The Grim Truth – Researching and Writing about Paedophiles, and those that Hunt them …

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“My son works with one of those paedophile hunters.”

It’s enough to catch anyone’s attention, when you’re just sat on their couch, chilling.

They worked together as chefs in a County Durham pub. That was all that was said, at first, but for the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t take the idea from my mind. And the more I thought about the concept – working class people rising up, taking the law into their own hands, rooting out men who wanted to have sex with children, who were actively seeking to have sex with children – the more I understood this was a book I needed to write.

Taking them out

I got in touch with the man who inspired Billy, my novel’s main character. He invited me into his house and was honest, not only about his work as a paedophile hunter, but about his past history of abuse and how it affected him. I met him numerous times, a man many would class an outsider, part of an underclass, someone to be feared. I found a good man, striving to move forwards, honest, too honest some would suggest. I respect him hugely, I always will. I love the man, as I do the woman who inspired Stacey, the mother of his child, a beautiful woman and mother who again, was honest about her work as a hunter and her own past. They took me in, as one of their family. They trusted me.

Next, I saw the woman who inspired the hunter Michele. I’ve only met her a couple of times, but I’d trust her with my life. The first thing this woman did, except for welcome me into her home and make me a cup of tea, was to log onto Facebook and show me how many friend requests her thirteen-year old decoy girl had received in the past two days.

This was the moment things hit home. There were eighty-seven friend requests in just two days, and that was just for one of Michele’s decoy profiles.

We flicked through the profiles of the men who had sent friend requests to her thirteen-year old decoy. We read the messages they’d sent her, some a little seedy, some downright disgusting, but most of them friendly, on the surface level, reaching out to an underage girl in the hope they could strike up an online relationship, with the fantasy of something more.

All that time with Billy and Stacey, discovering their own lives, what they thought about the work they did, then half an hour with Michele and it was like I’d been punched in the gut. Yes me, a middle-aged man who’s never been abused in his life. All that previous online reading I’d stopped, because it was too horrible, because I didn’t want to believe it: about high-society paedophile rings operating for decades, preying on vulnerable children; about scum like Jimmy Saville being allowed to abuse, time and time again, despite so many knowing what he was doing. There’s a lot of guilty people about, and it’s definitely not just the abusers. And there, in front of me, as we flicked through Michele’s mobile phone, was proof that paedophilia was widespread, on every estate in every town and city.

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Michele showed me past messages of men she’d already caught, how their chats turned from trivial and friendly to pushing and perverted. I saw photographs of erect penises, watched videos of them masturbating, heard what they said to whom they believed were underage girls. We looked at their profiles and found real underage girls on their friends list. Michele confessed to feeling sick at the thought of them being groomed, that they may have been abused already. She put me in touch with Gary, the hunters’ boss.

I met Gary in a carpark where he often stung paedophiles with his team. He revealed how they operated, why he created the group and how he managed his team, then admitted they were revealing just the tiny tip of a giant iceberg. He answered my numerous questions over the following months, arranged for me to meet him outside court and spend time with him as paedophiles his hunting group had stung, were sentenced. I walked into court with him, sat down with him next to one of these paedophiles, and I realised what a strong man Gary was, doing all this work for free, incredibly long hours, seven days a week and often very disturbing. I watched the magistrate read out the paedophile’s previous offences, not only against fake decoy children, but against real children as well. Please don’t fall for the argument that these are not real children the men are targeting, so therefore we should be far more lenient. These are men actively seeking to groom and have sex with children, and they’re usually connected to real children as well as decoys. And don’t sell me that entrapment argument, not with hunting groups like these, who do not reach out to anybody, but simply wait for people to come to them. Respect to Guardians of the North, to Dark Justice, and all those hunting groups that work alongside the police, not instead of them. They are not vigilantes; they are a community service doing their best to protect our children.

