I, Pedophile

Child pornography should end. As an ex-convict, I ask: Is prison the most effective way to address demand?
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It was shortly before 3:00 a.m. on May 30, 2012 when I turned off my computer for the last time. I slid my recliner over three feet and tucked myself into my bed, for another sleepless session of self-loathing and self-pity. Later that morning, I would not be at my friends’ home as I had planned to help them celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Instead, I would find myself sitting on the hard wooden bench of a police holding cell.

For almost 20 years, I spent virtually every night of my life in the same manner: Sitting in front of my computer and either trawling the Internet for child pornography or looking at the pictures and videos that were already a part of my collection. No matter how many images I found and regardless of how sleep deprived I felt, nothing would stop me from continuing this perverse pursuit. It was my own carelessness that finally got me arrested, when I used my credit card to order some films that had images of naked boys, although none of these movies were of a sexual nature. One police officer later told me he thought I had gotten caught on purpose, because, subliminally, it was the only way I would stop. He was right about the latter, but not the former. No one who is a pedophile wants to get caught and have their horrifying secret revealed to the world.

In fact, there were some nights—but not too many—when I would dare to sit in my chair after my computer was turned off and imagine how it would feel to get arrested. Would I fall to the ground in the fetal position, would I throw up, burst into tears or perhaps even have a heart attack? When that day finally came for me, I did none of those. After the lead detective read me my rights and asked several questions regarding my computer, a strange calm washed over me. I knew my job as a local newspaper editor and my hobby coaching baseball had both come to an end. Yet the overriding thoughts in my head were not of my past, but more of my future. I knew that I was in a unique position to help others understand the bewildering life of a pedophile. I had never asked to be cursed with this sexual attraction, and I had never hurt a child. In fact, I was always a good role model as a coach, and an upstanding citizen throughout my days. It was the nights that were a problem.

Over the months that followed my arrest, my journalistic instincts took over. I wanted to know how a lifetime of lusting after young children could seem so normal to me on an emotional level, even though I knew rationally that it was a completely deviant lifestyle. I would spend my days longing to get back onto my computer, the way a gourmand anticipates a scrumptious feast. Yet when the computer was turned off, I despised myself for being so aroused while looking at pictures of young children whose lives had been destroyed thanks to their unwilling participation.

I spent much of my time in the days right after my arrested reflecting on my childhood. Was there some horrible trauma, an incident of abuse perhaps, that I had covered up which lead to my pedophilia. Was there some anomaly in my formative years that skewed my sexual development? I asked my sister, an experienced therapist, for her help, but she assured me that as far as she knew, nothing of that kind happened to me. I was the victim of an unhappy childhood and a psychologically disturbed father. I had all the symptoms of arrested development, which left me at the emotional level of a 10-year-old. But there was nothing remarkable or unspeakable about my childhood.

I decided to continue my journey by seeking the help of a therapist and doing as much research on the topic of pedophilia as I could, with the help of my sister and her computer. What I discovered was that for every small nugget of helpful information, there was a sinkhole of unanswered questions that remained. The main query that I am convinced will always be without an answer is why I am a pedophile. It is the equivalent of trying to determine why someone is heterosexual or gay. We don’t choose our sexual orientations. If we could, believe me, no one would choose mine.

The most important thing I've discovered in the 15 months since my arrest isn't the why, but rather what can be done to change the preconceptions and misconceptions that society has when it comes to pedophiles. Most people hear that word and think of the Jerry Sanduskys and abusive Catholic priests of the world. Fewer people think about the millions who grapple with sexual feelings on which they can never act. When someone hears the word “pedophile”, they immediately think of a child molester. Yet the majority of pedophiles do not molest, but instead spend hours looking at child pornography. And as those numbers grow, so does the number of child victims.

I am not advocating the cross-generational lifestyle. In fact, there is never an instance when an adult should engage in sexual behavior with a child. But until we as a society learn that help for those who view child pornography is a far better alternative to incarceration, we are doomed to see the continued proliferation of this problem. Scientists don’t know for certain if there is a correlation between viewing child pornography and offending against children. Wouldn't it be nice to get pedophiles help before we find out for certain?

Despite my arrest, I am one of the lucky ones. Because I was arrested in Canada, I was only given a 90-day sentence. Had I been arrested in the U.S., I could have served many years with hardened criminals. My family and friends stood by since my arrest and love and accept me, despite my sexual flaws.

How many millions of pedophiles throughout the world aren't as lucky as I? How many will never seek help, too scared of the legal and social consequences? How many will continue to create the demand that fuels a malicious child pornography market? Is locking them away for a while the answer? Will the day ever come when we, as a society, reach out and offer them the help they so desperately need?

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David Goldberg has worked as a crime reporter, sports reporter, and newspaper editor in Montreal.

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