Should Those Who Look at Underage Pornography Be Allowed to Tell Their Therapists Without Fear of Consequences?

I was about three years into recovery, taking part in a group therapy session when the therapist said something in passing that caught my attention. He mentioned that in Maine, if a patient reports that they have looked at underage pornography and the therapist does not deem them to be a threat to act-out in a hands-on manner, that behavior does not have to be reported to authorities.

As I’m sure you know there are plenty of behaviors that have to be reported, like threat to commit suicide, plans to hurt another person, certain deviant illegal behavior, etc. But in Maine, there is no provision for reporting the use of underage pornography.

I bring this up because yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, there was an article about how their therapists are mandated to report the use of underage pornography and that the law is being challenged by therapists and therapists’ groups because they don’t think they should be reporting these people outside of their office if they pose no danger.

It’s an interesting debate and I’m not completely sure which side I fall on.

A quick recap of my story

Unless you’re new here, you know that I was arrested in early 2014 for illegal behavior in a chatroom that happened in late 2013. I encouraged a girl who I was unaware at the time was underage to perform sex acts on herself. At the end of our session, I created two screen captures as “trophies.” I’m not going to turn this into a giant rehash of exactly what happened or include my typical disclaimers about blaming myself, not the addiction. You can find them many places on this site.

It was obvious to the judge I wasn’t a serial offender but rather an ill person who took strides to get better, but you can’t do what I did and get away with it. I think a lot of discretion was shown in the fact I only served six months compared to what I could have done.

I appreciate that discretion. I was a guy who made a terrible mistake, not a pedophile, child stalker or anything of that ilk.

In the six years since the crime took place, I’ve been called a pedophile twice. It wasn’t out of malice. It was out of generally not understanding what the term means.

A pedophile is somebody who is attracted to children above the age of infant, but who have not yet reached puberty. There is also a difference between a pedophile and a criminal. Not all pedophiles are criminals. Most never act out on their attraction.

Both in rehab and as part of the ongoing legal case, I took several assessments to test for my likelihood of recidivism. It was as non-existent as the tests could score.

The fact my victim was underage was not lost on anyone, but based on the fact I’d done similar things in chat rooms with over a dozen adult women and the teenager in question could realistically pass for an adult, I was not cast a sex offender with a taste for underage girls, which was entirely correct.

Meeting the offenders

All of that said, when I was released from jail, I was court-mandated to participate in a weekly meeting of people who were on probation and had similar crimes. There were a few guys, like me, who I believe just made horrible mistakes. There were also several guys who – in a non-contact way – had been acting on their pedophilic tendencies for quite sometime before being arrested, sentenced and released.

Some of them were too ashamed to ever talk in any detail about it and others genuinely wanted to get beyond it and move on to having normal lives. Having spent a year seeing these men weekly (I was moved to a different group that only met monthly after a year – again, deemed no risk to re-offend) I felt like I got to know them on a personal level and I got the feeling that they couldn’t be “cured” but that they could develop the tools to not succumb to their attraction.

These men didn’t talk in graphic terms of what they saw in the underage pornography they looked at or why they were attracted to it, but I can’t remember a single one who struck me as the kind of person who would take that attraction off the computer screen and actually harm a child. Most clearly had co-occurring addictions and/or mental health disorders and it seemed like the pornography they used was a certain way to cope, leaning toward their pathology.

This is largely what they are arguing in California. A passage from the LA Times article that ran Monday, December 9, 2019:

 

Sharon O’Hara, a Los Angeles County therapist who began her career treating rape survivors, said people “with true porn addictions tend to look at everything.”
“They are looking for intensity,” she said. “It is the intensity and shock value” they seek.
She compared them to people who play violent video games but lack a propensity for violence in real life.
Ira Ellman, one of several scholars who joined a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said the state law is based on misconceptions.
“Half of the people who molest children don’t test positive for pedophilia, and a lot of people who do test positive for pedophilia are almost at zero risk for molesting a child,” said Ellman, a retired law and psychology professor from Arizona State University and now a scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Law and Society.
The scholars cite a federal government study that followed men whose only sexual offense was viewing child pornography and found that 96.4% committed no contact sexual crime during an 8½-year follow-up period. A 2010 study found that “online offenders rarely go on to commit contact sexual offenses.”
Therapy may not be able to change a person’s sexual interest in minors, Ellman said, but it can help someone control impulses and avoid criminal acts.
People who molest children are likely to have antisocial personality traits, including lack of empathy, the scholars said, and therapists can identify them.
“I am not suggesting there is nothing wrong with looking at pictures of kids,” Ellman said. “Obviously, the creation of such a picture requires horrible abuse of a child. Everybody agrees that is a horrible thing.”