When I’d written all my notes and transcribed all recorded interviews, I began to plot and write. That’s when I realised I’d have to write from the point of view of paedophiles, I’d have to enter the mindset of men who wanted to have sex with children, show their fantasies and reveal some of their previous abusing. It honestly never occurred to me this was something I would have to do. But Paedophile Hunters is similar to crime fiction, yet instead of detectives we have normal working class folk, struggling with their own lives and trying their best to catch ‘wrong ‘uns’. And instead of serial killers, whose point of view we dip into as the narrative progresses, for the purpose of depth and suspense, we have paedophiles. Thankfully, somehow, I’m able to compartmentalise in my head; I’m not sure how sometimes, but I can. I can put my writer’s head on and take it off again, just like I can usually return from a long shift in a hostel for  homeless young people and leave that version of me back there. It’s useful, most of the time.

There was no point having my hunters catch the same type of paedophile over and over again though; that doesn’t make a gripping story. I intensified the narrative as the story progressed. Back I went, to those horrible stories of elite paedophilia, of the powerful abusing the vulnerable, as they have done so in so many different guises throughout history. I researched the dark web, the mindsets of paedophiles and the addictive nature of fantasy, particularly that of a deviant sexual nature. I watched porn, legal adult porn, but I never once saw an image of child abuse or accessed the dark web. There was no way I was putting images into my head that would never leave again. And yet, the whole process must have had an impact upon me, because when I’d finished the novel, I was so relieved I pledged not to start another in the whole of 2020, but rather spend more time with my family and be creative in other ways. And when I gave Paedophile Hunters to someone to read through, she reached halfway then wouldn’t continue, asking if I’d become anaesthetised to the horrors within. We discussed this. You can’t possibly feel the impact of a novel that you’ve created, in the same way someone else, reading it for the first time, might. My friend reminded me crime novels had moments of horror, but they built towards them through suggestion and foreshadowing. I went back through my novel and played with the balance between graphic and suggestive, transforming some of the former into the latter. But the story is still terrifying and graphic in places. It’s a step up from all those crime novels we see everywhere these days, and it’s more terrifying because it has to be, because it’s real, it’s all around us. Pick up the papers. Look at social media. Corona virus dominates right now, understandably so, but beforehand, and afterwards, you’ll see articles on sexual abuse and paedophilia on a daily basis, and not just from your local estates. Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, all those Catholic priests and Muslim grooming gangs, children’s homes where sexual abuse was widespread. You’ll see headlines that talk of an older man ‘having sex’ with a fifteen year old girl, and hopefully say to yourself no, that’s not sex, that’s rape. You’ll remember articles stating 114 files of sexual abuse including politicians were somehow ‘lost’, by Theresa May or Leon Brittan. Then there’s the investigation into Child Sex Abuse, where several chairs resigned, or were persuaded to step down. And then there’s the stories many of you won’t know about, such as that of Melanie Shaw. Feel free to Google her.

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So why didn’t I get an agent or publisher for this book? You tell me; it’s written well enough, it’s topical enough, and there’s a public appetite for such stories. Paedophile Hunting teams are hugely popular on social media. Newspapers love to use the videos of their stings on their websites. Perhaps the publishing world don’t want to go there. Perhaps they’d rather turn a blind eye, like the rest of society, like all those people in Rotherham, Nottingham, Newcastle and Telford, like all those people with Saville, Epstein and Weinstein. Is this what society has come to? Is this what art is these days? So sanitised we only want something that looks nice and matches our curtains? That doesn’t reveal and provoke? This is not the purpose of art, surely, and nor is it the purpose of writing. True, there is a place for the sanitised, the safe and comfortable, but there should always remain a place for truth, however uncomfortable it may be at times. And in the case of Paedophile Hunters, the majority of the story is about the hunters themselves, rising up from their own abuse, conquering their own demons by snaring abusers. And these hunters are people we should be proud of. Read the book and tell me you disagree, I dare you.

When I finished the novel, I approached Gary, the hunters leader, and said I wanted to donate some of my profits to his group, to cover traveling costs and car maintenance. No, he said, I don’t want your money. I’d rather you gave it to real children, to charities that support abused children. That is the measure of the man, and the people in his team, and so that is what I’ll do …

Imagine: a paedophile grooming a twelve-year old girl, then going to have sex with her. But it’s a trap, and instead, he’s confronted by Billy, a twenty-five year old cage-fighter who’s been to prison three times and was abused in childhood.

