The bestselling author of The Firm — who happens to be a lawyer himself — defended old white guys who go to prison for looking at kiddie porn, saying that since they didn't actual touch a child they didn't really do anything wrong.
"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," Grisham told The Daily Telegraph. "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.
"I have no sympathy for real pedophiles. 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."
Grisham then went on to explain the case of a "good buddy" with a drinking problem who is serving a prison sentence for viewing child porn showing "16-year-old wannabe hookers" — basically young girls who are victims of sex trafficking.
"His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labeled '16-year-old wannabe hookers' or something like that," he explained. "So he went there. Downloaded some stuff — it was 16-year-old girls who looked 30. He shouldn't 'a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys. He didn't touch anything. And, God, a week later there was a knock on the door: 'FBI!' and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people — sex offenders — and he went to prison for three years."
Grisham clearly does not see that the girls themselves are being victimized, and the people getting off on these images are simply perpetuating a demand for even more victims.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children agrees that Grisham's attitude is a "dangerous" one.
"Mr. Grisham's comments send a dangerous message that 'just looking' at images online causes no harm," NSPCC spokesperson Jon Brown told BBC News online.
"In fact, every image is a real child who has suffered and every time these images are clicked on or downloaded it creates demand that ultimately fuels more child abuse."
The author seems to have changed his tune after the uproar his comments caused, and is now backtracking. In a statement on his website, Grisham said, "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... 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."
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