My probation officer came by last week for the first time since my sentencing. He had felt the five-year statutory minimum was already harsh and was surprised to learn I had received 12 years.
“Our justice system isn’t perfect,” he said.
Curiously, in the four months I’ve been on probation, we had never discussed the specifics of my crime until that day when he asked what had led me to download child pornography. Perhaps he had been waiting until after my sentencing. It was a good question, and he seemed genuinely interested.
Downloading child pornography is not like most crimes. It’s not like robbing a liquor store or committing murder. It requires no getaway car, weapon, or elaborate scheme. It doesn’t even require that you leave home. All that’s needed is a computer and an Internet connection, and one might argue that even the computer isn’t necessary as even many of today’s MP3 players are capable of browsing the web.
I began downloading pornography when I was 16, but it didn’t become an obsession until after I moved away from home and into my first apartment. It became a cure for boredom then, and while it never affected my job or personal relationships, it did consume most of my free time. It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend up to five or six hours viewing pornography on a given night. There were even times when I’d become so engrossed that I’d forget to eat.
My taste in pornography varied and was never solely focused on youth. I enjoyed looking at men of all ages, and at the time, I was newly single and having sexual relationships with men well into their forties.
One night while browsing for pornography, I came across an image of a boy masturbating who looked to be around 16-years-old. This had happened before on occasion and was not unusual. Admittedly, the image of the boy was arousing. Many people assume that child pornography is inherently violent, but this is not necessarily true. Webcams and camera phones are commodities nowadays, and it’s become common for teenagers to send nude photos of themselves to friends or post such images to blogs and other various websites.
I should know. I did the same thing when I was 16.
Unlike other images I had come across in the past, this particular one included a GigaTribe username in the lower right-hand corner.
GigaTribe is different from other file sharing programs like Napster and Limewire in that users can only share files amongst a trusted group of friends. In the hope of finding more images of the boy, I installed GigaTribe and sent a friend request to the username stamped on the original image. A few days later, the user had accepted my request, and I was allowed unfettered access to their shared files, most of which was child pornography.
Had I been thinking rationally at the time, I would have considered the legality and morality of what I was doing and immediately uninstall the software from my computer. But as I said earlier, child pornography isn’t like most crimes. When you’re in the safety of your own home surrounded by four bedroom walls, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that you’re not hurting anyone and that your actions have no consequences. There is an astonishing disparity between the ease in which the crime can be committed and the severity of the resulting punishment.
I tried several times to break my addiction in the year that followed. I was downloading child pornography one to two times per week, and the collection was becoming too large to even maintain. Consequently, I was acquiring material I didn’t even want: images and videos of adult men raping young boys. There were times when the guilt of possessing such items prompted me to uninstall the software from my computer and delete the collection entirely. These attempts, however, were never successful, and I’d reinstall the software a month later and binge on porn into the next day.
My addiction to child pornography was about more than just arousal. I was addicted to collecting and the thrill of the forbidden. I wonder sometimes if I would have been able to stop my addiction had I not been caught. I had failed many times before in doing so on my own. Maybe what I needed all along was a kick in the ass to get me back on track.
12 years is a big kick.