Join Billy, his pregnant girlfriend and their fellow hunters, as they come to terms with their own abuse by posing online as children. Discover a community taking matters into their own hands, snaring paedophiles from all walks of life, from so-called family men and loners, to procurers working for rich and powerful paedophile rings.

Richard W Hardwick, acclaimed writer of The Truth About Prison and Kicked Out, spent a year with the most notorious and successful paedophile hunting gang in Britain. This is what he found …

Hunters Kindle Cover

Buy my book, take a photograph of it and tag me in it on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll donate fifty percent of my profits to charities that support abused children, or adults that were abused as children. The power of story can illuminate even the darkest of places. It resonates inside us and has done so since before we learned to read and write, when oral story-telling was all we had. If you’re lucky, you had loving parents that read to you as a child and helped open your mind. Here is a story that is difficult at times, but important, and that needs telling. And here is a way to make a small difference. Thank you.

Paedophile Hunters can be bought here …

My posts are always open for discussion and debate, but not insult and slander. Feel free to agree or disagree, respectfully.

Connect with Richard W Hardwick …

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The Truth About Prison, the world’s most successful agent and a reformed murderer …

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I didn’t want to publish The Truth About Prison myself, I may as well admit that straight away. I thought it was a book agents and publishers would snap up. It’s topical, it’s revealing, it’s shocking and humorous at times, it’s important and, though I say it myself, it’s bloody fascinating.

 

If you’re interested in prisons and what happens inside them, then this is the book for you. It brings stories from inside young offenders institutes, local prisons and high security prisons, from male and female prisons, from the views of prisoners and prison officers, as well as others. If you want to know what education is offered inside prisons, hear stories from inside classrooms, and find out why prisoners are paid more for sweeping floors than achieving qualifications, then this is the book for you. If you want to know how effective the Psychology Departments and their offending related courses are, and understand how much power Psychology holds over prisoners, their categorization and release dates, then this is the book for you. If you’re interested in knowing the effect of privatisation on prisons and the Probation Service, then yes, you’ve guessed it; this is still the book for you.

And there’s plenty more too: drugs, violence and gangs; prisoners taking control of whole wings; terrorists converting others to their cause; sex between inmates and with officers; leaving prison after five, ten, fifteen years inside and having to get on with your life under the supervision of Probation and inside their hostels; looking back now and wondering whether prison changed you for the better; and the heart-breaking stories of family members left outside when their loved ones are locked up, and their experiences of how they managed to cope or not, and visiting inside.

I traveled around England and Wales for a year and a half, recording stories of all those involved. I did this quietly because I’d signed the Official Secrets Act whilst working in a high security prison and I was worried I’d be in massive trouble for revealing the truth. That’s what high security prisons do to you; they make you paranoid and feel like you’re under investigation yourself, even if you’ve done no wrong. The professionals are anonymous, because they need to be. If you tell the truth about prison, and certain things that happen inside them, then you face being disciplined or sacked. Most prisoners didn’t care about anonymity, except for the man sentenced to fourteen years for child sex offences – he understandably did – but they accepted the anonymous names given to them.

And so I approached agents. Here it is I told them; the most complete book on prison ever written. Within a few hours, one of them got back to me. ‘This looks interesting,’ wrote Andrew Lownie. ‘Who else in publishing have you approached and what was the response?’ He suggested I write a more detailed proposal. Amongst other things he wanted to know:

The five most recent competing and comparable books, giving author, title, publisher and date of publication, together with a note on how the books relate to the author’s own book but also how mine is unique.

One page on specialist marketing outlets

½ page synopsis per section/chapter – about ten pages

He wanted the final wordcount no more than eighty thousand words, and more importantly, he suggested the book be completely restructured, so that, instead of monologues one after the other, the book addressed topics in chapter format. I was unsure about this last bit of advice and engaged in e-mail conversations about it, but then I googled Andrew Lownie again, and found he was the top selling agent in the world for each of the last four years. And so I did what he wanted, and realised he was correct. I took a week off work, immersed myself in the whole manuscript and cut the text down from eighty to sixty thousand, so I could build it back up again with incoming interviewees. I cut apart monologues on the computer, printed them out and then cut them out on paper, before laying them out all over the living room floor to arrange the order.

