How I Found Out I Was Dating A Pedophile
© Illustration by Schnittlauchig
Predatory Age Gaps
"Share Your Story" submitted by K. Barsamian
I met my ex at a local community college. We were both considered nontraditional students and were tutors in the learning center. It's important to note that I came from a home that was as abusive as it was religious. My parents were Evangelical and controlling. They homeschooled me for the majority of my academic career, spent most of my childhood preparing for the end of the world, and did their best to isolate my siblings and me from anything "worldly." The feelings surrounding my attending college were mixed at best. I wasn't allowed to drive until age 19, and I didn't become a freshman in college until I was 20. I was still living at home at the time. He was 31.
We bonded over our mutual love of language. I was a monolingual and a writing tutor. He was multilingual and tutoring German. It didn't take long before he was teaching German to me, and we became fast friends. I didn't know it at the time, but there were many predatory tactics used. He told me how smart and mature I was all the time. After we started dating, I told him about my home life, and he revealed he knew I was from an abusive home before I even told him, before we became friends. He said he could tell just by looking at me, how I carried myself. I later learned this is how predators target the vulnerable, but it made me feel seen for the first time in my life. It felt like someone understood me.
Things continued to deteriorate and escalate at home. The friends I was making and the "anti-God" sentiment I was learning in class agitated my already paranoid and nervy parents. When it got physical at home, a school counselor advised me to evacuate home as soon as possible. When I did, my parents told me to never come back. The counselor said I should try to apply for the local women's center transitional living program, but they stated that they were only taking minorities and women with children at the time. I ended up bouncing between a nearby shelter as an overnight "walk-in," sleeping in my car, and crashing on the couches of friends I had only made within the last year. That's when he asked me to move in with him, and it felt like the logical choice. It wasn't what I wanted, but I knew I would never manage to finish my degree in my current living situation in the lingering wake of the Recession.
So I moved in with him. Within 3 months, I found out that he had a criminal record that included the false imprisonment of an ex-wife at gunpoint, which he spent 3 years in prison for. But I also found something else. I overheard him saying something to a friend of his that made my ears sting. He said that "age shouldn't be a deterrent to appreciating physical beauty." Maybe it was intuition, or maybe I just grew up with enough pedophiles to know a loaded statement when I heard one. I knew that I was going to look around the next time I was alone in the apartment. And I found exactly what I was looking for on a flash drive in the top drawer of his dresser. The image folder was labeled Jung, as all his stuff labeled was in German, and it contained, at least, several dozen photos of child pornography. They were of varying ages; between 3 years-of-age to pre-teen, and some were engaged in sexual acts. I looked at every single picture, in complete horror and shock, not believing what I was seeing. I still remember their faces.
My snooping took almost all day, and I realized that he was coming home from work soon, so I quickly put everything back. And tried to act natural when he got home, but I was shaking. I told him that I needed some air and was going for a walk. I think I left with a soda in my hand and without a jacket because I was already somewhere far outside the room. My mind was shutting down.
I walked to the Lutheran church at the end of the block, which had closed indefinitely. So I walked the mile to the college. He caught up to me there, and I did the wrong thing: I confronted him. I confronted him, and he denied it, then admitted it, and cried and sobbed and promised that he would get help, that nobody could ever know, that he loved me, that he would see a therapist, and that he has never touched a child, and the pictures were just a progression of seeking "stronger and stronger" porn. He begged for forgiveness and a chance to seek help. And I agreed to it, partly because I was stupid and partly because I was scared of him.
He said he would sort out things later and that I should see my friends tonight. I went, and he deleted everything on the flash drive. I thought there goes all the evidence, no going back now. He kept the wiped drive in a dish of other flash drives on his desk now. I can see it clearly, the black one with a slash translucent orange plastic standing out among the rest. I moved into the living room with a sleeping bag, and as weeks ticked by, it became clear that he wasn't seeking help. That he wasn't sorry about anything but getting caught. We fought about it constantly. He threw a book in front of me that was in German, which I still wasn't nearly fluent enough to read, on the topic. He said that he couldn't be a pedophile (false) because they only target specific ages (false) according to this book (false).
I moved into an acquaintance's basement. It was temporary and not ideal. Things were tense between me and the rest of the home from the get-go, and I got a foot infection from the vermin droppings there. I moved around some more, each place just as precarious as the last. It's about a year after the fact, and a friend tells me that data on a wiped flash drive can be restored. Eventually, I talked to an officer from a nearby town who encouraged me to report it. The PD of my city was not nearly as nice as him. I was asked some questions by a detective; I wrote my statement to be added to the report. After, I was grilled about why I didn't come forward sooner, why the change of heart now, etc., etc. I was already terrified to be there. I was incapable of being an advocate for myself, so I said I didn't know. I submitted my netbook that I viewed the flash drive on into evidence. Nothing was found on there, they said it had been too long. A few weeks go by, and the DA denied the warrant to search his home, and it was implied that it was my fault he wouldn't be brought to justice and was still out there and could potentially harm a kid. "You waited too long to come in," is what the detective said.
It took a long time for my life to course correct. I never ended up finishing that degree. But I do have a stable life now, and I work on a wonderful crew for a state agency that monitors paroled offenders. Many are felons who have committed sex crimes against children, and many are on for possession of child pornography. It's a job that is as rewarding and as it is triggering, knowing that my ex should have gone back to prison, should be on the sex offender registry list for life, and should be on monitoring in my state. Every photo is its own crime, its own victim that is victimized as many times as it is viewed.
If you are a person who finds themselves in my position ever, please do not remove child pornography from the premise and do not confront the owner. Get away from the person in question and call 911. There are few resources to treat pedophilia outside of corrections at this time, so don't believe any claims to seek help if the person finds out that you know. This person should be seen as a legitimate threat to the world's most vulnerable demographic, children. And, above all us, understand that this is not your fault, whatever the outcome. I spent years feeling tainted and burdened by this crime and responsible for him still being out there. It took having a therapist explain that guilt and helplessness often feel the same, but shouldn't be mistaken for each other. Don't feel guilty for waiting to report until you are in a place of safety. You are not the person who committed the crime, you are one of the many who was betrayed by it being committed. These are the things I wish I had known in my early 20s, and now that I am the age of my ex when I met him all those years ago, I have paid extra close attention to people in their early 20s. It doesn't matter how mature they might be, I would never date someone so young, and people should question anyone who would be attracted to the power dynamic of being with someone that much younger.