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Should it really be a crime to look at child

Rod Liddle
Tuesday January 14, 2003
The Guardian 

I wanted to look at some pictures of child pornography
from the internet this week and then tell you all
about them, but I couldn't because my stupid modem
broke down. I'm not sure how the law or, for that
matter, society will view my failure. The intent,
clearly, was there. In mitigation I suppose I could
say I was planning to do it all on your behalf and
would gain no pleasure from the operation myself.
That's what I could say. In which case perhaps the
policemen should turn up at your house instead. 
Imagine the modem had worked exactly as the smug,
acne-ridden computer salesman had assured me it would.
Could I have told the police, and later the courts,
that my motives were in the glorious traditions of
Woodward and Bernstein, James Cameron and Donal
MacIntyre - ie, serious campaigning investigative
journalism? Would they have scoured the bedroom floor
for incriminating evidence to disprove my plea of
mitigation? And why, exactly, is it a plea of
mitigation in the first place? Why is it any less
exploitative of the unfortunate children concerned for
me to download pictures of them and write about it, in
a harrumphing fashion, for this newspaper? Does it
hurt them any more or any less than if I had simply
downloaded the pictures for my own gratification? I
would be, in my own fashion, gaining from the
experience and - worse, you might argue - gaining

And what about the police? They would have to look at
the pictures, too. And the court officials and maybe
the members of the jury, all united in their unbridled
repulsion. What if, secretly, one of them, poring over
the evidence and sweating slightly, rather enjoyed it?
Does that matter, as far as the law, or society, is

The law prohibits, in theory, even an accidental visit
to a child-porn website. But we are told that
prosecution would be unlikely to occur if it could be
proved that the visit was, indeed, accidental. How do
you prove that? No, really, officer, it was all a
ghastly mistake. Will that wash? 

Scotland Yard is, at present, scouring its files for
evidence of a telephone call made to them, supposedly,
by the rock guitarist, Pete Townshend. He says he
visited a child-porn website and, appalled, rang the
police to tell them about it. Does that make it OK,
then, telling the police about it afterwards? Can I
visit a child-porn website and, perhaps having sated
my paedophilic lust with various grotesque fantasies,
tell the police later how horrid it was? And get away
with it? Why does that make a difference? 

The latest statement from Scotland Yard suggests it
makes a big difference. That, after all, is why they
are searching their files for the alleged telephone
call. "The timing [of the call] could obviously put a
different slant on it," a police spokesman said
yesterday. Why? Because it would suggest Townshend
hadn't really enjoyed looking at the pictures? Is it
the sexual psyche of the individual we are attempting
to legislate against, or the exploitation and abuse of
children? Will the authorities start poking around in
Townshend's mind to discern, once and for all, what
his motive was in downloading the stuff? We know
Townshend enjoys pornography; he has said so. What's
more, he wrote what must be the first ever pop song
about masturbating to pornographic magazines, Pictures
of Lily. Hell, the prosecution rests its case, M'lud. 

How absurd the law is. But at least it is an
appropriate reflection of our collective neurosis and
confusion about paedophilia generally. The one
laudable and necessary aim - to protect children from
abuse - has become warped by our consuming, obsessive
hatred for those who find children sexually
attractive. There is no causal link between viewing
child porn and abusing children. And even if there
were, it would not be sufficient, within the
philosophy of our judicial system, to simply assume
that an unpleasant penchant for the former presupposes
guilt of the latter. 

How much police time is tied up in Operation Ore, the
police investigation which has so far uncovered the
names of 7,000 people who have visited child-porn
websites? And how many children will be protected from
abuse as a result of the prosecutions? No matter how
vile we may consider the sexual predilections of
paedophiles, we should not be in the business of
putting people in prison for simply looking at things.
The law should be above the blind, howling, rage of
Rebekah Wade's moronic vigilantes. But there is the
whiff of Salem about it all.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!
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