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And every so often, I failed to contain a little tremble inside – the world’s best agent! This could be the book that finally broke me upwards into the next level, where writers can concentrate on writing instead of working part time/full time to pay the bills and put food on the table; the fabled promised land, that only the very few reach. Kicked Out was written whilst I worked full time in an emergency access homeless hostel, fitting into a shift rota, doing sleep-ins and twenty-four hour shifts, and often dealing with crisis. Andalucía and St Cuthbert’s Final Journey were written on the dining room table, whilst I worked as a teacher in prisons. A loft conversion helped with the yet to be released novel Black Streams. But then I sent the new manuscript to Andrew, and he pontificated for a while, before replying, “many thanks for this. I found it very interesting but I fear it’s not going to be sufficiently commercial for my list. Sorry but good luck with your approaches elsewhere.” I was gutted. Almost there, and then back to the bottom of the slush pile again. I sent to a few other publishers and agents and received responses such as “incredibly interesting but due to our existing commitments, this is not a project we would be able to handle at the moment.”

This is writing. This is life. You encounter hurdles, you navigate over them and keep on going. And so I decided to publish it myself, as I did with Andalucía and St Cuthbert’s Final Journey. The publishing world is a slow moving dinosaur. It can take months or years to get a publisher once you’ve secured an agent, if you’re lucky enough to get an agent in the first place. Statistics show that top agencies take on board one or two new writers a year and receive at least three hundred manuscripts every month, and most publishers only accept manuscripts from agents so you’re forced to go down that route. And then, if you sign a contact with a publisher, it often takes a year for your book to come out, because there’s plenty of others stacked up before yours. And so I published it myself, because I know what I’m doing, and I can get the book out quickly. Prisons are topical, we know that, there’s always something happening that makes the headlines. Get it finished and get it out there.

But I had to prove to myself that others would find this book as fascinating as I do. And so I sent a copy of the manuscript to Erwin James, probably the best person to make such an assessment. Erwin was convicted of murder in 1984, and it was in prison that he found he had a talent for writing. He won awards and started writing a weekly article for The Guardian. He was released in 2004 and still writes for The Guardian, and his books about prison are beautifully written and considered classics. He absolutely loved the book and wrote me the following quote:

“Different to any other book on prison. Compelling and quite breath-taking in its scope of insights, giving a voice to the only people that really know” – Erwin James

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And so here I am again; publishing myself, with a wonderful quote from a wonderful writer. And I say it again; if you want to know anything about prisons, whether they work and what really goes on inside them, then this is the book for you.

You can read the five-star reviews and buy the book on Amazon by clicking here …

Or you can visit the official website and read the first three chapters for free by clicking here …

 

Kicked Out

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A novel to stand up alongside Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, offering a window into the youth of today. A fantastic book expressing the cynicism and dissatisfaction of those on the edge of society

Waterstone’s Recommended Read

The narrative is so strong, the characters and dialogue so real, the situation so heart-breaking. This is masterful and should win several literary prizes

Patricia J. Delois, award-winning author of Bufflehead Sisters

Hardwick’s writing has the power and humanity to make you wonder about the way you see the world, and to give voice to those whose stories usually remain untold

Laura Brewis, New Writing North

A truly compelling page-turner

Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners

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Sixteen-year-old Danny is kicked out by his parents and has nowhere to go but a shelter for homeless teenagers. There he finds a friend in the more experienced Goochy, who helps him find his feet. But the other residents are every bit as troubled and complex as Danny, and with drugs, alcohol, crime, sex and violence always on the cards, the house is soon simmering like a pressure cooker about to blow. In this turbulent environment, between binges and wild escapades, Danny begins to reflect and grow. But a discovery about his family places him under a pressure he cannot contain…

Kicked Out draws on the author’s experiences of working with young homeless and young offenders and is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand today’s unwanted youth. Hard-hitting and unsentimental without being bleak, gripping, at times hilarious – you will never look at kids on the street in the same way again.

