John Grisham has opened a can of very slimy worms. Let’s put them out on the table.
First, let me say as background that in 1975, which was almost thirty years ago, my church, First Unitarian of Portland, on a “social action” Sunday had in the pulpit a social activist woman who was trying to get the law for statutory rape changed because she believed it was unjust. She came to this because, she said, she knew a very bright and promising young man, the son of a friend of hers, now serving time in jail for statutory “rape” that was innocent, consensual, and being unjustly punished out of proportion to the offense. Would we jail Romeo for that night with Juliet? Would this woman dare give this talk today?
Now along comes John Grisham and says that 60-year-old drunk men, like a friend of his, who get bored late at night and watch websites entitled “16-year-old girls who want to be hookers” should not be condemned to years in prison because the penalty is out of all proportion and anyway, “the girls looked a lot older.” No doubt he would be a little more offended by the recent Montana stings of men who wanted to pay for actual sex with 12-year-old girls being pimped out by their mothers. Hard to know what he might think about this “sting” in LA: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27872401 He did say that it was wrong to victimize ten year old boys, so he seems to have some limits after all.
Can it get worse? Grisham told the United Telegraph in England that he had no sympathy for real pedopredators but he doesn’t explain how one tells who they are. One of the first rules of writing a decent law is clear boundaries. He seems not to understand that England is in the grip of exposées and accusations that major figures of the media and of government have systematically gathered up young boys for “fun” at parties. Outrage is growing. If I were Grisham's lawyer, I would advise him this was a very good time to keep his head down. Maybe he would be impressed by a video interview I’ve seen describing an inadvertent “snuffing” of a young boy doing what one does for old men. Since he was too young to have a deep throat, he choked to death. The men involved at least salvaged the video for the sake of the profit in selling it.
Grisham said in another interview that he started writing (after many stops and starts in many different jobs, including tax law) after attending a trial in which a 12 year old girl testified, weeping, about sexual assault and beating. His reaction was that the father of the girl might want to kill the perpetrator, because no penalty less than the death sentence would do, so the book resulted.
‘In 2010, Grisham started writing a series of legal thrillers for children between 9 and 12 years old. It featured Theodore Boone, a 13-year-old kid who gives his classmates legal advice from rescuing impounded dogs to helping their parents prevent their house from being repossessed. He said, "I'm hoping primarily to entertain and interest kids, but at the same time I'm quietly hoping that the books will inform them, in a subtle way, about law.’"
Right. To this former animal control officer, teaching kids that impounding dogs is an atrocity and being evicted is always unjust, is not what the law is about. He’s informing kids, in a not very subtle way, that formal laws are overruled by self-righteousness and that the work of a lawyer is finding ways of evading the law. I think he is looking for sales -- and he, like Sherman Alexie, is aware that it’s the kids who have money now. But also he is incredibly naive about what actually happens to kids when they DON’T have money. Where is his book about a lawyer who goes pro bono to protect the rights of illegal immigrant kids being held under punitive conditions? Where is his book about what happens to a five year old kid no one wants who is kept as a slave for who can imagine what? In the real world they can’t write books about what happens to them until they grow up.
Will Grisham fight for the nameless man who currently wants to witness about his own childhood? In England they are not just pursuing pedopredation as a party favor for old men too wealthy to sit on a couch watching depictions. The court is also responding to a trial meant to prevent a man from writing about the abuse of himself as a child on grounds that it will disturb his son, a boy already afflicted by many disabilities. The boy is not able to bring the lawsuit, so his divorced mother is the complainant. The FBI stings of Montana men looking for pre-adolescent girls to fuck have proven to be more productive than anyone would have guessed. The trials have not begun yet.
Practicing lawyers, law officers, counselors, social workers, activists know more than they want to -- not the shallow fantasies of a thriller writer. “Grisham, who said he would have no sympathy for "a real pedophile," emphasized that old white men who only halfheartedly download child porn while drunk really deserve a break. "There's so many of them now, 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,” he said. He sounds like a man with experience with drunken dozing in front of a TV set, but not much sophistication about sex. Of course, with today’s late night TV fare, he hardly needs to look for a porn site. If one wants to see sixteen year old girls dressed up like hookers, check “Vogue.”
Grisham’s view of law is blinkered by his desire to sell the lawyer as some sort of Robin Hood, outside the system, instead of “an officer of the court”. Laws exist on two levels: governing the behavior of the individual and guarding the good of the whole. What pedopredators do is disastrous for the child involved, and an introduction of rot and and disorder into our society as a whole, making something transgressive and forbidden into a privilege for the rich and powerful. Hardly a goal of Robin Hood’s, but using trickery and technicalities to baffle unjustified authoritarianism is a lot more exciting than getting to an election booth to vote the bastards out, and it sells books.
I’m an addict of “Law and Order” episodes (I don’t care which series) because each script works through a serious presentation of a situation (often real) where justice and law do not match. In the real world confrontations full of mixed dilemma and heartbreak happen all the time, testing everyone from the officer on the street to the final jury of the case. Grisham -- and I may be wrong because I never read Grisham -- is not skillful enough to handle this sort of high-level critique of society. So he goes low. Thrills.
Judge Baugh: Thirty days for a high school teacher who seduced a 14-year-old girl
confused enough that she committed suicide.
Guess who’s defending him? The Washington Post! Wouldntchaknow? On grounds that, hey, Grisham is pointing out over-incarceration and inequity based on racism! That’s changing the subject. Many people, especially on reservations, are protesting the ongoing inequities of racism and our emotional and revenge-based sentencing system. In Montana we‘ve been dealing with a case in which the judge -- who was out-of-sync with the general public understanding of what is a legitimate sentence and why blaming the victim is wrong -- has suddenly decided to retire. I hope his television is not in front of his couch and his alcohol intake is modest.
The sexual revolution is not an easy one: it produces casualties. In Grisham’s case his self-inflicted wound will cost his publisher and accountant some money. What a pity. Oh, and the Little League baseball thing has passed. (His kids grew up.) And the lawyer who served a year and a half for watching porn has said he deserved it, that he has rebuilt his life. You couldn't make this stuff up.