Why the hell didn’t accused kiddie pornographer John Robin Sharpe just plead guilty?
Most people do – to keep it quiet, to look good to the judge and luck into a short jail term.
Vancouver resident Sharpe couldn’t even find a lawyer to take him on as a client, given the caveat that he was going to challenge the arrest.
But the divorced father of two boys, who came out late in life, says he had nothing to lose. He’s older (65 years), with no career to speak of, and no financial assets to risk. “By default, I was one of the very few people to challenge the law,” says Sharpe.
Sharpe was charged with possession, and with possession with the intent of distribution or sale of child pornography, on Apr 10, 1995, when he was coming back into Canada from the US.
Customs seized computer disks and manuscripts from him containing Kiddiekink Classics, an anthology of short stories by Sam Paloc, a pseudonym Sharpe says he sometimes uses in writing.
Some would argue the writings make Sharpe an artist. Yet he never brought up that easy out as a defence in court.
Vancouver writer and photographer Daniel Collins has organized queer writer’s groups and was a contributor to the Sodomite Invasion Review, a short-lived queer literary journal in which Sharpe’s stories also appeared regularly.
Collins recalls Sharpe’s writings vividly. Sharpe would bring work that would often shock other writers, especially younger ones who would not return.
“The thing that we all thought was interesting… was they were censoring his art, and that this was going to be his line of defence,” says Collins. “But it hasn’t been, he’s never brought the word ‘art’ up that I’ve seen in any of the articles written about him, and there’s been tons in the last couple of weeks.
“Everything appears to be focussed on these photographs of kids that he’s got.”
Two more charges were added May 13, 1995, when police raided Sharpe’s apartment, yielding more written material and photos depicting “nude boys displaying their genitals or anal regions,” according to court documents.
It seems that Sharpe didn’t want to rely on what might have been, for him, a fake defence. He has said he truly believes that intergenerational sex – sex between men and boys, for example – can be a positive experience for both.
And so Sharpe focussed on the idea of thought crime in order to convince a judge to have a wide-ranging ban on kiddie porn ruled unconstitutional.
Possessing child pornography is a matter of conscience, Sharpe says.
“I believe the that freedom of conscience is the foundation of freedom of expression. If a person is not able to develop his own ideas and thoughts themselves, then that limits their ability to express themselves.
“Freedom of conscience is the right to do your own thinking, to have materials that do this, that may be part of your self-identity.”
He says he felt it was his “civic duty” to plead not guilty.
He tends to put writing like his own on a level higher than pictures.
“Written material more often, more clearly, can have social and political implications or portray ideas. But both written and visual materials can be used for sexual gratification.”
(Each story in Kiddiekink features boys who appear to be at least 12, just growing hair and the like, engaging in sexual acts with each other, or with adult men. The acts range from touching and mutual masturbation to SM.)
Though participating in a queer writer’s group in the past, Sharpe does not consider himself a member of the gay community. Throughout the storm of controversy since the Jan 15 ruling, he says it has been mainly his straight friends who have been supportive. He blames sex-negative attitudes in the homo community for his lack of support, comparing gay men to early Christians.
“The Christians initially went through a fairly lengthy period of persecution. Once they attained respectability and a bit of power, they were equally or more oppressive of those who disagreed with them.
“The gay community, having achieved a large measure of respectability and influence, wants to disassociate himself from sexual heretics.”
He rejects the term “paedophile,” and he says he has no interest in children. He prefers “ephebophile” – someone with a sexual interest in adolescent boys.
Yes, he believes early adolescents can be sexual. And yes, he says, boys can be exploited. Sharpe says he despises older men who behave in a “selfish, manipulative and unethical way.” Using alchohol, drugs or adult pornography to seduce kids is wrong, he says. So I ask him if any of the nude photos he had in his possession, or had ever produced, could exploit boys.
“There are many people who would say by definition they’re exploitative,” he says. He tells of a trip to the Phillipines, years ago. There was a boy, about 13, whom Sharpe took nude photos of – climbing a tree, taking a bath.
They never had sex, though Sharpe recalls the boy was proud of his sexual development. In the end the boy changed his mind about the photographs, and so Sharpe says he destroyed everything.
“I think any kid who has nude pictures of him taken should have the right to have them destroyed, if he changes his mind within the matter of a few years.
“I think kids should have that right.”