Ronald Clark, a man from Auckland, New Zealand, has been sentenced to three months jail and may be further sentenced to 10 years of supervision and penalties. His crime: watching Japanese anime featuring pixies, elves, trolls, and other fantasy characters engaged in sexual acts.
In New Zealand, drawn depictions of underage characters engaged in sexual acts is considered possession of objectionable material, and therefore prosecutable under the law. A court deemed that the Japanese anime Clark was viewing depicted underage characters. As such, it is objectionable material and its possession led to his conviction.
Twenty-four years ago, Clark was convicted of indecently assaulting a teenage years ago, but he had undergone extensive rehabilitation and had not reoffended. Reports indicate that the objectionable pornography found in Clark’s possession was drawn or animated. Journalist Ian Steward shares the response from Clark’s lawyer, Roger Bowden:
They weren’t even depictions of people — Clark’s lawyer Roger Bowden described them as “pixies and trolls” that “you knew at a glance weren’t human.”
Bowden said [Clark’s] conviction for possessing objectionable material was “the law gone mad.”
New Zealand-based anti-child pornography groups have applauded the decision, claiming that the viewing of animated pornography could lead crimes against actual children, a common but unfounded argument made against adult anime and manga. Steward spoke with Grant Tavinor, an Auckland-based philosophy lecturer who writes about video games, about the implications of the case:
“The ways a person entertains themself is not morally negligible. This is probably an additional factor in the current case because as well as worrying about the effects these activities might have on children, we also naturally make moral judgments about the character of the person in question.
“But for the purposes of law it is probably important to distinguish between these because convicting someone for their moral views is very dangerous.”
New Zealand is half a world away from the United States, but such cases are not unknown here. Earlier this year, Christjan Bee of Monet, Missouri, was sentenced to three years in prison for what the government characterized as a “pornographic cartoon, which depicted children engaging in sexual behavior.” Canadian authorities tried –and failed, thanks to CBLDF — to prosecute American citizen Ryan Matheson for the possession of child pornography based on manga images on his computer. In 2010, manga collector Christopher Handley was sentenced to six months of prison, an additional five years of supervision and probation, and forfeiture of his collection because the government deemed that his manga collection contained objectionable images of underage girls engaged in sexual activity.
Handley was prosecuted under the PROTECT Act of 2003. The PROTECT Act outlaws computer-generated images, drawings, and sculptures that can be interpreted to depict minors engaged in sexual activity. It mandates stout mandatory minimum sentences, which ensures that most people — including Christopher Handley — will take a plea deal rather than face a court trial.
The issue with both the PROTECT Act and the New Zealand case is that no actual victims of crime are protected. Instead, speech is criminalized. In discussing the Handley case, CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein describes the damage prosecutions for the possession of anime and manga can cause:
“From start to finish, the case against Christopher Handley was an appalling abuse of the justice system. Chris Handley is going to jail not because of anything he did, but because of what he reads and thinks. In prosecuting this case, the United States government has distorted the purpose of child pornography laws, which are in place to prevent and punish the abuse of actual people who are the victims of a heinous crime. Putting Chris Handley in jail protects no one – he and his family are the only victims.”