What to do?

I could present another dozen statistics that are in line with what these experts from the LA Times article are saying. There really is no connection between a hands-off crime leading to hands-on crimes. The link has never been made.

Here’s where the whole thing may fall apart for me. The people looking at the underage pornography are still consumers. Most never purchased it, but they are creating the demand for the product. If there was nobody who wanted to see the stuff, it stands to reason that far less would be made, right?

Any child who appears in any of those photos is a victim. Sure, maybe it’s not a violent sex act, but a “harmless” photo of them on a nude beach from a vacation in 2008. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being naked on a beach where it is allowed, but I do think there is a problem with posting a photograph of anybody – child or adult – at one of those beaches in a state of undress without their consent.

If a nude photo of me from a beach ended up on the Internet now, I probably wouldn’t fret too much. However, if I had been 13 or 14 in one of those photos and it fell into the wrong hands of people I knew when I was in my 20s, I could see some severe long-term PTSD happening and a life with more therapy than I’ve already needed. The reality is, I can’t imagine a situation where any child, no matter what is happening in the photograph itself, provided their consent.

If somebody is perpetuating this underground network of underage pornography to continue, that’s a crime. Perhaps if they are downloading pictures and videos from peer-to-peer networks there is no supplier making money, but should the producer making money be our litmus test to determine if this is wrong? No. Looking at underage pornography is wrong. We all know this.

From a philosophical standpoint, everything I just argued makes sense, but in reality, reporting every consumer of underage pornography in California – heck, reporting every consumer in America – is not going to end the international problem and do we want to clog up our court system with people who clearly need rehabilitation, not incarceration? If a therapist reports their client for admitting to look at underage pornography, you risk potentially moving the client from an environment of rehabilitation into one of incarceration. Isn’t that exactly not what is best? The perfect-world philosophy and real-world circumstances are clearly at odds here.

Should California look the other way at perpetuating this underground industry, as Maine does, under the guise that the consumer will likely not physically offend? Isn’t it better, as many of the experts believe, that the patient feel comfortable enough to share this information and address their issue before it gets worse? If they can be given tools to fight their urges now, the situation may not worsen in the future, but if they know they’ll end up being reported to authorities, there is no incentive for them to share their tendencies, which will likely continue without therapeutic attention.

This feels like one of those situations where this is no clear-cut correct answer and you’re almost picking the least of two evils. I just go back and forth on which option is the lesser of the two.

 

 

 

No, the Judge Didn’t Give Me a Raw Deal

I’ve mentioned in this space that long ago, I divorced myself from the debate of whether I got too much or too little jail time for engaging a teenager in a chatroom in 2013 that led to that life caving in and my new life starting. The judge deemed it appropriate I serve 9 months and the system whittled that time down to 6 months and a few days. It was what it was.

I was able to tune out the people who wanted me to rot in jail for the rest of my life – or worse – because they’re coming from an illogical place and don’t understand the facts of the situation. These are the people who make Facebook the loving, nurturing community that it has become in my absence.

I actually find it more difficult when somebody hears my story and then tells me, “That’s a bunch of bull crap. You shouldn’t have got any time” and then proceed to lay out a case for me not doing jail time based on what I did. I appreciate the defense, but it’s really uncomfortable. In many ways, I feel like they minimize, rationalize and even justify what I did. I always have to step in and remind them that I broke the law.

When this conversation happens in the context of an interview, I feel painted into a corner. From a selfish, individual point of view, did I want to go jail? Hell, no. Did I understand the rationale of giving me some jail time? On a very objective level, yes. As the judge in my case said, “Despite a set of extenuating circumstances, I can’t give you no jail time. People can’t do what you did and not serve some time.”

I never had it out for the police, the lawyers, the judge, CPS, the guards at jail or anybody else on “the other side” of my legal ordeal. I got myself into that situation by doing the wrong thing to such a level the government has to step in and get involved. I’m OK with that. Some of the guards were assholes. The CPS person who interviewed the kids scared the hell out of them. I understand they all have jobs though, and those jobs are to protect people and I’m glad they’re there.

