The abuse and exploitation of children for the sexual gratification of adults is abhorrent because the behaviour causes the victims suffering. In contrast, while the idea of abusing children is distasteful, it doesn’t actually harm real people. This is a vital distinction to understand.
In 2008 an Australian judge decided that a cartoon, featuring child characters that resembled those from The Simpsons engaging in sexual acts, was child pornography. A man was convicted of possessing the cartoon and was fined $3000.
This year, a man was convicted of possessing ‘child exploitation material’ in the form of a copy of a nineteenth century pornographic text. Another work of fiction. He now suffers the appalling fate of being listed on the sex offenders’ register despite never having harmed anyone.
Absurdly, the latter text is currently also available in Australia from physical and online retailers. How can a book have simultaneously passed classification / censorship to be available for sale yet also be defined as child exploitation material? If anyone is at fault here, it is the federal government for creating this legal conflict.
This is madness. How can fictional characters be granted human rights? The writer Neil Gaiman commented that ‘The ability to distinguish between fiction and reality is, I think, an important indicator of sanity, perhaps the most important. And it looks like the Australian legal system has failed on that score.‘
We do not have a right to be protected from offence. We do have a right to be protected from abuse. Freedom of speech, in this case the creation of fiction, does not cause harm to real people. This ridiculous legal argument suggests that anyone who has ever watched an episode of Law and Order is a rapist or murderer.