When Jon Venables was arrested and jailed in 2010 for downloading and distributing child pornography, you could taste the schadenfreude and hear the champagne corks popping in tabloid offices everywhere.
Unsurprisingly, his crime was perceived as proof of how a leopard can’t change his spots. Luckily for Venables, he lives in a country where the media can always be counted on to employ nuance, sensitivity, discretion, and understatement, as in the following headlines:
Drink, drugs and a craving for perverted thrills – the return into horror of Jon Venables
Child porn pervert Jon Venables was living in Cheshire
Killer Jon Venables gloats at sentence: “I’ll be out by the time I’m 30″
Cop search the home of Jon Venables paedophile pal
I’m Dawn. I’ll Sell My Daughter to Perverts; Bulger Killer’s Sordid Online Boast to Paedophile
Bulger Killer’s Secret Norway Holiday; Jon Venables Sickening Jaunt
And so on and so forth.
Now, before I proceed any further, let me please be crystal clear about something. There’s nothing healthy about surfing the net for child porn, and I’m not suggesting for a minute that there is. And Venables did break the law, and it’s right and proper that he be punished for his actions. He committed a crime and it was, I think, the right decision to send him to prison for a couple years.
But none of that changes a crucial fact which has been altogether overlooked: namely, that Venables’ decision to download 57 child porn images does not prove him to be a paedophile.
“Oh how can you SAY that, Pariah Dog? How can you be so stupid and naïve? Why the hell else would anybody download child porn unless he’s a paedo! Some of those images were completely sick! He’s a sick, sick, perverted child rapist and he should be locked away for life – or be given the death penalty! Problem solved!”
Well, sure, without a doubt there had to have been a strong reason for Venables to have gone trawling for these obscene images. They had to have fed some sort of powerful need. But that need was not necessarily a primarily sexual need. It could very easily have been a strictly emotional or psychological need.
Despite the in-your-face title of this post, I don’t truly claim to know what’s going on inside Venables’ head. Like anyone else, I can only speculate. Again, however, I must reiterate that those who claim to know that Venables is a menace to society, that he’s a sadistic paedophile who will definitely kill again – and that his conviction on child porn offences proves beyond a shadow of doubt the alleged sexual abuse of James Bulger – are likewise merely speculating, and that they’re neglecting to differentiate between assumption and solid proof.
To put it another way: I don’t know whether or not Jon Venables is a paedophile, and neither does anyone else who doesn’t happen to be one of the psychiatric experts who will have examined him prior to his release.
The most troubling aspect of how the Bulger case has been, from the very beginning, handled by the British media – even the non-tabloid media - is the willingness of police officers, judges, lawyers, reporters, and ordinary observers to leap to conclusions, and then to hold fast and firm to those conclusions in the face of complex, enigmatic, or contradictory evidence.
As soon as we scrutinize the factual record a little more carefully, it quickly becomes apparent that Venables could just as easily not be a sadistic paedophile as be one. His motivation for looking at obscene images of children being violated could just as easily have been the absence of sadism in his essential nature as its powerful presence.
For reasons I intend to explore in the second or third part of this essay, I believe that Venables is an ephebophile (attracted to teen girls), not a paedophile (attracted to prepubescent children).
I don’t, however, believe that he’s a sadist or that the oft-repeated allegation that James Bulger was sexually abused and tortured is true. I don’t believe, in other words, that the “leopard-can-never-change-his-spots” interpretation is correct.
I may be completely wrong to believe as I do, but that is my belief.
One accusation you often hear thrown at “lefties” and “progressives” is that they don’t genuinely mean what they say, that they lobby for soft sentences for “monsters” like Venables, but that they wouldn’t ever want to live next door to him: “Would you be happy to have Venables babysit your kids?”
And I think that’s a fair charge! It’s very easy to advocate mercy, rehabilitation, and second chances for convicted killers as long as you don’t expect to have them invading your personal space.
But I do mean what I say when I say I don’t find Venables frightening, and I don’t think he’s a major menace to society, a sadist, or a psychopath. And I’d feel even safer if my neighbour were to reveal that he was Robert Thompson. And this has nothing to do with being soft on criminals or sympathetic towards them. As I mentioned in a previous post, I consider Joe Boyer, brutal killer of disabled woman Gemma Hayter, to be an authentic psychopath, and I most definitely would not wish to live next to that man, nor would I feel safe having children around him, or adults either for that matter.
This is not a question of being soft on criminals. It’s a question as to what kind of criminal Jon Venables is. Is he another Joe Boyer or isn’t he?
Others may disagree, but for me, the answer is a resounding no.