By Sandy . . . Who was Benjamin Gran?
- Registered sex offender sentenced to a lifetime of supervised release after he was caught with a massive amount of child pornography;
- Autistic young man caught in a “witch hunt” after being duped by an unrepentant pedophile;
- Third fatality in the deadly Amtrak derailment;
- Member of the Special Olympics team;
- Member of a pedophile group online;
- Someone who paid his debt to society and was on the right path;
- Convicted sex offender found in possession of child porn while working in IT at a college;
- Huge train enthusiast, an Amtrak fan to the max;
- Caught in an investigation into an online forum dedicated to promoting the sexual abuse of children;
- Beloved son and an autism success story.
What did others say about him?
- His death left his friends and family shattered beyond belief;
- The child porn negates anything else that sick P.O.S. ever could have accomplished in his wasted existence;
- A dear sweet friend considered by Special Olympics coaches as family;
- He cannot hide from his crimes even after death;
- Because of his optimism, a team of professionals, and his best friends who believed in him, Ben turned his life completely around and was living his life in a mature, contributing manner, and was the happiest he had been in his life;
- A tiny bit of good news: one of the casualties in the Washington Amtrak derailment was a guy named Ben Gran, who was in 2011 convicted of numerous counts of producing child pornography;
- He was incredibly kindhearted and insightful and brought such joy and love to everyone he met.
It sounds like two different people. Boiled down, as much a possible, to non-emotional facts, they are these:
- Ben Gran was one of three men killed in the recent Amtrak derailment;
- He had autism;
- He was a train and Amtrak enthusiast;
- He had served prison time, was released in 2015, and was under lifetime supervision for the crime of child porn possession – not production — on his computer;
- There is no evidence he had re-offended since his release from prison;
- He was a member of the Special Olympics and is remembered with love and respect by his friends, family, employers, and coaches;
- He is reviled even after death by anonymous posters on articles and social media.
His death and its aftermath raise a series of issues and questions that must be examined.
A highly disproportionate percentage of young men who become involved with viewing – virtually never distributing or producing, but viewing and possessing – illegal pornographic images are teens and adults on the autism spectrum. While studies have been done, this is an area that begs for more thorough investigation.
While writing this piece, I read twelve articles about the train derailment and those who died in it. Eight of the twelve chose a headline with the words “sex offender” in it; eleven of the twelve found it necessary to delve into Ben’s past and criminal history somewhere in the telling of the tragedy. This is but one example.
Why? Were the details of the horrific accident not salacious enough?
Any action that can be labeled a sexual offense carries with it a condemnation that far exceeds any other crime. Notable others who have been involved in drug trafficking, in armed robbery, even in murder, have repented and been embraced as success stories of our rehabilitative judicial system and lauded for their bravery in publicizing their stories. Why is this forgiveness not extended to those whose indiscretions can have the word “sex” attached to it?
Is looking at a nude child’s image on a computer worse than selling the child drugs that destroy his life? Is a twenty-year-old man having sex with a willing sixteen-year-old girlfriend worse than smashing in her head with a gun and stealing her car? And, as horrible as it is, is sexually assaulting a woman worse than killing her?
Finally, what does it say about the heart and soul of our nation when we are willing to forgo all pretense at compassion for those left behind in order to be as vile as possible in speaking of their deceased love ones? It would be easy to blame the media, and certainly they bear some responsibility, but they do not use the words “sex offender” as many times as possible and print nasty comments by anonymous persons because they believe their reading audience does not want such content.
If one person reading this seriously examines any of the issues raised by the death of Ben and the public’s reaction to it, then perhaps his loss will not have been totally in vain.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.