Around 6:00 AM on January 23, 2008, I was visited by several Department of Homeland Security agents who presented me with a search warrant and searched every inch of my apartment for computers and anything containing computer files.
I knew why they had come and to my surprise, my most prevailing emotion was one of relief.
I thought for sure they would understand that I had suffered from a serious Internet pornography addiction which had eventually digressed to include some publicly available content that violated child pornography laws.
I thought for sure they would also recognize all the recovery steps I had taken and the accountability measures I had put in place to enable myself to live free from that addiction. The agents left with two of my laptop computers, both of which had Covenant Eyes software installed on them, which was sending weekly Accountability Reports of my Internet activity to my wife, a church leader, and a twelve step group sponsor.
I had supposedly erased all the pornographic content and all traces of my former Internet surfing activity from both of those computers. With the help of God, church leaders, support groups, a therapist, and different Christian online recovery forums I had managed to abstain from looking at any Internet porn for about three months prior to this visit.
In short, I felt like I was finally getting a handle on this pornography problem that had perplexed and disturbed me for most of my life but had really become unmanageable with the advent of high speed Internet.
The Downward Spiral
I had recognized this as a problem early on and engaged in lengthy telephone calls with my Internet providers asking them if I could somehow get Internet without porn. Their answer, of course, was that they can’t be responsible for any content and that I could just not look at it. Not only was nothing done to prevent every Internet user from having unfiltered access to every form of legal porn, but access to every form of illegal porn—of which, I eventually found, there was no shortage.
Adult porn had already made me more and more accustomed to viewing depictions of other people violating every moral standard I had ever been taught growing up. I regarded it as harmless entertainment. The message I told myself was not to be disturbed by anything I looked at because the people depicted were legal consenting adults. However, I definitely witnessed a marked progression over the years in the degree of depravity routinely displayed in adult porn. Every year additional acts that were previously rare or non-existent became the standard norm. The industry is always financially motivated to push the envelope further to accommodate the demands of the porn consuming population who are ever progressing in their porn addictions.
Unfortunately, the illegal porn industry has all the same sciences at its disposal that the legal porn industry uses to ensnare those who might have a vulnerability to it, and the Internet provides them with the ideal marketing and distribution platform. The consumer is carefully led down a path of first viewing pictures of clothed underage models that progressively get younger and are also progressively presented in less clothing and more suggestive poses. All such sites claim to be entirely legal and they inevitably cite federal statutes to that effect. The pictures are purposefully designed to subtly arouse male interest but leave open rationalizations that the models are clothed and that the sites are purportedly legal. Eventually there is a progression into nude pictures of underage models which also claim to be legal “art” as opposed to illegal “child pornography,” with those pictures getting progressively more suggestive and less likely to actually be legal until there is an ultimate descent into viewing unquestionably illegal content.
The Consequences of Child Pornography
For anyone who may have or may be at risk of going down a similar path, I hope what I am about to share will motivate you to get the help you need now and that you never have to experience the same fate. I quickly learned that the federal criminal justice system is primarily interested in apprehending and punishing crime. Penalties for receiving and/or possessing child pornography have become very severe, with jail sentences often exceeding those applied to people convicted of rape, child molestation, and other direct hands on sexual offenses.
The most likely sentence for a first time federal child pornography possession/receiving offender who has no prior criminal history is at least five years in jail. Whether one goes to jail or not, dealing with federal child pornography charges will certainly be no small ordeal. Also, if you have ever looked at child pornography, you probably should consider having your computer destroyed entirely because everything you have ever looked at on your computer, no matter how long ago or how securely deleted, can and will be recovered with the powerful forensic software that they have. Don’t believe any claims by software providers that they can delete anything to the point where it can’t possibly be recovered by federal law enforcement authorities. The real federal government procedure for permanently erasing computer files is complete physical destruction of the hardware.
The following are some of the things you might expect to experience, using my case as an example:
- $50,000+ in defense attorney fees
- $1,600 per month on court mandated therapy as a pretrial condition—I attend two individual sessions and one group session each week
- A requirement to waive all right to keep anything shared in therapy confidential—the therapist will be required to write regular detailed reports about what you share and will also have his/her credibility called into question if the prosecution finds that you failed to mention anything remotely considered to be potentially relevant to your case.
- Computer monitoring which you will be required to pay for
- No cell phones with Internet access
- Electronic monitoring and related curfew requirements—must be home by certain time each night and at all times on weekends; activities outside the home will be limited to work and therapy only (there is a monthly fee for this monitoring)
- Psychological evaluations by therapists of the prosecution’s choosing because they will inherently distrust any reports rendered by the therapist you regularly see. Some people are required to repeat this exercise multiple times because the prosecution might refuse to accept favorable reports from their own specialists. I only had to do this once, and I received a favorable report. However, I know another individual who was required to repeat this process four times and received four favorable reports, none of which influenced anyone at all. The prosecution didn’t get the answer they were looking for so they ignored all such reports.
- Loss of passport and no travel outside immediate geographic area—must quit job if travel is required.
I have been living under the above conditions for more than three years now. I have been fortunate enough to get the receiving charge dropped which requires a five year mandatory minimum jail sentence. This gives the judge the option of sentencing me to a minimum of five years probation only. However, the prosecution is still recommending between six-and-a-half and eight years in jail. I am praying that the judge will give substantial consideration to the fact that I have been in the community under pretrial conditions for over three years now without incidence and that incarcerating me is not a necessary measure to protect the public and to manage my future behavior. In any event, I will unavoidably have to register as a “sex offender” for at least 20 years and be subject to any restrictions and stigma associated with such label.
Finding Joy Again
It has been a long and emotionally exhausting process and it initially plunged me into a state of near suicidal depression that endured for most of the first two years and nearly resulted in the loss of my business, which I had been trying to manage while deeming my future to be utterly hopeless. I lived in constant dread of the day when I would have to tell all my employees, clients, and everyone else that benefits from my company’s existence that I have to go to jail. I wanted more than ever to die but didn’t consider suicide to be an option either.
I began to fervently pray to God, telling him that I didn’t think I could continue on like this and that I desperately needed His help. At the point where my utter destruction seemed eminent and my depression was at its worst, I experienced the comforting power of Jesus Christ. My depression was replaced by indescribable joy. I felt his unconditional love and my life had new meaning. None of the outside circumstances have changed, but he has given me profound new perspectives and a new capacity to deal with my circumstances. With Christ as the foundation, my happiness is no longer contingent on the outcome of my case or any outside circumstance. I may still be required to serve jail time, but I won’t have to be an unhappy inmate who lacks hope. During this past summer, I also significantly expanded the number of people who I have told about my case and have been amazed at the love and support that has been extended to me since I have done that. Several have written wonderful letters to the judge in my support.
While this experience ultimately made me desperate and humble enough to connect with the true source of peace and happiness and also helped me appreciate that I actually have real friends and loved ones, it isn’t something I would wish on anybody else.
If you have a pornography problem, you can get help now.