I woke up this morning with my Twitter feed buzzing with the recent news on John Grisham’s comments to the Telegraph. As I have begun to set better boundaries when it comes to starting my day with news that will send me into an emotional rage induced tailspin, it wasn’t until I got into the office that I allowed myself an emotional rage induced tailspin. Okay, truthfully it wasn’t as ragey as I can be, mostly because there wasn’t anything that shocking in his statements. I’m sure some of you are now thinking, “Oh, what do you mean Leona? Did you see the same thing I did?!?” Yes, I did, and for as long as I have been doing prevention education around sexual assault, I’ve heard the same qualifiers when it comes to levels of sexual harm for children. I think a great deal of that does stem from how the conversation around sexual harm of children is often phrased in our country. Mr. Grisham spoke truth to what I feel is in the heart of many Americans, particularly when he described the circumstances of his friends subsequent prosecution and “…prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child…”. For him, his friend had done something “stupid” clicking on a site that advertised “sixteen year old wannabee hookers”, but as he so eloquently points out they looked 30 and well it wasn’t “10-year-old boys”.
Let that sit for a bit, because when you do you’ll see the value placed on the sexual exploitation of children his statements make. It’s stupid, negligible even, to eroticize underage girls (even though they clearly look older, with all that makeup), but we need to draw the line at little boys and for God’s sake, absolutely no touching. After all that’s what pedos and those “perverts” he referenced do. If I could this would be the part where I insert incredulous laughter because yeah, maybe I am more ragey than I initially thought. Mostly, because I’m tired of explaining that the onset of puberty or the gender of the child being sexually abused isn’t a place to pick apart what has been done as “harmful” versus what was “stupid”.
When it comes to post pubescent girls, this isn’t about poor choices on the part of those men that accidentally fall down an internet rabbit hole and “oops” click the wrong site. It’s about the supposed Lolita (although the book is about the mental degradation of a child molester, not an under age sexual vixen) mindset men have when it comes to the consumption of underage girls developing bodies for sexual gratification. The fantasy of absolute power of a female body, unsullied or unsoiled by another man’s hands. When the line in the sand is drawn at “touching” young boys, this isn’t about the emotional and physical trauma a child will experience having been harmed by a trusted adult, it’s about those pedophile perverts, that has been so closely linked to homophobia I’m afraid I’ll become far to tangential if I begin to explain it.
Therefore, Mr. Grisham’s words were not shocking as much as illustrative of how comprehensive sexual violence prevention work is a constant need in our culture. This is a prevention work that should operate from an anti-oppression model, that acknowledges how sexism impacts the work that even us as practitioners do, and steeped in a feminist perspective that understands dismantling these mindsets means looking at why we need to qualify abuse with, “it was 16 year old girls who looked 30”, “it wasn’t 10-year-old boys”, or “He didn’t touch anything”. Because if I feel he spoke truth to what is in the heart of many Americans, it’s time to teach those hearts and minds a new truth that holds the harm of all children equally.