‘It’s all downhill from here…’

By skepticlawyer

The Oxford Union has moved on from political and historical wingnuts.

This time, they’ve invited an actor convicted of downloading child pornography. Chris Langham:

[W]ill talk to students on 27 May about his conviction and his “vilification” in the media, union president Ben Tansey said.

He said Langham had been invited because he was a respected figure in his profession.

Children’s charity Kidscape said the invitation was a publicity stunt and “very disappointing.”

Michele Elliot, Kidscape founder, said: “We are not calling for Chris Langham to be banned, because we believe in free speech, but we are very disappointed the union has invited someone with this type of conviction”.

“We are worried about the message it sends out to the victims.”
Other speakers announced for the forthcoming term includes Tory leader David Cameron, model Jodie Marsh and Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.

The student debate has a history of attracting controversial figures, with recent speakers including BNP leader Nick Griffin, historian David Irving and singer Michael Jackson.

Union president Mr Tansey said: “We do not invite speakers for publicity.”

I’m not sure what to make of this, although I’m pretty sure – contra Mr Tansey – that it is a publicity stunt. That said, I also suspect it’s a challenge. Protesters in their hundreds descended on the Union when Irving and Griffin fronted up, embarrassing both Thames Valley Police and their own causes. There’s been a persistent rumour floating around the University that the OU would pull ‘a stunt’ to get one up on student associations it considers anti-free-speech. It looks like this is it. One OU member of my acquaintance (we call him ‘Colonel Blimp’ behind his back) commented ‘well, yes, we know they love the Jews and the Mohemmedans. Let’s see if they love the kiddies just as much’.

That’s one way of putting it, I suppose.

Langham has served his sentence, so in a legal sense he’s repaid his debt to society. He will also stay on the Sex Offenders’ register for some time, and be closely monitored (the register’s definition of ‘sex offence’ is far broader than paedophilia, btw, although I don’t doubt that public concerns with paedophilia led to its development). As anyone who’s ever worked in the courts knows, sex offenders can be very hard to rehabilitate – although things are improving on that front. Some of the best programs are based on cognitive-behavioural therapy, which is why letting people opt-out on religious grounds is clearly quite potty. Unless, of course, we want to lock all sex offenders up for all time.

I’ve often wondered how much of the public anger – and calls for ‘Megan’s Law’ style public registers – is down to moral panic. Are we more concerned about sex offences because they’re commoner than they once were, or are they commoner because we’re more concerned about them?


  1. Jason Soon
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Downloading child porn is being an accessory to harm because the children doing these things are … well … children.

    But someone whose tendencies only go as far as watching is not as dangerous to society as someone who goes further.

    One issue is whether looking at such porn incites future offending behaviour or can serve as a sufficient substitute for it for these twisted minds – and if the latter, allowing them to download *simulated* child porn may be a lesser evil if it means they can be stopped from *acting* on their tendencies.

    *By simulated I mean adult actors or computer graphics.

  2. Jason Soon
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I think ultimately this is an organic disease and I don’t believe in mind over matter. The only sort of therapy that can work is chemical.

  3. Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard the CGI argument before (maybe on this blog!)… designing a statistically robust study and then getting ethics clearance for it would be, ahem, interesting.

  4. GMB
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    No good. You cannot go easy on these people Jason. Because there are these horrid creatures called leftists.

    Once people are desensitized to this sick shit the leftists will be giving these rock spiders the medal of freedom and running legal defense for pedophile rings in the midst of a pandemic of missing children.

  5. JC.
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Are we more concerned about sex offences because they’re commoner than they once were, or are they commoner because we’re more concerned about them?

    Elvis had the hots for his future wife when he first her. She was 13.

    I think our standards have changed.

  6. Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I think our standards have changed, too, JC. The question is whether the change is for the better, or mixed (likely to be the latter, as with all these things).

    I wonder if paedophilia in particular is like alcoholism – the only way to beat it is complete abstinence. Alcoholics struggle with their addiction every day, even when they haven’t touched a drop for 25 years.

  7. Jason Soon
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Standards haven’t changed in Afghanistan


  8. John Hasenkam
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I think ultimately this is an organic disease and I don’t believe in mind over matter. The only sort of therapy that can work is chemical.

    I have read studies suggesting the brain imaging is similiar to that seen in sociopathy, and Terje once commented he had read that chemical castration had little effect on their habits(long time ago).

    Short of refining chemical castration there is no chemical solution, there is no specific target in the brain that a chemical can attack.

    Mind over matter? Behavioral therapy appears to be working, but I’ll withhold a judgment on that! In other contexts though “mind over matter”(misleading dichotomy) therapies have proved rather rather successful.

    There is one chemical that works really well on these people: lead.

  9. JC.
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    From Jason’s link:

    Majabin Mohammed, 13, at left, sits with her husband of six months, Mohammed Fazal, 45, his first wife and their child. Village elders advised him to accept Majabin as payment for a gambling debt

    Win at poker and end up with a 13 year old.

    I see you and raise you my 13 year old daughter.


    As repulsive as these people are, I honestly don’t see where the consumers of computer child porn are committing an offense. They are not the monsters violating these kids.

  10. Posted April 20, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    The Islamic world is always going to struggle with this – their prophet married a 9 year old, and he’s considered worthy of imitation.

    Many cultures tolerate marriage at around 14 – and it was pretty much universal in pre-modern times.

    Interestingly, one of the classicists I know here who’s researching this stuff says the evidence shows that the less sexist societies (eg Romans) would marry a 14-16 y.o. girl off to a 18-22 y.o man, while ancient Athens (women had no rights at all, basically) would commonly pair the 14 year old girl with a 30 year old man. She maintains the younger age at marriage across all pre-modern cultures is largely a function of life-expectancy. In terms of gender relations, what matters is the age gap.

  11. John Greenfield
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 3:33 pm | Permalink


    There is just so much in your post that one could spend years discussing it. One point I will comment on is the comparison with alcoholics. A reasonably good analogy yes, except when a pedophile “busts” or “goes on a bender” the victim will not only be the pedophile.

  12. Posted April 20, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    The more I think about it, the more complicated it gets, JG. There is a part of me that’s a bit pissed off with the OU for really going to town on the ‘point-scoring’ front, but they do have a point about ‘moral worthies’ deciding to break in and trash other peoples’ property in the name of their ‘righteous cause’.

    But to make it like this? And you are exactly right about the alcoholic/paedophile analogy.

  13. rog
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Hang on SL, is looking ‘downloading’ the same as ‘looking?’

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