The public debate about Bill Henson’s exhibition is in full swing, as no doubt are the prosecutorial efforts of the NSW DPP, and very little of what one reads comes close to penetrating the hysteria that surrounds child pornography and pedophilia generally. ‘Revolting’ says Australia’s Prime Minister, of art made by one of Australia’s most annointed artists, who now stands accused like any dirty child porn peddlar, a sex offender, a pariah.

It’s a fait accomplis (once someone complains) according to the law, so maybe there’s something wrong with the law? And with our society.

And with the Prime Minister? Because I can say, as an adult, that I can look at images of naked adolescents and have all sorts of feelings, amongst which may be an aesthetic appreciation of a fine young human being, yet not feel any furtive compulsion to have sexual relations with a child. I am seldom revolted. Nor am I turned on.

But that’s just me, and the great majority of Australian adults (I presume) who think of having sex with kids as often as they think of dancing the samba with a turnip. Must we all be constrained by the perversion of the few? Shouldn’t there be some presumption of innocence? Maturity? Vale the carefree days of kids stripping off to run through the sprinkler. My Dad cleaned the pool naked, apparently to the vast amusement of the neighbours, and to me he represented an unfolding age of open-ness about the human body, an end to Victorian prudery. That was before AIDS and the culture wars, Tipper Gore, the Catholic Church’s pedophile woes and internet-delivered child porn. Man have we become uptight?

If there is a serious question about the morality of Henson’s work, it lies in the ability of the child models to give informed consent. Did they realise, for example, that, rather than being practically anonymous, parentally-approved and supervised models for a successful but otherwise (to the Tele reading mob) fairly obscure artist’s exhibition, they could be thrust into the media spotlight like lambs to the proverbial? That they might have to testify in a trial? At least one commercial television station, while (barely) censoring the rudie bits of one of the models, neglected to obscure her face. Lovely. But are Henson’s activities during the creation of the images to be considered abuse?

Australia has a problem with adults having sex with children. It shouldn’t happen, but it does, and if we think Aboriginals are worse offenders than the rest of us we’re living in a fantasy land. There are, no doubt, child-sex networks, ranging from the informal to the organised with tendrils leading into the highest legislative, judicial and police corridors, that are criminal and abusive and which must be rooted out by good honest people.

Amongst us too, masquerading as mature adults, are poor sick individuals, mostly former victims of child abuse, who cannot resist the compulsion to become perpetraters. These people need treatment. As do their victims. We have to break the cycle. It’s the only answer. You can’t police it. Children are everywhere. It’s a mental health epidemic passed from adult to child. And the vast majority of people are not affected and respect the innocence of childhood. Still, we’ve got to draw the line somewhere, but if where we have currently drawn that line results in one of our greatest artists being treated as a criminal, we need to rethink.

2 Responses to “Henson”

  1. Thanks Loadedog. Goes a little way to sorting out my confused thinking. Certainly the law’s an ass if one complaint can gain this reaction from the police.

  2. Interesting points Alegria. It now seems Henson won’t be charged.