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I agree, somewhat, with Tom Flanagan

I have what I know will be a very unpopular opinion about a highly volatile subject. I should probably keep it to myself, but I feel compelled to share it.

It’s about Tom Flanagan’s remarks about child pornography. The remarks for which he was roundly lambasted, fired as a CBC commentator, denounced by the Prime Minister’s Office, and cut loose by Alberta’s right-wing Wildrose Party. Based on the response I’ve seen so far, it seems the left, the right, the center and the apolitical have finally found something they can all agree on. The subject can’t even be described as controversial, since everybody seems to agree.

Except me. I see some merit in what he said. I don’t think he said it particularly well, and if he’d thought about it I’m sure he would have said it better (or, more likely, not at all), but I think I know what he was getting at even if he didn’t articulate it very well.

Here’s what he said.

“A lot of people on my side of the spectrum, the conservative side of the spectrum, have been on kind of a jihad against pornography and child pornography in particular. 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,” said Flanagan. “It’s a real issue of personal liberty and to what extent we put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person.”

Now, to be clear, I emphatically disagree with him that consuming child pornography doesn’t harm another person. Real children are harmed in the making of the vast majority of child pornography. Further, to call child pornography “taste in pictures” is to trivialize the very real harm done to those very real children.

But what about child pornography that is made without harming children, like animé, or drawing? What if someone is sexually attracted to children but does not act on it, and creates their own pornography using their own talents and their own imagination? Why is that illegal?

I don’t think any of us have a whole lot of control over who or what we’re sexually attracted to, but we do have control over what we do about it. It’s not the sexual attraction to children per se that is illegal. I absolutely believe incarceration is called for if someone lays a hand on a child sexually. If, on the other hand, someone is unfortunate enough to be sexually attracted to children, but refrains from acting on it, I say good for him. I respect him for that. And if he creates sexual outlets for himself using his own imagination and art supplies, I’m not convinced that should be illegal.

I believe there are a lot of people who would be quite willing to criminalize fantasies were it possible to do so. They would be quite willing to incarcerate people who are attracted to children, even if they never act on it.

I think that’s what Tom Flanagan meant – that people shouldn’t be jailed for who they’re attracted to or for what they think or feel, only for what they do.

Here’s his apology:
“I absolutely condemn the sexual abuse of children, including the use of children to produce pornography.These are crimes and should be punished under the law. Last night, in an academic setting, I raised a theoretical question about how far criminalization should extend toward the consumption of pornography. My words were badly chosen, and in the resulting uproar I was not able to express my abhorrence of child pornography and the sexual abuse of children. I apologize unreservedly to all who were offended by my statement, and most especially to victims of sexual abuse and their families.”

19 comments to I agree, somewhat, with Tom Flanagan

  • You will get no argument from me. While I do not condone in any way, shape or form, the using of children for making pornography, I get what you (and Mr Flannagan) are saying. Who am I to tell anyone what kind of drawings they are allowed to look at? I don’t personally understand it. It’s kind of like those folks who like looking at morgue photos of murder victims. Murder is illegal, so is looking at the photos legal?

    You may have helped pry open a very large can of ugly worms here.

  • We have a case here in the US about a cop who is on trial for planning to kidnap and cannibalize particular women, but he claims he had no plans to carry out his fantasies. His targets think otherwise. When do thoughts become conspiracy? It is a very gray area.

  • Kathy

    Well said.

  • albertaD

    Well said. My first reaction to his words was one of shock, and then I saw the career melt-down..the shellshocked reaction on Power & Politics….

    … and then I saw something that REALLY disturbed me (and thank you for giving me a place to express this though): The lead story last night on CTV was the Pope stepping down. The second story was Flanagan. The difference in tone was as extreme as it could be.

    The Pope, Leader of the organization that made possible the repeated coverup of ACTUAL child molestation, flew away in a white chopper with thousands waving and crying.

    Flanagan, who never covered up anything, and who never molested anyone, is toast. The Pope, who probably covered up lots, escapes any scrutiny.

    The double standard made me literally gag, and now I worry for Flanagan. As poorly timed and poorly worded as his “bozo eruption” was, he is nowhere near as dangerous as the Roman Catholic Church. And yet his career lays in tatters as Benedict flies off to a comfortable early retirement.

    It just makes me sad.

  • The Good Book says we’re not judged by our words but by our deeds. I can agree that our sexual orientations are not subject to personal control. Imagination is a terrific gift, as long as it’s not used to harm anyone.

  • I’m pretty much with you on this.
    What also disturbs me is how most of the media outlets did not use his exact quote… which definitely lends a little more perspective.

  • future landfill

    Anything Tom Flanagan says beyond “Pass the butter, please.” is probably going to offend me, so my shadenfreude meter is spinning wildly today. But you’re right – if I can draw a picture, or write about, or even just fantasize about something most everyone else finds objectionable, I say keep your nose out of my business.

    I’m pretty sure there are lots of folks who would be seriously distressed by my evil secret thoughts of sorta accidently running over some dipshit public figures and greeed-mongers with my car, but so long as I’m not deliberately fiddling with my brake lines I’ll continue to imagine them crossing the street in front of me when I just can’t stop in time.

  • I’m going to go out on a probably less popular limb than you just did, Zoom. The law has already been broken, the children have already been harmed, when the pornography was made. That’s not going to go away even if no one aside from the person who made it actually sees it. Making and distributing it should still be illegal–I will probably never be convinced otherwise. But you can’t disappear something off the internet, no matter how much the police, the victims, and whoever else might wish you could–just ask anyone who’s ever tried suing Google because searching for their name pulls up something less than flattering. But that doesn’t mean the person who looks for and downloads it should be slapped in the cell next to the guy who created it, for the same reason as you’d support him drawing his own and not being jailed for it.

