Everything Wrong With What John Grisham Said

Image from BBC.

Content Note: This post contains Grisham’s words and his defence of child abusers as well as discussion of the topic itself. A lot of this is very upsetting so please approach with caution. 

It’s pretty disheartening that I even have to write something like this because it should be common sense to know that author John Grisham’s thoughts on how men who view sexually abusive images of children should be treated more leniently by the legal system are not only wrong but pretty dangerous. Sadly, if the internet has taught me nothing else, it’s that some people will jump through hoops to defend the indefensible. Grisham predictably went into PR mode and apologised, but the damage is done. It probably won’t affect his staggering book sales (275m books over the course of a 25 year career), but it has brought up a mirror to many preconceived notions and damaging assumptions made in regards to abusive images of children (which I refuse to label ‘child porn’. Pornography is supposed to include consent. Children do not consent to this). To show just how wrong Grisham is, let’s break down, line by line, his claims, and the resulting apology.

“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”.

There’s a lot of assumptions going on here, and a nasty racial undercurrent to his comment. The emphasis on ‘sixty year old white men’ insinuates that such individuals never do anything terrible, as if the age group and race were the saints of humanity. If you’re familiar with Jimmy Saville, Rolf Harris and Operation Yewtree, currently undergoing in the UK, you’ll be all too aware that such a claim is blatantly untrue. There’s also the claim that such men would ‘never touch a child’. How does he know that? Does he take them for their word, after they’ve been caught and charged, or is he just such a nice man that he knows they’d never do it?

“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.”

You don’t just go to Google and put “child porn” in the search engine. As a number of legal experts online have testified, it’s virtually impossible to accidentally find and download such material. You have to know what you’re doing. I’m sure there’s a lot of hardcore porn out there that you can find relatively easily, but porn isn’t illegal, and it’s highly improbably that such sites would willingly link to abuse.

[Upon recounting an anecdote involving a ‘good buddy from law school’] “His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabe hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff – it was 16 year old girls who looked 30.”

Because it’s those girls’ own faults for looking older? That’s, of course, if they did look older or if he’s just saying that to cover his arse. Neither option matters because he still looked, and if these girls were 16, that’s still illegal in many states and brings into question the issues of consent in those videos. We’ve all googled silly things when we’ve had a few drinks but it takes serious know-how and searching to get to the illegal stuff.

“He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys. He didn’t touch anything.”

The truly shocking insinuation here is that abusing a young girl is somehow less of a crime than abusing a young boy. This pushes a lot of misogynistic ideas about young women – that they’re there for objectification and sexual use, that they’re ready for sex quicker, that they’re somehow partially responsible for their own abuse because it’s not like they’re boys, right? Nice use of ‘anything’ there too, because children aren’t living beings, they’re objects like furniture.

“There’s so many of them now. There’s so many ‘sex offenders’ – that’s what they’re called – that they put them in the same prison. Like they’re a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em. We’ve gone nuts with this incarceration”.

Yes, they’re ‘sex offenders’ because what they do is a crime, and it’s a crime for a reason. You can claim all you want that ‘just looking’ at these images isn’t really hurting anyone, but by seeking out this material, you are creating a situation of supply and demand which leads to child abuse to create more for people to seek out. So yes, they’re perverts and they’re criminals and they deserve to go to jail for what they did. Nothing ‘nuts’ about it (because, of course, demanding the legal system do its job must require some kind of mental illness).

“I have no sympathy for real paedophiles… God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting,”

No, I don’t know what his definition of ‘real paedophiles’ is either. Reminds me an awful lot of claims that men who rape women while they’re drunk or other such situations aren’t ‘real rapists’. Spoiler alert – they are. As I said before, you don’t have to directly engage in the physical abuse of a child to abet it. Creating demand for the images is part of the vicious cycle and needs to be stamped out as well.

And his apology in full, available from his website.

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.”

Only one question comes to mind here – if you believe that such individuals should be punished to the fullest extent of the law then why the hell did you say the exact opposite in the first place? Grisham isn’t a stupid man. He’s built his career from writing about the law and prides himself on his legal accuracy in his fiction. He would know the conviction rate for such crimes, the difficulty in getting to trial, let alone a conviction, and the abuses of power that have led to cover ups of such a disgusting crime. He would know the hoops defence attorneys will jump through to prove their clients’ innocence, the victim blaming and use of such claims that no touching means it’s all okay in order to have the charges dropped. He would know all of this, and yet even with possession of that information he chose to push a truly sickening claim, one that does nothing but hurt his original agenda of tackling overcrowding in prisons. Statistically speaking, such a thing is more due to unreasonably tough sentences on reoffenders, but why let that get in the way of lamenting the fates of ‘sixty year old white men’, the lowest difficulty setting in life there is?

Whether Grisham will truly see consequences for his words remains to be seen. Sadly, I doubt it.

Please consider donating to a charity that supports children and young people who have survived abuse.


  1. Wait? You’re telling me a guy who went to law school “accidentally” downloaded underage porn without knowing it was illegal? Umm…okay.

    A former acquaintance of mine was charged for two counts of possession of child pornography. He plead guilty and got off with probation. So no, I’m not going to believe anyone who tells me that our prisons are chock-full of nice guys who woke up with naked 16-year-olds on their computer.

  2. ‘Real’ pedophiles, the girl vs. boy thing, that whole just happened to find child porn scenario–what a horrible, horrible series of things to say. The thing is, I can see where Grisham was trying to go: he’s trying to draw a line between those that abuse directly, and those that don’t. But he fails to realize that every image bought/traded/downloaded by a ‘looker’ (and is there any real way to know that these people won’t touch?) involved someone being abused.

    And trying to excuse it because it was 16-year-old girls (you can hear the ‘just’ in there, can’t you? “It was just 16-year-old girls”) is just…I don’t even know what to say on that one. You said it quite well.

  3. I’ve run across many, many disturbing and disgusting things on the Internet. I’ve never encountered child porn – pornographic fanfiction with underage characters, yes, but not real child pornography. I don’t know how this man can argue that child porn is a victimless crime. The pornographers wouldn’t produce it and put it on the Internet if there wasn’t an audience. Ergo, viewing child porn contributes to child abuse.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here