GLOBE AND MAIL
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Townshend essay decried 'witch-hunt'
The rocker's musings on child pornography, posted on his Web site in early 2002, may have tipped off police, writes JAMES ADAMS
One year before he was arrested on child-pornography charges, Pete Townshend was wrestling with and writing about the issue on his Web site, fretting that "the climate" with respect to child abuse was "one of a witch-hunt."
Indeed, it's likely that Townshend's impassioned, tortured musings on child pornography and the Internet, posted in January, 2002, helped tip off British police, and prompted the British press to announce last weekend that "a legendary British rock star" was under investigation as part of Operation Ore. The composer of Pictures of Lily, I'm a Boy, My Generation and Mary Anne With the Shaky Hands was subsequently identified as that musician on Sunday.
Townshend's Internet "essay," titled A Different Bomb,was motivated, he said, by the recent suicide of a "fortysomething actress/friend" who believed she had been sexually abused as a child by her father (as well as some of his friends), and was distressed that her father had begun a new relationship that entailed "access to some young children."
The essay was dedicated, "For 'Cloud,' " presumably the actress whom Townshend had first met, he said, while undergoing treatment for his own alcoholism and drug abuse. "In my writing in the past especially Tommy I have created unusually unmerciful worlds for any infant characters. I am often disturbed by what I see on the page when I write never more so than when I draw on my own childhood. Some people who were abused in their childhood have written to me to say how much they identify with the character of Tommy. But what is powerful in my own writing, and sometimes most difficult to control and model, is the unconscious material I draw on. It is what is unconscious in me that makes me scream for vengeance against my [now-dead] friend's abusers, rather than an adult understanding of what went wrong."
In the essay, Townshend says he can't remember being sexually abused as a child, but describes his maternal grandmother, whom he's previously spoken about, as being "extremely controlling and aggressive."
If there is a "witch-hunt" being perpetrated by British politicians, police and reporters, it "may well be the natural response triggered by cases like that of my friend who committed suicide. But I believe it is rather more a reaction to the 'freedoms' that are now available to us all to enter into the reality of a world that most of us would have to admit has hitherto been kept a secret" namely, that of the abusive pedophile and the entryway to it afforded by the Internet.
Townshend admits to "casually surfing" porn sites on the Web, but says he had his "first encounter with Internet pedophilia by accident." He notes "how easy it is to trigger the attention" of an Internet service provider by the use of "certain buzzwords."
This first came to his attention in 1997 with the arrest of a man "who had briefly worked for me." When the man went to trial for downloading pedophilic pornography, "the buzzword that the newspapers kept reprinting that he had allegedly used in his regular Internet searches was 'Lolita.' "
Townshend says he found it hard to believe that every person who may have used that word in a Web search was a pedophile. Nonetheless, simply doing so raises the possibility that "one site opened triggers another dozen or so all of which you have unwillingly 'visited.' "
Townshend says he stumbled into this netherworld while doing research on helping orphaned children in the former Soviet Union, a cause inspired, in part, by a documentary on the subject made by Ethan Silverman. Going to his computer, Townshend says he typed in various words including "Russia" and "orphanages" and "perhaps ill-advisedly, the word 'boys.' "
Within 10 minutes he found himself staring at an image of boy of about two years of age being molested by an unseen male. Stunned by what he was seeing and "the self-propelling, self-spawning mechanism of the Internet," Townshend says he reached for the telephone to call the police but "then I thought twice about it. With someone on trial who had once been connected with me however loosely I spoke off-the-record to a lawyer instead. He advised me to do nothing."
However, with the suicide of his actress friend, Townshend felt compelled to "speak up" against "the pathway to 'free' pedophilic imagery [that is] laid out [on the Web] like a free line of cocaine at a decadent cocktail party."
Not all drug addicts and alcoholics were victims of sexual abuse, Townshend wrote, but it is "terribly common. In some cases, what is so distressing is how little it takes. For me, a few minor incidents seem to have created a dark side to my nature which thankfully emerges only in creative work like Tommy."
Scotland Yard has reportedly shut down the petetownshend.co.uk and eelpie.com Web sites as part of its investigation. However the complete text of Townshend's 2002 essay can be found at a "mirror" site, www.hecktow.com/pete.html.
Created: January 21, 2003
Last modified: January 21, 2003
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