I knew better but I did it anyway. I watched a rerun of Law and Order, Special Victims Unit. The episode focused on the fall-out of child pornography on the victims, and the fact that once an image is on the world-wide web, it is there forever. Victims are re-traumatized with each download of their image. Perpetrators view the memorialization of a child's rape, molestation and abuse for sexual gratification. I remember the detectives' mantra during the long hours I sat with them while my house was searched: "Child pornography is not a victimless crime."
What the detectives did not know that cold February morning, however, was that I had heard countless stories of childhood victimization, mostly from the women I worked with in a prison setting. The impact of childhood sexual exploitation can be codified in the details of their drug and criminal records. None of them escaped without harm. Not one. The devastation lasts a lifetime. Pornography, no matter how "tame" some would judge it to be is never without victims, especially child pornography.
Yet how often, as a society, do we minimize or trivialize the seriousness of a media presentation containing child nudity? How often do we determine just how serious the crime is based on how offensive we judge the material to be? Isn't that a technical definition of pornography--material that a "normal" person would find offensive? Is child nudity in a sexual context ever innocent or non-offensive? For a pedophile any image of a child, nude or fully clothed, can be sexualized so where do we draw the line?
The episode of SVU was a poignant reminder of the countless ways that pornography impacts all of us, not least of which are the victims. So while I should not have watched it, I'm glad I did. The grief and horror are necessary--we must not fail to be horrified when someone is victimized. We must not grow complacent in our fight to end all victimization and to protect our most vulnerable. We must not draw back from looking evil in its face and calling it what it is. When we cease to be horrified, when we refuse to disrupt the quietude of our lives with a look at the dark side of rampant pornography, when we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that this is not our problem, we condemn innocent children, men and women to continued exploitation and victimization.
"I knew better but I did it anyway; I couldn't help myself," is an excuse often given by the one caught in a pornography sting. I've heard variations of that from the addict I was previously married to. But this time, I'm glad I went ahead and watched something that I knew would trigger my trauma. I need to be reminded. There are children to be protected, and some of them are very dear to my heart.