This topic has been long overdue to touch on. My entire week (and even my personal offense of possession of child pornography) has led me to feel the need to address this issue. The common sentiment society has on internet-based crimes, such as is overwhelmingly the case in child pornography offenses, is that anyone who has looked at child pornography is a dangerous sexual deviant who seeks only to have sexual relationships with minors. While this can be considered resoundingly correct in some cases, such as a person who has hundreds of thousands of images, produces child pornography, etc., The often unreported fact remains that those who participate in such widespread victimization using child pornography often don’t see the light of day after conviction. You often see these cases getting huge sentences ranging from 40 years to life in prison. The offenders society does get to see coming back into society are cases such as mine. For the sake of this argument and for my own credibility as being thoroughly researched and invested in this topic, I will tell you some things about me, my offense, and the events that lead up to it. In an effort to avoid bringing any negative repercussions or shame to my family, I will refrain from identifying details such as my name or where these events took place. These are events I am not proud of and wish never happened, but admitting and embracing them was the most important step in becoming a better person that is no threat to society.
I was exposed to pornography by a relative around the age of 5-6 on a regular basis. I can’t specifically remember my age at the time, but it was well before I started first grade. No child pornography was involved, but I still had an unnaturally early interest in viewing pornography. This relative gave me several pornographic magazines including a playboy (I remember innocently liking the playboy bunny logo). Developmentally speaking, this relative was considered, by me, to be a role model (a terrible one, of course). I remember thinking that looking at these women was the coolest thing I could do because Cousin Mike did it. Imagine my shock when my parents found these magazines, freaked out, and struggled to explain to me why I could not have them? I was quite confused at that age and even had a sense of loss. Why can my cousin Mike have these cool magazines and I couldn’t? not more than 2 years later, I was playing with a female cousin who I ended up having a sexual encounter with. Specifically, we engaged in mutual masturbation. She actually initiated the contact (which makes me wonder if she was also a victim), but I wanted to take it further and try some of the things I had seen (including penetration) on the pornographic movies I had seen with Cousin Mike. Thankfully, she was afraid we would get caught. I thank God to this day that it didn’t progress to that point, as research indicates penetration is a line that, once crossed, leads to much more problems. But why, at the age of 7, was I even aware of these things? The answer, which I did not know until 4 years after my conviction, was that I had been victimized and was dangerously on my way to perpetuating the victim-offender cycle.
I had two other such encounters in my childhood and I didn’t think of them as weird in the least because of the early seeds planted into my impressionable young psyche. Things came to full swing at the age of 10 when we got our first personal computer (pc). I had (and still have) a natural affinity to computers and internet usage and it was not long before I was regularly viewing pornography and even masturbating to it (pre-pubesecent masturbation!). My parents actually never knew I had pornography on my computer because of my knowledge and ability to cover my tracks (as well as their utter lack of even basic computer skills at the time). In fact, When at the age of 21 I called my parents and told them my computer had been seized, they said they had no idea I even looked at pornography. That said, child pornography was actually something I looked at frequently during my teenage years (seeking my peer group). I quickly became desensitized to it. As a young adult, I never considered having it was illegal since it was actually a norm for me to view these images for over a decade with no one out there to call me out on my deviant behavior (which I desperately needed). Despite my early desensitization to child pornography, forensics only confirmed 5 files of child pornography on my computer. As a scare tactic to ensure my guilty plea, they tried to say I had more (I believe they claimed about 120 images); but when I asked to see the evidence, they dodged that question which to this day leads me to believe it was a smoke screen. They never considered that I had nearly 10,000 images saved on my computer making ratio of actual child pornography in my collection to non-illegal pornography 1 in 2000. This ratio comparably is 24 in 2000( or 3 in 250 in simplest terms) if you consider the slim possibility that all images they said I had were indeed child pornography (some were young adults posing as children for example). They did not care that I had an very small percentage of child porn compared to regular porn. They only wanted an easy conviction. It took me nearly 2 years of therapy to finally take responsibility for my role in this crime and to take real efforts to stem my pornography addiction (which is what I really needed).