Copies now available for just £3.99 here at the Lapwing Books website. If you would like a personally signed and dedicated copy then please contact Richard at richard@lapwingbooks.com or leave a comment below

 

Andalucia

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Told with courage, humour and love, Andalucia weaves past and present with great skill so the pace of the narrative never falters. There is a zest for life on every page that I found both moving and inspiring

Pat Barker – winner of The Booker Prize

This absolutely captivated me. I couldn’t put it down. One of the best books I’ve read…breath-taking

Janette Jenkins  – author of Angel of Brooklyn, Little Bones and Firefly

Tender and potent: a beautifully crafted narrative, rich with love and free of sentimentality. A story for every family that has been menaced by cancer

Barry Stone, author of Barking at Winston

When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, every second you have left with them is precious.

Richard W Hardwick wrote about his partner’s breast cancer to help him cope, and then he wrote about their past because he was scared she might not be there to help him remember it for the children. Andalucía tells the story of a young couple falling in love in the Golan Heights and Israel, living in the cheapest hostel in Amsterdam’s red-light district and becoming homeless in Greece. Past and present is skilfully woven together to form a unique and beautiful portrait of a family facing the ultimate fear.

Gripping, heart-breaking, raw and inspiring, Andalucía is an unforgettable journey, both geographically and of the soul. It is also a life-affirming celebration of the strength of human spirit, the healing power of nature, and the endurance, and importance, of community.

Andalucia front cover

Absolutely beautiful, heart-breaking story, written with the deepest passion. I was bawling within the first couple of paragraphs

–Genevieve Graham

A beautiful piece of work, deeply moving. Your writing flows effortlessly and you are a wonderful storyteller
– Mala Iyer

Every reader will empathize with the words and wish they could express their emotion so well. So well they draw tears from strangers
– Francene Stanley

Andalucia can be bought at Lapwing Books website for £5.99. If you want a personally signed and dedicated copy then please contact richard@lapwingbooks.com or leave a comment below when ordering

Just Having a Wank? The Fantasies, Addictions and Dangers with Pornography …

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Twenty-eight girls in grid format; a Kandinsky of poses and pouts, nipples and lips, fleshy breasts and fuck me eyes. Gold Show and Party Chat. Anal and Asian. Teen and Trimmed. Girls from all over the world, and you can have your pick, you can have any of them you desire, every day of your life.

And why limit it to one? You can have a threesome, or more, participate in an orgy if that turns you on. You can do whatever you want, have this girl do whatever you want. No raised eyebrows or questions asked; just straight to action, because yes, she really is gagging for it.

porn article

 

Porn is easy. You don’t have to wonder if your screen is too tired or not in the mood. You don’t have to worry that the last time you turned on your screen, you didn’t perform to the best of your ability, that the screen wasn’t satisfied and maybe even faked it just to get it over with. The screen doesn’t care about such things; it’s always available and will do whatever you want. Any negative emotions or insecurities you have about your own body or performance simply dissolve into the brain changing beauty of sexual fantasy – until you’re finished of course, and then your reality comes sinking back in.

Porn is the most accessed content on the internet; I’ve read that numerous times over the years. And during this worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, with so many people quarantined at home, it’s being watched even more. The world’s biggest site, Pornhub, have given worldwide users free access to its Premium Service for a month of lockdown, with their figures rising almost twelve percent.  The pornography industry is enormous, raking in an estimated $16.9 billion each year in the United States alone. Twenty-five percent of search engine requests are related to sex. Every second, more than 28 million internet users are viewing porn. And yet people don’t talk about it, don’t write about it, often don’t even admit it, except for a tipsy attempt at humour in the pub or inside the safety of a WhatsApp group, and even then, it’s just met with a knowing smirk. There are stigmas everywhere; mental health, drugs and alcohol, eating disorders. It seems to me we are talking about those a little more nowadays, but yet we’re still not talking about porn.

