See no evil, or the blind hearing the naked

A blind man was caught listening to child porn. Can he be prosecuted?

Published June 26, 2001 7:05PM (EDT)

A blind man in South Africa was accused last week of listening to child pornography, and police want to know if they can put him in jail for it.

This could be the nation's first child porn case where nobody saw any child porn. According to South Africa's Sunday Tribune, the suspect listened to an unspecified illegal recording through a Web site. Experts are poring over statute books for a clue about how to proceed, the Tribune reported.

Frustratingly little information is available. Police won't release the blind man's identity, so we don't know why he's blind, or how old he is, or why he likes child porn, or such pragmatic concerns as how he discovered the Web site in the first place.

We don't yet know all the legal-philosophical implications, either. Are all senses banned from experiencing child porn? If it were bottled, could he smell it? What if he heard something that perfectly resembled child pornography, but was in fact generated by a computer? Any number of absurd questions can be extrapolated, and each will appear to undermine the awful seriousness of the crime -- until the day they're actually asked in a courtroom.

We do know that South Africa is tough on child pornography. Viewing it -- or reading it -- will get you an automatic five years in prison, and a recent amendment has proposed doubling this sentence. And not only is it illegal for pornography to feature people under 18, it's illegal for the people to even seem underage.

"This is because often a photograph of an over-18 made to look under-18 will be shown to children to seduce them into agreeing to be photographed in that way," said Iyavar Chetty, senior executive officer and legal counsel for the Film and Publication Board in Cape Town, South Africa.

It was Chetty's group that police called when they wanted to know whether to arrest the blind man. Chetty says he prefers the term "child torture" to "child pornography," and says there are at least 2 million instances of it on the Internet.

By Chris Colin

Chris Colin is the author most recently of "Blindsight," published by the Atavist.

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