Author John Grisham Criticizes Tough Child Porn Sentencing

Criticizing sex offender laws as too severe is not a popular stance. Most people tend to lump all "sex offenders" in the same category as violent child predators, and they feel like the only acceptable reform of sex offender laws is to make theme even more stringent. However, those who know and love a "sex offender" understand that not all sex crimes are equal, and that most sex offenders are actually not a threat to public safety. In fact, the overall recidivism rate for sex offenders is quite low. And while it has become socially and politically acceptable to criticize mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, the same acceptance has not reached criticism of lengthy sentencing for sex crimes. One popular novelist has quickly learned just how readily a public can turn against someone for voicing an opinion on the matter. John Grisham, author of numerous best-selling courtroom drama novels, recently told The Telegraph that he felt that America had "gone crazy" in sentencing and incarcerating what he feels are non-violent offenders--including those who view child pornography. He told the British newspaper, "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." Grisham then goes on to describe a "good buddy from law school" who was arrested in a child pornography sting. Grisham said his friend had a drinking problem and one night wandered into a pornography site featuring "sixteen-year-old wanna-be hookers." The author noted that the girls "looked 30" and said, "He shouldn't ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys. He didn't touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people - sex offenders - and he went to prison for three years." The author said the United States has "gone nuts" in incarcerating people who have never touched a victim, saying that he has "no sympathy for real pedophiles," but treating all sex offenders equally is a miscarriage of justice. He said of men, like his friend, who view child pornography, "They deserve some type of punishment, but 10 years in prison?" It often seems that no one has sympathy for sex offenders, mentally classifying them all as violent, predatory pedophiles. Grisham faced significant backlash for his comments and quickly had to apologize for his stance: "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. My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all." One point made by Grisham's disappointed fans is that in order for child pornography to exist, a child must be victimized. People who view and download child pornography--even if they themselves never touch a child--fuel the market that makes child sexual abuse profitable. What do you think? Does Grisham have a valid point? Should those who download child pornography face the same penalties as those who produce and distribute it? Are they equally responsible for the sexual exploitation of children, or do some bear more responsibility than others?

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