It gets especially uncomfortable for me when the person starts attacking the teenage girl who was my victim. I don’t know a lot about her. I know she exposed herself in chat rooms with other men, and I do know that she had the kind of body type that one could mistake her for being older than she was. Despite these two pieces of information, it doesn’t let me off the hook for what I did. She still had a teenager’s brain and I showed no discretion.

Ideally, I never would be in a chatroom like that, but I should have been able to say to myself, “Like many females out there, this is one who looks older than she might be and I shouldn’t talk to her.” By that point, I had pulled myself off my mental health medication and my understanding of consequences, logic, etc. were fuzzy, especially with the alcohol. I made the incorrect decision to engage her in the devious activities I conducted with women of age.

There is no defending that. Don’t tell me I got a bad deal and that she was asking for it. Don’t tell me that she played me as much as I played her. Don’t tell me that despite my horrible manipulation of her, it was all in her control. This was a teenage girl and I did a heinous thing to her. Can I name 100 things that would have been more heinous? Sure, but that doesn’t let me off the hook for what I did. Victim blaming makes things worse, not better.

I appreciate those who try to come to my defense for me. I understand your heart is probably in the right place, but it doesn’t make me feel like the cheated victim of the system you may feel that I am. I got what I deserved. She didn’t get what she deserved.

It’s a Good Time to Talk to Your Children About Pornography; A Lull for Porn Addiction Information?

I guess being away a couple of months really did recharge my battery as I have 101 pornography addiction-related things I want to talk about. Seems like a good time for one of my multiple-subject articles.

Keeping Kids in the Loop

First, it’s back-to-school time. There is no better time to talk to your children about pornography since their peers are the most likely people to introduce/distribute pornography to them.

Keep the discussion age appropriate. I don’t think any kid under 10 needs to be told more than, “If you see naked pictures of men or women, let mommy or dad know about it, OK? Just like we’d want you to tell us if you found a cigarette.”

I think you can step it up for ages 10-to-13 and let them know that pornography addiction is a real thing, just like drug addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, etc. Recognize that a lot of the power is in their hands as you can’t police them 24/7. Let them know you’re there to talk and that you believe they’ll make the correct decisions.

With the 13-to-18 crowd, which I think is the most critical, I believe your message has to be two-fold. First, with the boys, it’s time to introduce them to the concept of porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED). Explain that there are many guys their age – and now in their 20s – who grew up looking at so much Internet porn, it has negatively affected their ability to have a normal physical relationship with a partner. Second, for both genders, it’s good to remind them that the moment they take a nude picture of themselves or someone else, even if they think it’s safe, there is no such thing as safe when it comes to cell phones, the Internet or trusting your “friends.” If they wouldn’t pull their pants down in school, they shouldn’t be doing it in front of a mirror because it could end up being seen by everyone in school, and countless others. It’s also good to remind them that looking at such pictures, along with making them, is against the law and people do get in trouble. Sadly, the biggest producers of child pornography are actually the children. They need to know it can come with dire consequences.

Where’s the New Information?

I don’t know if it’s just a natural lull, but since returning from my hiatus, I’ve been searching for articles, studies and blogs about pornography addiction and it appears there are fewer new ones than ever. I hope this isn’t an indication that porn addiction is becoming either normalized or talking about it has just been a passing fad.

My life, and the lives of so many people I have met in the last 5-6 years, have been radically altered by pornography addiction. Some, like mine, have endings where the user became a happier, healthier person with a family that stuck by them. Most however – especially those who are unable to conquer their addiction – are tales of woe, where the addict lost everything and was largely shunned. Both groups have to rebuild their lives into something new, but it can go in very different ways.

I think both stories need to be told. I know mine is more of a success story that the addict early in recovery can strive for, but I also think we need to hear those stories of broken lives to serve as a warning to people who are debating getting help.

With my PornAddictCounseling.org site, I deal with many people who after talking to me for a few weeks or months will throw up their hands and say they are the unique specimen for whom recovery is impossible. This is when I’ll have them read both the success and not-so-successful passages I’ve seen out there.

I think both stories can be very meaningful, but I’m not seeing much out there that’s new. Searches through Google and WordPress are just turning up what I’m already familiar with.

If you’ve had an experience with porn addiction, please consider sharing your story. This can’t be something we don’t talk about. There are too many people suffering out there who need to get help and feel that they are alone. Too many of them mistakenly think they’ll be ok in the long run because their addiction isn’t to drugs or alcohol.

