Another refinement of the crime of child sexual abuse emerged last
week in the media coverage of the arrest of the pop star Pete
Townshend. He was released on bail, protesting his innocence, as
part of Operation Ore, the police investigation into 7,000
individuals who have accessed child pornography websites.
It is a depressing fact that 30 years after sexual abuse first
began to be acknowledged, denial of its terrible ramifications
remains as strong as ever – apparently untouched by the thousands
of studies, inquiries, scandals, documentaries and personal
In the Guardian, for example, columnist Rod Liddle claimed
– despite the police’s protestations to the contrary – that any
individual who downloads child porn, even for reasons other than
personal gratification, will be liable to prosecution. Liddle
continued: “There is no causal link between viewing child porn and
abusing childrenÉwe should not be in the business of putting
people in prison for simply looking at things”
“Things”? A viewer may not go out and rape a child but he is hugely
culpable nonetheless. How does Liddle assume the images are made?
Does he imagine that the two, three, six, 10 year olds are animated
Or is he saying something even more disturbing?
That grown men, bored watching sex among people of their own age,
should be allowed to enliven their jaded appetites by watching
younger bodies? This, of course, according to Liddle’s logic, isn’t
paedophilia. Goodness me, no. This is only another branch of adult
A couple of days later, the Guardian published a letter.
The unnamed writer said her son had been sentenced to one month
after pleading guilty to 11 counts of “making” (presumably
accessing) indecent pictures of children. He was placed on the sex
offenders’ register, appeared in the local paper and resigned from
“He looked at these awful images…when he was lonely, depressed
and had drunk too much,” the letter writer continues. “To waste
police time pursuing voyeurs is nonsensical.”
Where is the understanding that a child on a porn website is doing
so because they have no choice or to earn love or ensure
Already, the sting of a backlash is being felt. In coming weeks, in
the clamour to preserve the “rights” of pop stars, celebrities,
porn customers and voyeurs – none, of course, paedophiles – who
will hear the whimpers of the thousands of abused children?