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It seems then that the greatest terror for an adult who remembers sexual
abuse is the thought that other children might suffer as they did.
In my writing in the past - especially Tommy - I have created unusually
unmerciful worlds for any infant characters. I am often disturbed by what I
see on the page when I write - never more so than when I draw on my own
childhood. Some people who were abused in their childhood have written to me
to say how much they identify with the character of Tommy. But what is
powerful in my own writing, and sometimes most difficult to control and
model, is the unconscious material I draw on. It is what is unconscious in
me that makes me scream for vengeance against my friend's abusers, rather
than an adult understanding of what went wrong.
I remember no specific sexual abuse, though when I was young I was
treated in an extremely controlling and aggressive way by my maternal
grandmother. This is not unusual. It might be described by some as
insignificant. Almost everyone I know experienced similar stuff at some time
or other - many friends experienced more extreme 'abuses' and have no obvious
adult vices as a result.
On the issue of child-abuse, the climate in the press, the police, and in
Government in the UK at the moment is one of a witch-hunt. This may well be
the natural response triggered by cases like that of my friend who committed
suicide. But I believe it is rather more a reaction to the 'freedoms' that
are now available to us all to enter into the reality of a world that most of
us would have to admit has hitherto been kept secret. The world of which I
speak is that of the abusive paedophile. The window of 'freedom' of entry to
that world is of course the internet.
There is hardly a man I know who uses computers who will not admit to
surfing casually sometimes to find pornography. I have done it. Certainly,
one expects only to find what is available on the top shelf as the
newsagents. I make no argument here for or against 'hard' or 'soft'
pornography. What is certain is that providers of porn feel the need to
constantly 'refresh' their supply. So new victims are drawn in every day.
This is just as true on the internet as it is in the world of magazines and
video. However, what many people fail to realize is how - by visiting their
websites - we directly and effectively subsidize pornographers. This is true
whether we do so unwittingly or deliberately, out of curiosity or a vigilante
spirit. Vigilante campaigners I have contacted on the internet tell me that
many porn sites that claim to feature underage subjects do not - in fact - do
so. Many that are 'genuine' do feature much the same content on the inside
as they do on their free pop-up pages that litter search engines. So why do
these pornographers bother with us at all? They can't be getting rich. Why
can't they remain secret?
As someone who runs a 'commercial' website of my own I am fully aware of
how direct the avenue is between the provider and the user of any internet
site. I am also aware - as are most people today I think - of how easy it is
to trigger the attention of an internet service provider (ISP) when certain
'buzz-words' are used in a search. These are, in effect, words - or
combinations of words - that alert attention at the ISP.
This first came to my attention when in 1997 a man who had briefly worked
for me was arrested in the UK for downloading paedophilic pornography. I was
cautious of openly condemning him. He had performed in one of my musicals
and was a popular figure in the soft-pop pantomime of the UK music scene.
When he went to trial, the buzz-word that the newspapers kept reprinting -
that he had allegedly used in his regular internet searches - was 'lolita'.
A few weeks into the trial The Guardian newspaper reveal that
www.uksearchterms.com listed 'lolita' high on the list of the most searched
words in the UK ('sex' is often No.1). It seemed to me that there was some
hypocrisy going on. Who were all these people typing 'lolita' into their
browsers? They were surely not all paedophiles. They may have been
vigilantes. I'm fairly certain that in most cases they were simply curious
of what they might find.
The terrible part is that what they found on the internet will almost
have certainly found them by return. It is not to suggest that every one of
them was 'hooked' as soon as they found a porn site professing to display
underage subjects, it is to say that because their visit was undoubtedly
recorded by the site or sites in question, the pornographers who run those
sites would have found validation and commercial promise for their activity.
They would then have redoubled their efforts in that area.
Many porn sites use software triggers so that when you try to leave a
site upon which you may have unwittingly stumbled, another similar - or worse
- site immediately pops up. When you try to shut that site, another pops up,
then another, the content getting more and more extreme until your browser is
solid with pornography and eventually will seize up as though choking on some
vapid manifestation of evil itself. Thus it is that the pornographer's
validation is spawned at the same time. One site opened triggers another
dozen or more - all of which you have unwillingly 'visited'. All of which
will have a record of your computer's unique address.
It was obvious to me (though obviously not to the rest of the country)
while the man I knew was on trial, that 'lolita' is not a word to use
carelessly when searching the internet - even if one happened to be studying
Nabokov for a literature degree. So I had my first encounter with internet
paedophilia by accident.
Ethan Silverman, a film director friend, had made an extremely moving
documentary about an American couple who adopted a Russian boy. As a charity
fundraiser (and, I suppose, philanthropist to boot) I wanted to support the
work of such orphanages and decided to see if I could - via the internet -
find legitimate contacts to help. (I had tried many other methods and
failed). The various words I used included 'Russia' and 'orphanages'. I
used no words that could usually be taken to be sexual or lascivious, except
- perhaps ill-advisedly - the word 'boys'.
Within about ten minutes of entering my search words I was confronted
with a 'free' image of a male infant of about two years old being buggered by
an unseen man. The blazer on the page claimed that sex with children is 'not
illegal in Russia'. This was not smut. It was a depiction of a real rape.
The victim, if the infant boy survived and my experience was anything to go
by, would probably one day take his own life. The awful reality hit me of
the self-propelling, self-spawning mechanism of the internet. I reached for
the phone, I intended to call the police and take them through the process I
had stumbled upon - and bring the pornographers involved to book.
Then I thought twice about it. With someone on trial who had once been
connected with me - however loosely - I spoke off-the-record to a lawyer
instead. He advised me to do nothing. He advised me that I most certainly
should not download the image as 'evidence'. So I did as he advised.
