A Posthumous Twist in the Story of a Disgraced Senate Aide

The secret Ryan Loskarn kept after being abused as a child, and the stigmas that led to a tragic outcome
Reuters

Jesse Ryan Loskarn was an aide to a U.S. senator until last month, when he was arrested for buying child pornography. Disgraced, he committed suicide last week. Politico has a summary of the details that were known at the time of his death. "According to a federal complaint, he made 'several purchases' from November 2010 to March 2011 from a Toronto-based movie production company," it reports. "Court documents said 'the majority of these films featured young nude boys."

But it turns out there's more to the story. His apparent suicide note has been posted online by his family. Its audience should be as wide as the one exposed to his crime. Here's an excerpt:

I’ve hurt every single human being I’ve ever known and the details of my shame are preserved on the internet for all time. There is no escape. My family has been wounded beyond description. My former boss and colleagues had their trust broken and their names dragged through the mud for no reason other than association. Friends’ question whether they ever really knew me.

Everyone wants to know why.

... The first time I saw child pornography was during a search for music on a peer-to-peer network. I wasn’t seeking it but I didn’t turn away when I saw it. Until that moment, the only place I’d seen these sorts of images was in my mind. I found myself drawn to videos that matched my own childhood abuse. It’s painful and humiliating to admit to myself, let alone the whole world, but I pictured myself as a child in the image or video. The more an image mirrored some element of my memories and took me back, the more I felt a connection. 

This is my deepest, darkest secret. As a child I didn’t understand what had happened at the time of the abuse. I did know that I must not tell anyone, ever. Later the memories took on new and more troubling meaning when I became a teenager. They started to appear more often and made me feel increasingly apart from everyone else. In my mind I instigated and enjoyed the abuse—even as a five and nine year old—no matter the age difference.  Discussing what had happened would have meant shame and blame. I always worried someone might look at me and know, so I paid close attention to others for any sign they might have figured it out. No one ever did. By my late teens I reached a sort of mental equilibrium on the matter.  I couldn’t stop the images from appearing altogether, but I generally controlled when they appeared. As an adult I thought I was a tougher man because of the experience; that I was mentally stronger and less emotional than most. I told myself that I was superior to other people because I had dealt with this thing on my own.

There's more.
 
Loskarn concluded, "to the children in the images: I should have known better. I perpetuated your abuse and that will be a burden on my soul for the rest of my life."
 
The ban on child pornography is one of the few prohibitionist policies that I support. Child pornography ought to be illegal. Possessing it ought to be stigmatized as well. But what this letter brings home is the importance of eliminating stigmas against having been abused as a child, and far more controversially, against the unrequited desire to buy child porn. Our charge is to create a society where people with that impulse seek professional help before giving in to it. That would do far more to protect children than mercilessly vilifying the unrequited impulse. Today, someone who announced, "I have this compulsion to watch child pornography and I'm afraid I'll act on it without help!" would be labeled a pervert and shunned. But seeking help would actually be brave and honorable. 

Were I confronted with someone seeking help of that sort, I'd probably feel creeped out. I hope I'd also be kind, helpful, and mindful of just how lucky I am: that is to say, mindful that it isn't elevated moral status or choice of any kind that has caused me to only have sexual feelings for people of roughly my own age. It's just luck. So many of us enjoy that particular kind of luck that it's easy to stigmatize those who don't. We'd do better to vilify acts rather than compulsions, so that more people with compulsions seek help and fewer children are victimized. 

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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