So what is it about porn, and its grip on certain people? Why do people come back to porn time and time again, for their daily, weekly, whatever, fix? Is it just the lure of a beautiful body? An easy elevation of dopamine and oxytocin that brings feelgood factors? Is fantasy really harmless?

Fantasy in general, has advantages and disadvantages, like most things. It’s the law of gravity; that what goes up, must come back down. Look around you, at those people that get so excited, that are full of life and spontaneous fun. I’d bet you my last dollar that the same people struggle with depression, although they may keep it hidden from others. Maybe you’re one of those people and know instinctively what this feels like? You can’t have high without low, happy without sad. And when it comes to fantasy, and for the purpose of this article, sexual fantasy, those chemical changes and highs in the brain, are often followed by low, by shame, or just a sink back into boring reality, when contrasted with where you’ve just been.

Scientific studies and research agree that fantasy creates depression.

“Although a positive future outlook is generally associated with psychological well-being, indulging in positive fantasies about the future has been found to exacerbate negative mood-related outcomes such as depressive symptoms” – ScienceDirect.com.

Research also agrees that fantasies are more than simple dreaming; they are connected to our sense of self.

“Indulging in fantasies may seem like a waste of time, but they are far from frivolous. Most fantasies serve a specific purpose: they can be entertaining, distracting, frightening, or, in the case of sexual fantasies, arousing” – Psychology Today.

Fantasies are normal, this article continues, though people often wonder if they are, particularly when the fantasies are of a sexual nature.  These fantasies generally don’t harm the individual fantasising or anyone else, are about far more than sex itself and are often related to other personality traits or self-judgements, such as not feeling valued or wanted, not having emotional connections.

Should we not fantasise? If fantasy leads to depression, should we not dream of a better future? Life can be difficult and dreary. Should we just accept this? I guess that depends on the amount of fantasy you indulge in, and in this case, the amount of porn you are viewing. You could split these arguments in two, where on one side, you are wandering inside the fantasies of your own mind, then on the other, you are pulled by the lure of the screen, to an increasing awareness you can’t get aroused on your own, without pornography. This latter argument links into a much greater debate; the addiction of screen, of social media, that compulsion to check your notifications, to see who’s liked your posts. This is linked to our own sense of self, to how we want others to view us, how we see ourselves in comparison. We are creating patterns through our neural pathways, then solidifying them every time we turn back to the screen, even when it’s to focus away from the self, to see what other people are displaying on social media, to passively consume ‘other,’ to escape into television and film. The lure of screen is all around us, and if we’re honest, now we have phones to carry around at all times, it’s a fight many of us are engaged in, and often losing. Combine this with the powerful nature of sexual desire and fantasy, and here lies a constant battle for many.

Be honest. Is pornography causing a problem? Are you viewing it too much? Have you tried to stop but been unable to? Is it interfering in your daily life? Your relationships? Let’s give more thought to the claim fantasy produces depression, and let’s tailor that thought towards pornography.

Porn is more accessible than ever, has become a daily part of people’s lives, particularly young people, and refining this further, particularly young men. It’s changing the way everyone sees sex, how people expect their partners to perform, and how people, particularly males, expect others, particularly females, to look.

A 2020 Guardian survey found porn can often get out of control and affect men’s relationships with their wives. A large number of respondents said they would far rather be having a good sex life with their wife, but they feared this would never happen, now they’d been in a relationship for so long and the excitement wasn’t there anymore. Having children had drained both husband and wife of their sexual energies, or at least one of them. The lure of pornography was simply too easy. It satisfied quickly. But of course, this is only temporary, whereas what follows is often longer lasting.

Anxiety and depression can slowly seep in, and sometimes people don’t even link this with viewing pornography. Partners may not have the same body as the porn-stars, and viewers may not either (unless it’s the type of porn where some older fat bloke has his way with beautiful younger women -and then it’s just not fair; how he can have this and you can’t?). Viewers may not be able to pleasure their partners like in porn, or last as long. Their penis may not be as big, their breasts not so plump or pert. Their partner might not want to do those things. Their sex life may not be as adventurous. And how could it be? Everything goes in porn, if you search for it. You may get the feeling that everyone else is doing it more than you, better than you, and with sexier and more adventurous partners than you.