Communication and education are key. Considering being one of the voices.

A Final Request

Finally, if you see some kind of article, blog or study out there that is relatively new, I hope you’ll let me know about it. As I’ve mentioned, my next book is coming out later this year (or early next year) and I’m starting to stir ideas around in my head for the third one.

The concept of the new book – a professional and a former addict answering questions for partners of addicts – came directly from reading blogs on WordPress. I’m always looking for inspiration and education, so let me know if there’s something out there I’m missing.

And of course, if you’ve got an idea for a book that you’re not planning to write, I’d love to hear it. Ideas can come from anywhere and only a fool thinks theirs are the best.

The Legal Ordeal Sparked by My Pornography Addiction is Finally Over

I know that I said I wasn’t going to write this summer, but allow me this one indulgence as I celebrate coming off of probation after three years. It is the end of the road for the legal part of my porn addiction fallout.

On March 20, 2014, as I was sitting in my parents’ house just hours after being arrested on a charge of possession of child pornography and subsequently bailed out by my wife, I uttered a sentence that has stuck with me straight through then to the day I write this, July 27, 2019: “The only thing we know for sure is one day this will all be over.”

Today, at least as far as the law is concerned, I will complete paying my debt to society. This is my last day of probation and closes the book on this chapter of my life.

I won’t go into the last five-and-a-half-years of my legal saga or even talk too much about the addiction or recovery here. Lord knows there’s enough of that all over this site, which will have its second anniversary at some point next month.

I guess what I want to let people know is that whatever hardship you’re going through in life, whether you created it or not, if it affected your entire circle or just you personally, if it caused the destruction of relationships or public humiliation, believe it or not, it will one day be over and there’s a likelihood – however hard to believe today – that you’ll be a better person for it.

Obviously, in the year or so leading up to my arrest I was not a healthy person, but I can look back over my entire life and see a mentally ill person, driven by ego and fear, who was a shell of the person I am today. Perhaps I don’t have 1/10th the friends and acquaintances I once did and I’m not a participating member of my community (both things that I do miss), but the trade-off is a healthy body and soul, and deeper relationships than I could have imagined with the family members and friends who did stick around.

The life I led back then seems like 40 years ago. Once in a while, I’ll stumble upon a box in my garage that contains trophies and plaques recognizing the work I did professionally, politically or otherwise. I’ll stumble on the box that has a stack of magazines I was the editor/publisher of or a box full of briefing papers from when I was a city councilor. It’s like these things are written in a foreign language. The person who cared more about this stuff than his family has long since left this Earth.

What probation did for me

Three years ago tomorrow, to the day – ironically on my wife’s birthday – I walked out of jail after 27 weeks, into fresh air for the first time during that stint (which was disappointingly underwhelming), understanding that while the worst of it was over, I still had three years of probation to follow.

After about six months, the minimum time allowed, my probation officer was transferred from a sex offender specialist to a regular PO because they’d long earlier established I was almost no threat for recidivism. They recognized I got sick and had been doing everything to get better and maintain my health. I was treated with great respect and understanding by both POs. I think they knew that there were other people they needed to keep much closer tabs on.

I credit probation with being the section of my ordeal that allowed me to put the period at the end of my addiction. Six years ago, I couldn’t have told you what it was going to take to stop me from using alcohol or porn. Certainly not a dorky intervention. Today, I now know it’s the law. The specter of returning to jail for a slip-up helped put my recovery in a place where I’m almost positive it’s permanent.

It became clear to me a long time ago they were not going to check my computer or test my urine, which they had the right to, but by that time, I had tasted this better life and wanted more.

Looking ahead

Tonight at midnight, I can go buy all the tequila and dirty magazines I want. But I’m not going to do that because it’s the roadway to a life that I never want to visit again. I probably wouldn’t have purchased either three years ago, but probation gave me the time – and the potential scary consequences – to really build my “new normal.”

The reality is, tomorrow – my first day of legal freedom in 5½ years probably won’t be all that different than today or yesterday.

When I said, “The only thing we know for sure is one day this will be over,” in my parents’ living room in March 2014 I was specifically talking about the legal ordeal.

I didn’t realize that was actually the day my previous life was thankfully over. The last three years have been practice for this new, better life…and the one thing I hope for sure is that there will never be a day that this life is over. I mean, I know I’ll die someday, but until then, this is the ride I want to be on.