I was asked a very disturbing question today. It was so disturbing that I quickly finished the notes I was working on for a client, stopped, and stared at the question. A mix of horror and dread raced through me as I tried to figure out just how to answer this one frightening question.
Is it legal to write about an adult raping a child in a fictional setting in Canada?
This question is a hard hitter. My first reaction was ‘Oh my god' quickly followed with ‘That's horrible!' and a bunch of other thoughts, each one less pleasant than its predecessor.
I actually had to take a few minutes to think about how to answer this one. First, declaimer time: I am not a lawyer. I'm writing about this from my personal experiences, media exposure of child rape cases, and my understanding of censorship and sexual-related laws in Canada.
To get a good answer to this question, ask a lawyer. If you're even considering writing a story with this content, you are at serious risk of imprisonment if you are judged to be in violation of child pornography laws.
Written media isn't exempt from prosecuting laws in Canada.
So, to get back to the main question at hand: Is it legal to write about?
The answer to this is convoluted. I can't say yes / no. Because yes / no doesn't cover the entire story here. Is it legal to write about the existence of child rape in Canada?
Is it legal to explicitly show the scene in which an adult rapes a child?
Fictional or factual isn't what's important here. The existence of child rape is a very unfortunate reality. Reporting its existence isn't illegal. Writing a story about a child who has endured this horrible, terrible crime is totally legal.
Showing the instance of rape, however, is a different story altogether.
I can hear the anti-censorship people screaming right now. Fine, scream. But, in Canada, they're pretty serious about pursuing child pornography. We hear about busts several times a year as these rings are infiltrated and broken up. And each time, the horror and dread associated with the mere thought of a disgusting, pathetic excuse of an adult who would even consider doing this to a child is brought to the forefront.
Rage is a pretty good descriptor of the reactions to the news reports.
While there is a difference between film and photography medium and the written word, the fact remains that by being explicit detail about the instance of this type of rape toes some very unpleasant lines. In Canada, written and illustrated forms of child pornography are banned. It's illegal. It is punishable in a court of law. ISPs are required to pursue any believed instances of written or illustrated forms of child pornography.
That's the law.
It doesn't matter if the situation is fictional or factual. They don't distinguish between fictional rape or factual rape in pornography in Canada.
I hope that if you're considering writing a story involving this sensitive subject, you're smart, you're wise, and you never even dream of showing the rape.
You can write a powerful story without having to contribute to this disgusting, horrific crime. You can include the consequences of such a terrible circumstance without having to ever show it.