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.”