Viewing Child Abuse Images: Paedophile or Addicted to Porn?

Viewing Child Abuse Images: Paedophile or Addicted to Porn?

Two topics bound to cause consternation are the taboo subjects of paedophilia and child pornography, so why am I putting my head above the parapet? It is chiefly because as a psychotherapist, I see so much pain in the lives of those who are wrongly labelled as paedophiles. I hope that by removing some of the misunderstanding held by society, porn addicts will be viewed more compassionately and those in need of help will seek it out.

It is very easy to have many internet sites running at the same time and while seeking and searching for pleasure, dopamine, a neurochemical, rises with the anticipation

Society is quite rightly concerned about the large numbers of paedophiles, sexual offending and child protection. However, my therapeutic experience is that a person who views child abuse images, though committing a sexual offence, is not necessarily a paedophile. A paedophile has a primary sexual interest in children. I suggest that for some people, it is porn addiction rather than paedophilia, which is the cause. A person, usually a man, who has no sexual interest in children, can find himself ‘crossing the line’.

Addicts to internet porn follow the typical addiction symptoms of craving and preoccupation, followed by increased frequency, duration, intensity or risk to achieve the desired effect. Alongside this, they experience negative consequences in important areas of their lives (e.g., work, relationships, emotional, financial).

It is very easy to have many internet sites running at the same time and while seeking and searching for pleasure, dopamine, a neurochemical, rises with the anticipation. Dopamine reinforces the reward circuitry of the brain which is where we experience cravings and pleasure and where we get addicted.

Research has shown that dopamine declines with habituation and surges again with novelty. For some porn users, as each new experience becomes boring they seek out more unique material, even to the point of wanting something that is way beyond what they would find acceptable normally. Dopamine also increases with shock and anxiety; hence a heterosexual male may well look at porn that isn’t consistent with their sexuality or their value system. With an endless supply of images and videos, porn sites provide a difficult environment for addicts to escape from.

To add to the problem, our brains record what turns us on. When a person masturbates to the images, the pleasure of an orgasm will be unconsciously linked to that imagery. Our primitive reward circuitry becomes associated with the events associated with sexual excitement (orgasm linked to certain stimuli). It doesn’t consider the type of porn or whether society approves of it. It merely responds to a dopamine spike and in turn to the accumulation of a protein called DeltaFosB, a molecular switch that initiates lasting brain changes.

Poignantly, clients have told me ‘This is not who I am.’ ‘I don’t recognise myself.’ ‘I feel alone, this isn’t something I can talk about to anybody’. They are males with adult partners, and have no interest at all in sexual contact with children. They are not paedophiles, but have been reported as such in the press.

They didn’t go onto the internet with the intention of looking at child abuse images, but nevertheless ended up there. They couldn’t understand why they continued to do something that disgusted them and which they knew was illegal. I suggest that each of them became desensitised to mild porn and sensitised to extreme porn. Their higher thinking brain, compromised by addiction, could not win the battle, even when it came to viewing child abuse images. Porn sex was too powerful a need and withdrawal too difficult.

Eventually perpetrators get caught. If not directly by the police, who monitor certain sites, then by someone else – for example, their employer, their partner or even a repair engineer.

The process from initial arrest to final sentencing can be excruciating for all involved. Laptops, PCs, hard drives, memory sticks, phones and so on are taken, without warning, so that all the images can be counted and catalogued for severity. The process is slow, often taking 12–8 months.

If the offender has children, he may be asked to leave the home. Ongoing contact with his children may be supervised or withheld. Similarly, relatives and friends with children will probably be informed, as at this stage the assumption will be that the offender is a danger to their children. Relationships often don’t survive this.

In short, the life of the internet offender hits rock bottom. They are often alone, living with a shameful arrest, financially struggling as they may have to rent alternative accommodation. A job loss may be inevitable leading to more financial strain and social isolation.

Sentencing may or may not result in time in prison. It will almost certainly result in being listed for 5–10 years on the Sex Offenders Register. In turn, there will be travel restrictions and reporting requirements. It will show up on DBS checks and will make future employment more difficult. And there are usually weekly probation meetings for up to a year and often a 30-week rehabilitation course to attend.

These life-changing events are particularly difficult for someone who is not actually a paedophile. It often leads to suicidal thoughts and mental health issues. They have great need for support. Fortunately, StopSO (Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending) has a pool of trained therapists able and willing to work with those who have committed a sexual offence. They also help partners who are caught up in the aftermath. In addition, StopSO encourages those who have not been caught, but who want to stop.


Dr Julie Newberry is a Counselling Psychotherapist with StopSO, and is registered MBACP.  StopSO is an agency that connects clients asking for help with a specially trained, experienced psychotherapist (or counsellor) who is geographically close. This service is available to anyone who feels at risk of committing a sexual offence, as well as those who have already committed a sexual offence.  StopSO also offers therapy to the family members of sexual offenders. You can get in touch with them via their website, telephone: 07473 299 883, or email: [email protected]

 


 

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