Creepy guys, revisited

Well, the Christopher Handley case was resolved recently, he got a six-month sentence plus a mess of probation.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think a person should be prosecuted just for being creepy. But it seems, according to one report, Handley was dealing with material that current law could judge as obscene:

The offending material was primarily lolicon, comic-book stories that depict adults engaged in sex with underaged girls.

That’s from Dru Pagliassotti’s site, and I have to say it contains the best commentary about the entire case. Seriously, go read it, and take the final line to heart.

Some thoughts:

  • If you think that this stuff is targeted only because possession of pornography drives people to commit sex crimes – like commentors said here and here, then you’re beating up a strawman.
    We don’t know how much culture can influence someone, but we do know that it does. Witness “24′s” use of torture and how that helped shape recent debate. And while we don’t know if pornography drives someone to crime, we do have some evidence that possession of child pornography is an indicator for pedophilia:

    “This study investigated whether being charged with a child pornography offense is a valid diagnostic indicator of pedophilia, as represented by an index of phallometrically assessed sexual arousal to children. The sample of 685 male patients was referred between 1995 and 2004 for a sexological assessment of their sexual interests and behavior. As a group, child pornography offenders showed greater sexual arousal to children than to adults and differed from groups of sex offenders against children, sex offenders against adults, and general sexology patients. The results suggest child pornography offending is a stronger diagnostic indicator of pedophilia than is sexually offending against child victims. Theoretical and clinical implications are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)”

    In the end, there may be a certain amount of ambiguity over whether this stuff causes or predicts future criminal behavior, but ambiguity isn’t enough to overcome the tendency to err on the side of caution and criminalize this stuff.

    It is important to keep in mind that the article claims only that pornography viewing predicts pedophilia; not that it causes it, or that it predicts it 100% of the time. There is a greater-than-chance likelihood that someone who chooses to view child porn will go on to offend against children, is all that is being claimed.

    (link, scroll down to the editor’s note)
    It’s not a question of whether it always does, it’s the fear that it could be an indication of possible future actions. At best, you’re asking people to accept a low probability that no child will be hurt, not a zero probability. That’s not going to overcome someone’s fears.
    And face it – there’s also a judgement (rightly or wrongly) that someone who depicts or who enjoys viewing images of children being abused doesn’t care whether actual children are victimized this way. So why should anyone care about them?
    Not taking those views seriously, or ridiculing those fears aren’t going to change minds.

  • What those posts also don’t address is that the law is targeting consumers of child pornography in an effort to also hurt suppliers. When you’re dealing with actual photographs, that’s a no brainer. Somewhere along the line, a child was molested. And someone who downloads an image of that contributes to the whole problem.
    That’s why it’s pretty disingenuous to compare this situation with depictions of murder. You don’t have networks of killers trading images of victims to complicate the debate.
    The real issue is that with cartoons, it’s more difficult to identify whether an actual victim exists in the whole supply chain. Is it all imagination? Did the creator witness something at some point and later draw it? Or is it drawn from life?
    That nuance isn’t contained in the current law, it would be very difficult for law enforcement officials to make those distinctions, so lawmakers didn’t bother. And as they’re addressing the very real problem of child pornography, having laws struck down as unconstitutional will not deter them from continuing to try to address it.

So where do I fall on the whole question? In the end, the global economy may bring the world to our doorstep, but that doesn’t mean everything is going to be valued equally. For most of the comics-reading community, I agree with Dru Pagliassotti: Be careful. What’s considered obscene in Iowa may not be in New York or Japan, but that doesn’t change the fact that you may live in Iowa.

But beyond that, I think supporters of purely fictional stories utilizing drawings that represent adults having sex with drawings of figures that could be easily understood as representing children have an uphill battle ahead of them.

I’m not all that convinced that particular battle is worth it.
From Jeff Trexler’s 2008 analysis:

…the question of how to respond to recent developments in obscenity law can be seen as a paradigmatic example of a tragic choice, a term used in law and economics to refer to the emergence of value conflicts from the allocation of scarce resources.
…With regard to the situation at hand, we can view the tragic choice scenario from at least two perspectives. One is that of the comics community–the individuals and nonprofits faced with the decision of whether to spend time and money in helping Handley, Whorley and others challenge current law. While some may view free speech as an ideal worth defending at all costs, others may question whether their money or time is worth spending in defense of child porn when there are arguably more worthwhile (and less troubling) causes in need of immediate support. …
Another perspective is that of society itself. Neil Gaiman aptly observed that the law is a blunt instrument, but there’s often a reason for that. The majority may concluded that it simply cannot afford, let alone figure out how to structure, a legal system that can prevent(ing) certain harmful acts with laser-like precision.


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