Saturday, 12 March, 2005

As you may or may not know last year I caught a paedophile at work when his machine was brought in for repair. Today, I got a letter informing me that I may be a witness in his trial which will be happening in the next few months.

I'm quite nervous, especially about being cross examined by some angry defense barrister but I'd be glad to contribute to the trial. The only thing I have to do is tell the truth, it's up to the jury to decide if the man is innocent or not. Even so, if i'm called up, it's likely that i'll play an important part in that descision! Is the man guilty in my opinion? It's hard to say with any certainty. What I will say is that in my own mind I think he is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. I'll give you a quick recap of the situation so you can decide for yourself.

I found the files by chance. A few days before he'd lost some data and we recommended he send his computer up to us for repair. I used undelete software to recover them. I happened to look in the "Temporary Internet Files" folder and found a lot of deleted images. Sales men have a tendency for downloading porn and such activity is banned under company rules so I investigated the content of these images. What I found was alarming, it was child pornography! The next ten minutes were perhaps the strangest of my life, I couldn't think straight. The poor boy in one of the images must have been about seven years old and, as cliche as it sounds, I couldn't get the thought of what that boy must have gone through out of my mind. It was horrible. It's like by viewing that image I've added to the suffering of the boy I felt dirty to the core.

Eventually, a cooler head set in and I realised that something needed to be done. I called my superior, who was out on lunch, and asked him to return immediately. I showed him the couple of images I'd found and he agreed that this needed to go further. It went to the finance director and then directly to the managing director pretty quickly after that. He was sacked that day but the decision of whether or not to take the issue to the police was postponed until the day after. Try to bear in mind that this isn't any normal crime. This is an offense that people feel very strongly about and sending this to the police could really screw this guys life up. He's already lost his job, but me might lose his children, his friends and his wife. He stands to lose everything. Considering that at this stage, at least, we'd only found a couple of images, we figured it's best if we slept on the decision.

The next day, we held an meeting in the board room to discuss the action. We decided that we could not send the man to the hounds, so to speak, without looking at the machine again and seeing if we could pull out some more images. So, my boss and I took on the horrible task of drudging through the computer. To cut a long story short, there was a lot more. Probably around thirty to forty images though my memory doesn't serve me so well, so I'm not entirely sure.

I found some comfort in the fact that most of them were not children but teenagers; most were in puberty. I don't know why that is comforting, perhaps it's because the experience might not destroy these older minds to the extent that the younger children will suffer. At any rate, it was disguting. We held another meeting and after discussion decided that it was time to call in the police.

During this search it became apparent that there was a pattern of behavior in that he obviously enjoyed images of young girls because he had hunted for these images on quite a few occasions. There were many thumbnail images but, crucially, there were enlarged images. That meant he'd actually clicked to fetch them. When the directors sacked him the questioning him he claimed that virus or a trojan might have done it. Unforunately, we never ran a virus check so I don't know if there was any merit to his claim.

What I do know is that if a virus was doing this, wouldn't we hear more about it as surely other people would be infected? Okay, so what if it was a trojan? The problem I have with this defence is that it very difficult to frame someone and get it one-hundred percent right. I know how to use trojans and the like and faking these kind of things is very difficult. As I said above, the files showed "behavior" and I think that's a difficult thing to capture. I believe this level of expertise is above and beyond the army of script kiddies and requires a someawhat hardened and intelligent hacker. If someone did indeed plant it all there is a very sick morally devoid person out there.

One theory that has crossed my mind is that maybe an internet paedophile used his machine as a "through-point" so he could keep his anonymity. This is the most compelling argument in defence of him that I can muster. It does, however, have a problem. Each time his computer connected to the internet his IP changed. The guy who's hijacked his machine would therefore have had to know his IP address each time he logged on. Remember there's a pattern of behavior here, it's quite clear that the guy who downloaded these images liked a certain type of image. As such, it's fairly safe to conclude that the same individual downloaded these images. It is by no means impossible for the guy to obtain the computer's IP address each time he connects to the internet but it doesn't make sense. If the guy wants to use a hacked machine to cover his tracks, why would he return to the same computer again and again? Why not just use a different drone each time as this would surely be a safer tactic?

What about family? Maybe his wife did it and it is her, not him, that is the peadophile? That's not a easy thing to rule out, however, roughly five perecent of all cases relate to women. On the balance of probability, at least, it is more likely to be him that it is to be her. Moving on from that, What if she deliberately set him up? Well, by framing him, it would cause untold devastation to her family, and her children no less, what thing could he have done to warrent such a callous act against him? The problem I have with this counter-argument is just that - where is the motive? Sure it's possible but it is grounds for reasonable doubt? I don't know.

I still believe, even after this experience, that these people do not need prison. They need help and lots of it. As far as I know, This guy never abused any children himself and I think a line needs to be drawn between the offences. It is a tough one, you could argue that him viewing child pornography creates demand for the content and thus "induces" abuse of children. For this reason, we could say he's complicit in the act and deserves prison time as a result.

The counter-arguement might be that it's much like the relationship between a drug user and drug dealer. The drug user is addicted to cocaine, he can't help that, so as such he isn't fully responsible for creating demand. We conclude that the dealer is more evil because he's knowingly profiting off the addiction of others. The law reflects this thinking as there is an asymmetry between the prison terms served by a user and dealer. Whether drug use should be an imprisonable offense is another essay for another day but needless to say I don't think it should be.

In my opinion, I think paedophilia is a disease of the mind and should be treated as such.


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