We All Want to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse - but This Is an Intrusion Too Far
Lawson, Dominic, The Independent (London, England)
There's not much a government minister can propose these days without being ridiculed by the press and the opposition parties. Angela Eagle, the "Justice minister", has managed it, however. Her announcement that the possession of drawings and computer-generated images of "child sex abuse" would become illegal - punishable by a three-year prison sentence - has attracted not one word of criticism.
Perhaps that's unsurprising - who wants to be seen to sympathise with those getting their kicks from the idea of child abuse? In prisons, even the most violent killers feel themselves to be morally superior to paedophiles. Yet Ms Eagle's proposal deserves the scrutiny - and the skepticism - it has not received.
It has long been illegal to create and distribute material showing children in sexual acts. In 1999, with the development of the internet, the law was strengthened so that it became illegal to receive such images - regardless of whether any financial transaction was involved. What Angela Eagle now suggests is that even someone who draws an image of "child sex abuse" purely for himself (or herself) should be put behind bars.
Shaun Kelly, described by the BBC as the "safeguarding manager" for the children's charity NCH, declared that: "This is a welcome announcement which makes a clear statement that drawings or computer- generated images of child abuse are as unacceptable as a photograph". It does, indeed; but it is crazy.
The photograph of a child being sexually abused is a true horror - proof and evidence of the suffering of an actual person. There is a real victim of a real crime. Yet who is the victim of a drawing or a computer-generated image? Nobody has suffered in the creation of it. If Mr Kelly really believes that this is as bad as a photograph of actual abuse, then I wonder at his reason, as I do Ms Eagle's.
They had the support of a number of callers to a radio phone-in programme a couple of days ago, nevertheless. One of them, by the name of Tracy Sharp, added: "I am an animal lover too, and I don't want pictures showing cruelty to animals." Next stop: a law to prosecute country pubs for displaying old prints of fox-hunts.
Only one caller attacked the proposal; interestingly, she had been a victim of sexual molestation as a child. Her view was that a clear distinction had to be drawn between the reality of child abuse and fantasies about it.
Such common sense does not prevail in the Justice ministry, however. One of its spokesmen insisted that the authorities had "noticed an increase in the existing availability of these images on the internet". Well they might, but since it is already a crime to post such computer-generated images on the internet, this observation is otiose.
Moreover, it might have occurred to some of the bright sparks at the Justice ministry that if more people are manufacturing or drawing "virtual" images for their own private use, they might be doing so as an alternative to the rightly illegal practice of distributing photographs of such scenes. That should, if anything, be seen as a success for the law as it stands, rather than, as the Government suggests, a reason for changing it.
Perhaps Ms Eagle and Mr Kelly are of the opinion that the very act of drawing a picture of children in sexual acts would spur the creator of the image into carrying out real crimes which he would not otherwise have engaged in: or to put it another way, if the person concerned were to refrain from putting such thoughts down on paper, he would be less likely to molest a child. …