    It’s along the same lines, again, as the murder photos. The murder has already happened. Whether or not you have a thing for looking at the pictures, the body’s still just gonna be a body. Does going to a website somewhere and downloading murder photos (I’m sure a website for that kinda thing exists by now) somehow make the act more illegal? Does it somehow make the victim more dead?

  • I agree with you Zoom if we’re talking about drawing or creating victimless porn for your own use. I think the purchase and trading of it is not so clear though – how does a person buying a drawing know that it sprang from the artist’s imagination and not from an actual assault on a child? Images are tricky that way. And James as a child abuse victim here’s the difference between a photograph of a murder victim and child porn – I worry frequently that the photographs taken of me ended up being traded, could be on the net now, every time someone hypothetically looks at them it is a new assault on me, because I live with that fear, revulsion, and loss of personal autonomy every day…yes they are joining in on that abuse.

  • A postmortem image of a murder victim is not something created by the murderer – what you can compare child porn to is snuff films.

    • Alright, that’s more accurate. Sure. Here’s the problem. Those aren’t illegal either, even if the making of them in some jurisdictions is–you can, or could, rent them at your local video store. You don’t see folks going off to jail for that.

      I’m not trying to trivialise the abuse you, or anyone else, suffered. As I said, whether those pictures were only seen by the person who did the abusing, or posted on the internet for several thousand others to see, at end of day you’re still just as damaged by what happened to you. That won’t go away completely, even if you could be absolutely certain every single one of them has vanished from digital existence. But, and this I think is the important part. The person doing the actual looking at those pictures isn’t necessarily the one who did the abusing. I’d argue that more people than we realize probably don’t go any farther than looking–which could very well prevent someone else from being abused. does that take away from what happened to you? Absolutely not. Anyone who pretends otherwise belongs in the cell next to the person who did it to you. But much like watching the video of a murder, be it real or fake, doesn’t turn everyone who does so into a murderer themselves, watching pornography–again, be it real or fake–shouldn’t (and, as mentioned, in some cases doesn’t) automatically mean that person will become a child abuser. Hell, the ones who know it’s wrong but, as Zoom says, maybe can’t control who they’re attracted to may very well be willing to help shut down someone who’s heavy into the producing of the stuff if they know that admitting this kind of thing attracts them won’t also net them in the exact same operation.

  • Oh that is so much bullshit – if you purchase or trade child porn images you are an abuser because you are creating a market for them to be made – you’ve commodified the abuse of the next child for the next image you source out.

    • That’s like saying the people who reposted the Luka Magnotta murder video after it was repeatedly taken down were commodifying the next killing. And it’s equally untrue. I don’t agree with people who watch things like that, be it someone’s abuse or someone else’s bloody murder. Personally they disgust me nearly as much as the people who’ll go out and do something like that. But if downloading, watching, and reuploading someone’s murder video doesn’t put people on the same level as the one who committed the murder and put it on video in the first place, and if the people who sat in front of their computers and watched same didn’t decide to turn around and go do exactly what he did with their own variations on it, then the argument falls flat.

      Sick people will be sick people. There’s not a law on the books that’ll change that. You and I are both well within our rights to be sickened by these people. But our right to be offended by it stops when we start tossing people in jail for watching a video, whether the video is of a child being abused or a man in his 20′s being dismembered. Given the various similar images etc you can find of the latter with the proper Google search, by your logic there should be a metric ton more residents of the federal penal system. Also by your logic, the very act of proving that should put the person doing the proving in jail. It won’t.

      And yet, if we’re keeping on this line, everyone who watched the Luka Magnotta video contributed to harming his victim–this includes the media outlets that showed pieces of it. If the only difference between the two is one’s dead while the other isn’t, then we have more significant problems than the off the cuff remarks of a former Harper staffer.

  • Julia

    Well said Zoom. It is about freedom of thought.

    This is what I sent as a letter to the editor:

    “Regarding the recent attention given to remarks made by Tom Flanagan, one thing that Flanagan and Michael Taube missed
    http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/op-ed/Flanagan+wrong+evil/8031337/story.html
    about why child porn is harmful, is that it normalizes aberrant behaviour. The more something is published, talked about, or treated as news, the more it people think it is acceptable. The more we suggest that it is “just art” or “just pictures”, the more we suggest that it is somehow socially acceptable. There are some behaviours that should always be shunned, as harmful to all involved, even if the only one who seems to be involved is one person looking at drawings. It is wrong to objectify people, and doubly wrong to objectify the vulnerable.”

  • If you paid Luka or a broker of his money or traded snuff with him then yes it’s just as bad (and a teacher who showed Luka’s film was charged btw. Our anti obscenity laws hold *dealers* accountable too.

    And yup the laws agree with me – you create a market and buy child porn you are a sexual predator too.

  • Cara

    Why did he make reference to the Man Boy Love association and being on it’s email list? Man Boy Love is about action and not just fantasies.

  • I agree with you zoom.

  • Chris

    I agree with Zoom that we shouldn’t punish people for their sexual orientation, as long as they are acting on it with other consenting adults. People attracted to children, don’t have that option and really their only options are to be celibate or to undergo some sort of re-programming, though there’s no real evidence that these are effective. What they cannot do, I think, is indulge their orientation in any way, be it photos or drawings or fantasies. As Julia points out, this will only serve to normalize the idea. Don’t tell me a healthy heterosexual male would be content forever to just doodle pictures of women he would like to “date”. So, I think that yes, some fantasies ought to be policed. I don’t know how that would be accomplished without trampling on everybody’s rights, but it would be a nice idea if we could stop the kid who writes stories and draws pictures of himself shooting up his classmates before he does it. And the guy who’s plotting to cannibalize his wife.