I was convicted of one count of possession of child pornography in federal court (since state did not conduct their search of my computer properly) in May 2008. This conviction was less than two weeks after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems. in 2013, not long after reaffirming my faith in God and working tirelessly to beat my addiction to pornography, I earned a second degree in Psychology with the hopes of becoming a therapist for other offenders. In Louisiana, I could not find a program where Sex Offender laws did not bar me from earning my Masters with the needed clinical work for licensing. I still hold hopes of becoming a therapist in a field where I have a unique understanding that non-offenders are by definition handicapped in fully understanding. Until laws change, those hopes are on hold indefinitely.
My story leads me to believe that there are other men out there who are in the same boat. Although my therapy is long over, I still go to group therapy twice a month as stipulated by federal probation (I am on year 6 of 10 of supervised release). SAFER Louisiana is a topic that comes up often in group and I was shocked Tuesday by the approach of two members who were also convicted of computer-based offenses. We had a discussion about how these crimes we are convicted of portray us with the assumption of having tendencies towards pedophilia (If not assumed to be true pedophiles) when in fact other issues were underlying the offense. They pleaded with me to find a way to change these assumptions which struck my heart like Robin Hood splitting his own arrow on a perfect mark.
This got me thinking more about how many other RSOs fall under this umbrella. All 3 of us had very minor factors in our offenses compared to many high profile cases that are publicized. None of us actually touched a minor (as adults), yet we are considered tier 2 offenders where people who have actually had hands-on action (non-aggravated) are usually tier 1. From our standpoint, as downloaders (not distributors or producers) of a small amount of child pornography, we view someone actually molesting a juvenile as a more heinous offender. The distinction between tiers does not make sense unless you consider where the assumption of our level of “threat to society” comes from. I had to share with them what I have learned (sometimes reluctantly) over the last 6 years being focused on Sex Offender therapy both in practice and in schooling.
Please note, for the purpose of this post and for the sake of simplicity, when I say objectification of women, I refer to the vast majority of offenders (and specifically those discussed in this post) who are heterosexual men. I am aware, and do not discount, that there are other cases that include women viewing child pornography as well as gay, lesbian, and bisexual situations involving juveniles.
Research shows that prolonged usage of pornography leads to a high level of objectification (viewing people as sex objects vs. human beings who deserve the utmost respect). Research also indicates that objectification is significantly correlated (keep in mind correlation does not always equate to causation) to committing sexual offenses. This leads to a logical (though potentially fallacious) assumption that people who view child pornography are far more likely to view children as objects and thus be more apt to use them accordingly. In this light, it makes some sense that lawmakers view us as tier 2 offenders whereas situational molestation or statutory rape offenses are considered tier 1. The problem with this line of thinking is it assumes that we are not capable of changing our ways of thinking, and that we are predetermined to continue to objectify women. It is but a simple step to also assume, since we actually viewed any amount of child pornography at all, that we are also predetermined to objectify children. This can be true in some cases; But I believe with all my heart that, with proper therapeutic techniques and a sincere willingness to change, viewers of child pornography (this can also extend to RSOs in general) are not only capable of obliterating their own sexual deviancy, but actually becoming less sexually deviant than those who have never been convicted of a sex offense.
Since I consider myself a therapeutic success (admittedly subject to bias), I will add my thoughts on this matter. We are much more likely to continue to objectify women than we are to objectify children (assuming that was even present in the first place). I believe future therapy for our types of offenses should include rigorous therapy for sex addiction and training ourselves to view women far more respectfully than society in general dictates (feminists can agree with me on this statement!). Prolonged effort to avoid objectification is paramount to success. This is one of the many reasons I desire to become a therapist. I desire the redemption of all offenders (not just sex offenders) with all my heart and every fiber of my being and want to extend the frontier of offender therapy. True Empathy for sex offenders is arguably not achievable by non-offenders and I sincerely believe having someone in the field who has actually walked the walk of a sex offender is crucial to the success of treatment in general.
My answer to the topic of this post, “Child Pornography: Preferred Offender or Situational Offender?” is that it depends on the individual offender as well as their ability and/or willingness to accept responsibility for their role in their offense and make a concerted effort to change themselves. This can be aided by improved therapeutic techniques focused on the many factors involving the individual offender including past victimization, severity of offense, personality, religious beliefs, familial support, and so on. Lumping us all in one basket and making blanket assumptions on our risk level as a collective is not and will never be the answer (Even though it is the path of least resistance for lawmakers)! Therapists need to go beyond “Best practices” of making sure RSOs take responsibility for their role in their offense and also “Meet them where they are.”