Like a lot of teens of my generation, I discovered the novels of Kurt Vonnegut like a breath of fresh air apart from the assigned readings in my school. Vonnegut wrote what even he described as “trash” fiction, but he peppered his books with matter of fact recounting of historical events, some of which were based on facts and a lot of which were just snarky imagination. The book that made him famous was Slaughterhouse 5 which was full of both dark humor and bits of hope, as well as very frank exposés of how corrupt and hypocritical that people are, while reassuring readers that it didn’t really matter much because we’re all pretty messed up.
Though 50 years have passed since I read his work, I remember his account of the invention of the photograph in the early 19th century being followed up by an assistant to the inventor being arrested for trying to sell photographs of a woman having sex with a pony. Like any good fiction writer, Vonnegut gave specific names and places to the alleged arrest of André Le Fèvre, in the Tuileries Gardens, even though there is no historical reference to such an event.
Still, his point was fairly accurate. Pornography, sometimes exaggerated and disgusting pornography, has been a ubiquitous part of civilization since long before the erotic paintings in first century Pompey. The closest we came to pornography in my home of origin was the underwear section of the J C Penny catalogue and the nudity in the National Geographic magazines my uncle sent to me. But Vonnegut’s more earthy depiction of human depravity made me feel a lot less guilty about the occasional sojourns my adolescent friends and I were making into more ribald literature available at the local drug store.
Watching a child in a sexual act, however, is a crime for which many people are now serving time in a federal prison of up to 20 years. Though we seem ready to accept that watching a video that portrays rape does not cause the viewer to become a rapist, we still insist that watching child porn turns the viewer into a predator even though research shows that assumption to be false.
No one, and least of all me, believes that viewing child porn is a victimless crime. There is a point of origin and those who produce these videos are worse even than what Kurt Vonnegut’s trashy imagination could cook up. But the people who accidentally find themselves wandering around these dark pages of the web, rarely know when they have crossed a boundary from what might be thought of as normal curiosity into a universe that is inherently evil. By the way, did all of you who saw the Blue Lagoon get up and walk out when you saw what it was about, or did you watch the whole movie?
But what happens to tens of thousands of young men like my friend’s son, is a 15 year sentence and a lifetime on a sex offender registry that governs where they can live, what kind of work they can do, and even what kind of assistance they can receive for education or job training. 99% of offenders are men. 83% are white. Only 5% have ever had sexual contact with a child.