Confessions of a convicted child porn sex offender

Tom admits that he had looked at adult pornography for most of his life. Photograph: Getty
Tom admits that he had looked at adult pornography for most of his life. Photograph: Getty
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The moment Tom spotted three police officers standing outside his home, he knew his life was effectively over. For many months, the middle-aged man from West Lothian had been a prolific viewer of indecent images of underage girls, accessing them through a file-sharing site. Though he had stopped some time previously, he had nevertheless left a trail of evidence on old computers and memory sticks the police seized.

“I had the sickest feeling,” he says. “I realised my life was going to change horribly and irrevocably, and so it turned out.” Tom’s actions cost him his marriage. His wife – the mother of his grown-up children – threw him out, leaving him shell-shocked. But by working with the charity Stop It Now! Scotland, part of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, he also came to understand the impact his offending had on the teenage girls whose sexual acting-out he viewed so compulsively. “When I was at my computer, I was disconnected. The images just spooled along and I looked,” he says. “Group therapy helped me feel empathy. I understood that every image I looked at involved a victim. If I hadn’t been looking at those images – if nobody looked at them – they wouldn’t be posted and very possibly the abuse wouldn’t take place. It’s men like me who create the demand.”

Tom is speaking to me at the Edinburgh office of Stop It Now! Scotland, as it prepares to launch a two-month deterrence campaign in conjunction with Police Scotland and five local authorities: the City of Edinburgh Council, West Lothian Council, East Lothian Council, Midlothian Council and Scottish Borders Council.

The charity provides confidential and anonymous support to people who are having sexual thoughts about children and young people. It also runs Inform Plus educational courses for offenders who have already been charged and are waiting to appear in court.

The campaign, which starts tomorrow, involves Facebook posts, posters and radio adverts, all with the same message: that those downloading sexual images of children will be caught and punished, but also that there is help available for those who want to stop.

Tom, who is self-employed, agreed to be interviewed because he too wants to encourage offenders to think about the consequences of their actions. Though much of what he says is unpalatable, he is able to give some insight into what drove his behaviour.

He says he had looked at pornography most of his life, but that his usage increased after his children were born and his wife no longer wanted to have sex. With no knowledge of how to navigate the dark web, he viewed only legal images of over-18s until one day he stumbled on a file-sharing site which dealt in illegal porn, including images of children. Though Tom insists he has never had any attraction to children, nor any interest in contact offending, he “jumped right in”. “There were lots of reasons I did it,” he says. “Morbid curiosity, perverted voyeurism, the thrill of doing something illegal. People are voyeurs. If there’s a prang on the motorway, they will slow down to look. It is human nature.”

Though Tom was sent an avalanche of files, he claims the images he found arousing involved girls in their mid-teens dancing round in their bedrooms in their underwear and masturbating in front of the camera. Stop It Now! Scotland says those images may have been filmed and put on the internet by the girls’ boyfriends or the girls may have been groomed to “perform” by men who manipulated them online.

But Tom didn’t give any thought to the victims. “I knew it was wrong, but when you view these images, you are remote. If someone had said to me: ‘Look out, you are downloading images of child abuse’, maybe I would have got a fright and stopped, but it doesn’t occur to you.”

Tom convinced himself his use of encryption would protect his identity, but reckons a police informer infiltrated the site. On the day of his arrest, he was taken to a police station, interviewed under caution and charged. He was kept in custody overnight for his own protection as the suicide rate amongst those lifted for downloading sexual images of children is high. “I like to think of myself as robust but I understand why people go there – I really do,” he says.

After appearing in court and being remanded on bail, he went home to face his family. He managed to salvage his relationship with his children, but his wife soon decided the marriage was over, and within 10 days he was living in a friend’s house.

“My wife has a great many talents and we had a successful marriage for many years. I loved her and thought of her as my partner for life,” he says. “She is still in a very bad state – that’s one of my greatest regrets.”

After his court appearance, Tom found a link to Stop It Now! and got in touch. He was enrolled on one of the charity’s Inform Plus courses, which involved 10 two-hour sessions with eight other men.

The sessions are designed to make the men think about the impact of their behaviour both on their own lives and the lives of the children whose images they have viewed. So, one week they have to write about their own ordeal, another they write an essay from the perspective of a victim. “The essay written from the perspective of the victim is a hell of a lesson. You suddenly make a connection and your whole way of thinking changes,” he says.

In April, Tom pleaded guilty at a sheriff court and was put on a six-month supervision order, which requires him to report in to a criminal justice social worker once a week; he was also put on the sex offenders register.

He insists he has not looked at a single pornographic image – legal or illegal – since his arrest. “I cannot say I will never look at legal porn again, although it’s been a year and I don’t think I will, but I know for sure I will never look at indecent images of children,” he says. “Seeing those officers coming down my drive was 100 per cent therapeutic.”

Supporting sex offenders is controversial. But, as Police Scotland chief constable Philip Gormley has pointed out, so many men are now downloading indecent images of children, we would need to build prisons on an industrial scale to jail them all.

Stop It Now! Scotland says 1,600 people sought help to stop looking at sexual images of children online in 2016, either through its helpline or the self-help section of its website.

National manager Stuart Allardyce said: “We have worked with hundreds of men arrested for viewing sexual images of children. Many knew what they were doing was wrong, but struggled to change their behaviour. That’s where our work comes in.

“We make sure these men understand the harm they have caused the children in these images, and also the consequences for them and their families if they don’t get to grips with their behaviour. Once they understand this, they become far less likely to reoffend.”

Tom’s name has been changed.

To get help, call Stop It Now! Scotland confidentially on 0131-556 3535 or visit get-help.stopitnow.org.uk