The happiest client I ever represented was a paedophile who had walked into Limehouse police station and handed over his hard disc which contained thousands of images of child pornography. He was laughing and joking and brightening up the whole of the custody suite with his good humour, even though he could be facing a jail sentence.
The disc contained images right across the spectrum of seriousness. At the soft end was an image of a six year old in stockings and suspenders, lying spread eagled on her back, with a caption over her crotch saying “Click here to Enter”, so there was no mistake about the nature of the material.
Because he’d handed himself in he was given a caution, meaning he’d have no criminal record but would be put on the sex offenders register. You’d expect him to be delighted, but the moment we got outside, he suddenly burst into tears and was inconsolable.
The emotional roller-coaster ride of this man had less to do with the justice system and more to do with his own journey. He knew intellectually that those images are evil, but his emotional and sexual urges told him they were attractive and sexual. He had lived with this conflict and finally confronted it.
It’s likely that he handed himself in partly because he feared being detected for downloading them, but that doesn’t change the fact that he genuinely wanted to address his behaviour. Many thousands more out there haven’t handed themselves in. They haven’t looked for help. We would be wise to consider whether we make it easy or difficult for them to do so.
This man is a paedophile, but he isn’t a rapist or a murderer. There is no reason to presume that a paedophile would also be a rapist or murderer, but it would make him a much safer person if we helped him to understand his condition, through therapy, in order that he could recognise and deal with it. By presuming that all paedophiles are rapists and murderers, we push the issue into the shadows and discourage them from seeking help.
David Cameron is pleased with himself that he has got internet search engines to show a message if a user enters certain key words. It may cause some paedophiles to think twice, but it also alerts them to detection. It may have a lasting effect of some, but I imagine it would have a temporary effect on most. The human mind is very good at creating denial, when thoughts are kept in solitude, due to a taboo across society.
A paedophile who doesn’t understand his condition, or is in denial, or under the influence of someone evil, is still dangerous. As long as policy keeps these people in the shadows, and encourages them to live in denial, we have a problem. The same person who has engaged with therapy, and wants to do no harm, is safe for society.
Those that have come forward are not to be feared. Policy needs to figure out how to make it easier for them to come forward rather than how to create a one-off fright in a search engine.