismiss it as trivial. After all, his friend only had pictures of 16-year-old girls on his computer. This statement says to me that he views pornography,  as something normal–provided the subjects are female. The sad thing is, I think society backs him up. It’s an idea that is reinforced all over, in the images we see on TV and in movies, on billboards and in magazines. The mainstream imagery that focuses on women’s largely undressed bodies makes pornography more acceptable, something we just sort of shrug off. It’s something we really need to change.


12 Responses

  1. aahhh…dangerous area. I've heard this in the news but not read into it. I think maybe it is just a case of Grisham saying something that didn't come out the way he meant and then backtracking himself into a deeper hole. Maybe his point was that authorities spend more energy into tracking people who download as oppose to those how actually commit it and make it available. And how many times have you researched something and come up with up with something dodgy. Plus he writes crime so may have been looking in that general field. I could be completely wrong though. However, child pornography is still wrong fullstop, regardless of the circumstances, age and gender, and should remain punishable.

  2. I read the interview before I wrote my blog post about this same subject. I wanted to make sure he wasn't being misquoted.


    So many things that are seriously worrying jump out from that interview. First, he specifically states "60-year-old white men" are being victimised. What has ethnicity got to do with this?

    Secondly, his friend was found guilty of looking at images of girls as young as 12. The friend has come out and publicly distanced himself from Grisham's comments.

    Third, there is no sliding scale when it comes to abuse. Regardless of how these images are viewed, the abuse has to happen for the images to be obtained in the first place.

  3. I did see quite a few people reacting to this yesterday. One comment I saw suggested we've sexualized young women (via the media) to the point of condoning this sort of attitude about girls on a societal level. I'm sure Grisham is taking a beating for what he said, and rightly so.

  4. I believe (hope) the situation is pretty much what you outline, DRC. And I actually can understand why he would suggest that people who 'touch' should be sentenced more harshly than people who 'just look'. I'm not sure I agree, but I can see the point. His point was made, however, with some very unfortunate choices of words.

  5. I had not seen any follow-ups involving his friend. Interesting, one would think Grisham would be the one doing the distancing.

    Yeah, he made a bit of a miscue on the race thing, too, didn't he? Although I think he may have said it because of the "guys like me" line. I guess upper middle class white guys in their sixties are more likely to look at child porn? I wonder if there have been any stuides on that…

  6. I haven't seen as big a reaction to it yet as I expected. I've also been away from my computer all day, so we'll see if it blows up any more once the interview hits the papers. I do agree with that comment about sexualizing young women. It's quite bad.

  7. Disgusting. But there was a much bigger flap about Orson Scott Card and his unacceptance of gays (he's LDS). Perhaps there's less of a backlash against Grisham because his fans are men, and probably most enjoy porn and secretly love to sneak a peak at 16-yr-old girls – as long as it's not their own daughter – but would "never" watch gay porn. *heavy sigh and some nausea*

  8. Oh Grisham, poor poor Grisham. Everyone has an opinion but sometimes it comes off so wrong. This is one of those cases. Whether Grisham wants to see gay porn or hang around gays is his own business. There is plenty that can be read into from this statement. But I must say that looking up teen porn on purpose is wrong. Sorry dude but the porn industry has created porn with barely legal porn to corner the eighteen year olds who look like sixteen year old market. While creepy it's better than searching porno of teens/children. That's my ten cents.

  9. If you touch kids in a bad way, or intentionally look at bad things related to them, you get your genitalia stapled to a tree. I don't care which sex you are or how difficult it is to accomplish.

    How's that for a controversial stance? 🙂

  10. I don't know, has Card's view gotten more attention? I only know about it from being on writerly sites, where Grisham's comments were splashed across a big news site. The reaction has been pretty scathing, though we'll see if it impacts sales of his new book in any way.

  11. I'd like to believe this is a case where things just came out wrong for Grisham. Nevertheless, his comments are quite troubling.

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