It is good that you have resisted your urges to interact with children in a sexual way, online or otherwise. If you were to do so and were caught, you could go to prison for a very long time. With the passage of new federal laws in the United States, sentences for sex offenses are quite lengthy. Depending on the specific crime, and the state in which you live, you could easily be sentenced to a decade or more of prison. In the case of sex offenders, there are instances when you can be kept longer than your specific sentence. Let’s say, for instance, you had received a sentence of 10 years for a sex offense but at the end of 10 years, the state has determined, through evaluation, that you are at a high risk of reoffending. In that case, you could be held indefinitely, even after you had served your 10-year sentence. The mechanism under which that outcome is possible, is civil commitment. All states have civil commitment laws. States can use them to indefinitely incarcerate sex offenders who are deemed dangerous to others.
In addition, individuals who engage in sex offenses are placed on a registry. The registry is public and available on the Internet. That means your name would be listed on the registry, as well as your picture, your home address, and details about the crime you committed. The stated purpose of the registry is to warn the public against potential predators.
As a registered sex offender, you might also be asked to appear at a state police barracks, possibility up to three times a year, to verify that you did not leave the state, that you are following all of the rules imposed upon you by the state, and that you are not using the Internet inappropriately or interacting with children, among other things.
As you can see, the punishment for harming a child is severe. The United States punishes those who harm children very harshly. Where they may be lacking, is preventing it from happening in the first place. To the best of my knowledge, there are no prevention programs in the United States for potential sex offenders. Perhaps the only prevention program in the world exists in Germany. The Dunkelfeld project is geared towards prevention. It provides therapy that works to alter child sex offending and reduce related behaviors. Studies have shown it to be a promising program.
Even though the United States does not have a comparable prevention project like the one Germany has, you are not helpless. There are things you can do to protect yourself against harming a child. The main one is counseling. A therapist would likely have to report you, if you had harmed a child but you haven’t harmed any children. Thinking about it is not a crime.
In fact, the DSM-V, the manual that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health disorders, distinguishes between individuals who desire sex with children and those who have actually had sex with children. The former group, is no longer classified as having a psychiatric condition. Individuals are not automatically labeled as having a mental illness if they have fantasies involving children. However, it is worrisome that you have fantasies involving children. These should not be ignored. It’s potentially indicative of pedophilia and you want to do everything in your power to discourage those fantasies and to prevent yourself from acting on them. Therapy can help.
Specifically, therapy can help you to control your urges. If you ignore them and they don’t go away, you might be tempted to do something illegal. They might become more intense and more difficult to control. The most important thing is to ensure that you never harm a child. Therapy can help you to keep your desires in check and ensure that you never harm a child. Remember, it is not a crime to think about certain things or to fantasize. There is no such thing as the thought police. You can’t get into trouble for thoughts or fantasies but this doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Now is the opportune time to seek treatment, before anything bad has happened.
I hope this answer convinces you to try therapy. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle