Child porn can never be condoned

17th August 2007 at 01:00
It seems there is no end to the concern regarding protecting children from paedophiles, as The TESS summer debate between John Wilson and Judith Gillespie demonstrated (August 3).

Understandably, Wilson makes the point that one failure of the system is a tragedy too many and hence disclosure checking must be forensic in its thoroughness. I sympathise, too, with Gillespie's view that the disclosure system is based on suspicion, with millions being spent to establish that adults are guilty until proven innocent.

More and more men are being prosecuted for looking at pornographic images of children on the internet.

Recently, the actor Chris Langham was convicted of child pornography offences. It was reported that some of the images he viewed were so terrible that the jury saw only a limited number of them. His claim that he looked at the clips only for research purposes was disbelieved, as was his plea that he watched them to tackle ghosts of the past, since he claimed to have been abused as a child.

So, is society riddled with potential child abusers who, on their journey to actual abuse, spend many hours surfing the internet in pursuit of shocking images? Is it also the case that viewers of such pornography will automatically offend against children? Does watching the pictures make someone a paedophile, even if they never act on what is depicted?

Many people habitually watch very violent movies, but they will never be so violent. This was the view of a psychologist in a discussion with me, arguing that it is a little harsh to punish someone for having evil thoughts. The law, he claimed, should deal with peoples' actions, not their thoughts.

While I do appreciate his line of argument, I have to disagree with him. Sexual abuse of children is so morally unpalatable that I would have to condemn unreservedly anyone who looked at child pornography. For a start, he is encouraging an industry which uses children, causing them psychological and physical damage beyond estimation.

The psychologist is also supporting the continuation of a market which is repugnant to many people.

I read recently in the national press of a woman's attempts to explain her husband's downloading of pornographic images of children by citing his depression. We must resist any attempt to minimise the awfulness of these crimes.

So, Gillespie versus Wilson? It is not realistic to slacken the chains of disclosure: there is too much at stake. However, we have to accept Gillespie's assertion that all the disclosure in the world, for reasons well documented, may not save children from sexual abuse.

We could, however, be much more upfront in what we teach pupils about adults who groom children for their own pleasure.

Many kids still view sexual abuse as something which they have somehow brought on themselves, in the same way as rape victims can believe that they are to blame for being raped. If we can alter these perceptions, then maybe we will bridge the gap between the various complexities which disclosure on its own is not capable of dealing with.

At the same time, we should teach pupils that writing about their teachers in obscene language on internet sites is also a form of repugnant abuse that distresses the victims.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

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