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Is it okay not to get a prison sentence for owning child porn if you’re disabled?

December 6th, 2008

Dr Petra

Cory Silverberg has an excellent blog about a troubling legal decision. In the US a quadriplegic man who had been caught owning child porn was let off a jail sentence because of his disability. You can read Cory’s account of the case here.

Now before you think Cory and I are using our blogs to attack disabled folk, we’re not. Both Cory and I are actively involved in providing sex information and support to disabled people and their partners (in fact you can read Cory’s excellent resources on sex/disability here). For that reason we are also both shocked by a legal decision that has done little for the rights of child victims or disabled people.

As with able bodied people, most of us do not abuse children or get off on watching child porn. So to suggest it’s okay to let someone off such a crime because they’re disabled is unfair to abuse survivors and the majority of disabled people who are not sexual predators or child abusers.

With this legal decision the message seems to be it’s okay to look at child porn because you’re not really a risk to anyone. It raises a whole host of very uncomfortable issues about sex and disability, and no doubt will add to the general stereotypes of disabled people that they’re either not sexual at all, or if they are that they are sexually suspect.

Cory does a good job at sensitively discussing this case clearly. I would add to his comments by saying even if someone’s disability may make it unlikely they might harm a child physically, the fact they are watching child pornography means they are still consuming materials where a child has been violated. That means you are still party to child abuse, even if you did not abuse the child directly. We don’t let able-bodied people off the hook when they’re caught with child porn for this very reason. So why is it okay to do so just because someone is in a wheelchair?

Talking about sex and disability means we sometimes have to talk about very uncomfortable issues. It seems within the media and legal system nobody really wants to talk about disabled people being sexual – in consensual or abusive ways. I’m glad Cory has raised this issue and hope it can become a talking point within the disabled community and for sex educators and therapists about how we see and respond to sex, abuse and disability.

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