I mentioned my own internet experience to a few people close to me. The
trial of the man who had been in musical was on everyone's agenda. It became
clear very quickly that some people I spoke to were skeptical of me. I think
they thought that if I had searched using the right words, my exposure to
that terrible image would not have occurred.
It might be strange to hear that I was glad I found it. Until then, like
my ostrich-like friends, I imagined that only those who communicated on the
internet using secret codes, private chat-rooms and encrypted files would
ever be exposed to this kind of porn. But I learned through this accident
that such images were 'freely' available through the machinery of common
search engines and User-Groups, and openly available for sale through
subscription via credit card. I was then concerned that there would be those
'providers' of paedophilic porn who felt the need to regularly 'refresh'
their supply of images. It is a chilling though isn't it? Even so, I found
myself wondering whether that thought brought fears for me that were,
perhaps, quite out of proportion with reality: maybe I was stirring my own
subconscious memories; maybe I was just being pompous.
Now my friend has joined a long line of suicides who were sexually abused
as children, and I feel I must speak up.
Since 1997 I have been attempting to prepare some kind of document with
respect to all this for wider publication. My feeling is that if internet
service providers (ISP's) can be enlisted by the police and other authorities
to 'snoop' and provide information about customers downloading illegal
pornography, they could just as easily filter search terms - or better yet,
practice combinations of such search terms on a regular basis and then block
specific site names. Many ISPs do such work. It is part of their regular
housekeeping. But the pornographers are rich, determined, and - in the area
of under-age pornography - criminal. Banned sites are replicated, renamed
and replaced in days.
Why am I suddenly writing this today? My friend who committed suicide
was the victim of an active but secret ring of paedophiles. They are still
at large today. Only those who knew my friend, and believed her story, feel
any urge to speak up against her abusers. But we have no proof. It is
frustrating, but for her, at least, the pain is over. Meanwhile, on the
internet, vigilante groups and individuals work tirelessly and obsessively
both to trace and block certain porn sites and to offer - through 12 Step
programmes for sex-addiction - probably the only way out for some ensnared by
addiction to what the internet has to offer.
It has all gone public now. The ISP I use allows access to User Groups
by using the term 'alt' as a prefix. In "Google" (a popular search engine)
it is possible to reach a questionable array of offered sex sites with very
few key-strokes, and without actually typing a single world. The pathway to
'free' paedophilic imagery is - as it were - laid out like a free line of
cocaine at a decadent cocktail party: only the strong willed or terminally
uncurious can resist. Those vigilantes who research these pathways open
themselves up to internet 'snoops'. Many are willing to take the risk. They
believe the pathways themselves must be closed. They must be totally and
completely eradicated from the internet. If that is not possible they must
be openly policed by active and obstructive vigilantes - not just 'snooped'
by government agencies and police.
I understand the police believe that snooping on the internet might lead
them to active paedophiles - their philosophy being that it is the ones who
are secret who do the damage. In the case of my suicide friend I would have
to agree. However, in other countries children are not so precious. Brazil,
Russia and Thailand all have well-known and tragic orphanages and
street-children problems, and these countries probably provide source
material for many sites.
In my work fund-raising in the field of drug and alcohol rehabilitation I
have come across hundreds of individuals from the UK and Europe whose
problems have been triggered by childhood abuse. Not always, but often, the
abuse is sexual. Sometimes it is quite minor, but even those cases - for
some reason - spectacularly damaging. Not all addicts and alcoholics are
victims. They are, perhaps, a minority. But among those afflicted by
addiction abuse is terribly common. In some cases, what is so distressing is
how little it takes. For me, a few minor incidents seem to have created a
dark side to my nature which thankfully emerges only in creative work like
Tommy. It is not statistically true that all abusers of children were once
themselves abused. That can happen, but often - as in the case of my suicide
friend - abuse is part of a reward system of power conferred from one adult
person to another. But among pornographers only validation and cash matter.
What is certain is that the internet has brought the sexual abuse of children
into the open. It is not 'respectable' or 'acceptable' at any level of
society. It is simply in the open.
Many returning from my friend's funeral had wanted to punch her father
who was present. But they restrained themselves. Many present were
recovering alcoholics. They are not given to witch-hunts. They are wary of
hypocrisy. But given the chance, many of them would have told their own
stories about what was done to them by abusers sodden with drink or numb with
drugs, and possibly what they themselves did 'under the influence' that was
equally reprehensible. But if abusers and their accomplices are not
necessarily victims of abuse, and not necessarily men, then they are also not
necessarily drunk or drugged. Booze and drugs are here to stay. But it must
be time to do something more concrete to stop the proliferation of
questionable pornography that seems so readily and openly facilitated by the
Another danger is this: I think it must be obvious that many children are
becoming inured to pornography much too early and - as I have demonstrated -
the internet provides a very short route indeed to some of the most evil and
shocking images of rape and abuse.1
The subconscious mind is deeply damaged and indelibly scarred by the sight of
such images. I can assure everyone reading this that if they go off in
pursuit if images of paedophilic rape they will find them. I urge them not
to try. I pray too that they don't happen upon such images as did I, by
accident. If they do they may like me become so enraged and disturbed that
their dreams are forever haunted.
1 Software to filter out and block porn at home is often too complex and
sweeping to do the job, or too feeble. At the moment, it's all we have. I
recommend CyberPatrol - www.cyberpatrol.com - it isn't easy to set up, but it
is powerful. Once it is running it begins to make the internet feel a much
friendlier and safer place for our children