As I was scouring Twitter, I heard a lot about the Chris Handley case. Handley, a 40-year-old US manga collector, was sentenced to six months in prison for importing and possessing manga that was classified by the Protect Act as “obscene.” The materials in question were several Japanese manga books that contained images depicting beastiality and child sex.
Here in Canada, any cartoon art that depicts anyone under the age of 18 engaged in explicit sex acts is defined under our Criminal Code as child pornography – production or possession of such art is against the law.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) aided Handley’s defence against the charges, but Handley – who was facing a maximum of fifteen years in prison – ultimately pleaded guilty to lesser charges. There was no evidence that Handley – who is described as a “prolific” manga collector and would collect everything he could get his hands on – possessed or had viewed any non-cartoon art child pornography.
I absolutely agree with Neil Gaiman’s assertion that, no matter how icky you might find it, we must protect freedom of speech:
The CBLDF will defend your First Amendment right as an adult to make lines on paper, to draw, to write, to sell, to publish, and now, to own comics. And that’s what makes the kind of work you don’t like, or don’t read, or work that you do not feel has artistic worth or redeeming features worth defending. It’s because the same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions, and because you only realise how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.
I can also cite studies that have proven that there is no connection between rape and pornography. In fact, most suggest that access to pornography actually reduces the incidence of sex crimes.
However, whether we can extrapolate those conclusions onto child pornography – and, by extension, Lolicon – remains to be seen. There is simply not enough data to support that consuming Lolicon is “harmless”. Also, you can’t ignore that common sense dictates that only those who have a sexual interest in children would want to own and possess cartoon images of child pornography.
I guess that’s why I feel so conflicted about this. I mean, we are talking about lines on paper. It’s fiction. No child was harmed in the production of this material. But what happens after someone views these images? Are children being placed in danger? (Or, is material like this preventing the abuse of children?)
I’m a pro-sex, anti-censorship (i.e. pro-porn) feminist. In the end, I’m on the side of the CBLDF because I know that censorship ultimately does more harm than good.
Shelley Smarz is a life long comic book fan. She’s currently attending the presdigious Ryerson University. Her Master’s thesis is on Jean Grey.