So why do people keep going back to porn if these side effects are true? The way out of boredom, of feelings of inadequacy, of frustration with current life, is to search for those highs again, those dopamine rushes. It’s the same with drugs and alcohol. It’s the reason why so many people are addicted to shopping online, when they clearly don’t need the purchases, why comfort eating is such a thing for people who desperately want to lose weight. Add the above to natural sexual urges, among the strongest urges many of us have, the need to follow them or find relief from them, throw in the power of fantasy, and there’s a very strong pull, on both body and mind.

porn on mobile

Is porn addictive? While many health and psychiatric professionals do not consider porn addiction to be an ‘addiction’ in the clinical sense of the word, the signs and symptoms are often strikingly similar to those of alcohol or drug addiction. In 2014, a Cambridge University study found that pornography triggers brain activity in sex addicts in the same way drugs trigger drug addicts.

My favourite quote about addiction is this, from the writer and teacher of spirituality and sexuality, David Deida:

“Addiction is compulsive, ritualised comfort seeking …”

I get this; it makes sense to me. Deida is writing about addiction in general here, not pornography, but if you think you do something too much, anything, I’d settle here a moment and consider that quote. The first step to dealing with addiction, or compulsive behaviour, is to understand the root of it.

And addictions don’t always come in isolation; they often come grouped together, making them harder to break apart and work on. For many, pornography is sought after the viewer has drank alcohol, or perhaps smoked a cannabis joint, or even taken both. Combine these and you’re taking your dopamine highs to a whole new level. That addiction, that high, will be more intense and have more control over you. And if you’re using porn to overcome or divert from emotional and personal issues you’re not addressing otherwise, then that could exacerbate drug and alcohol dependencies as well as these personal issues.

“Pornography addiction often arises from maladaptive efforts to use porn to alleviate loneliness and other negative feelings. In this view, pornography use is a two-phase process of arousal and euphoria during sexual stimulation, followed by relief and comfort after completion. Pornography provides temporary relief, but ultimately induces greater feelings of loneliness and isolation, disrupting normal attachment behaviour, leading to greater difficulty forming stable, satisfying relationships, and further increasing the likelihood of using pornography as a substitute for intimacy with close others” – Psychology Today.

Don’t forget; porn isn’t real, or at least the commercialised professional side of it isn’t. Yes, they’re having sex, but they’re told what to do, what to say, what noises to make. If a woman wants to be successful in commercial porn, she has to play the game like she’s told to.

“We’re just like mainstream actors, except for the sex,” says Dani Daniels, adult actress and director, speaking to Fortune Magazine. “If Brad Pitt played a serial rapist, would you believe he was one in real life? Well, I’m not a blackmailing doctor, or a horny eighteen-year-old schoolgirl, or a sex addict. I just play one.”

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Daniels recognizes the importance of drawing lines between reality and fantasy, especially when on set with other performers. “The director will call cut and I’ll baby wipe my cheek off and we’ll go back to talking about his wife and what paint colors they picked out for the new house. Shower, hugs, I go home to my family, he goes home to his. That’s normal.”

Similar to professional athletes, male performers must develop a routine. While performing, men must focus on timing, where the camera is, and what angle might be best for the camera, not necessarily what feels good.

“When we’re shooting live, I’m looking up at the monitor every couple of minutes to see what we need next,” says Dan Leal, a male porn actor. “Imagine you’re in bed and looking at flashcards.”

Can porn be healthy?  Can there be positives from watching porn?  Some people just have a higher sex drive than others, and if one partner watches porn to satisfy their higher sex-drive whilst simultaneously maintaining a healthy sex-life with a partner, then there’s something to be said for that. Or if someone watches porn whilst single, or partners like to watch porn together, where’s the harm? Another argument might state it’s the amount of porn you view that depends on whether or not it’s healthy for you. And yet it’s not just about ourselves, is it? We often focus on ourselves, whilst ignoring the welfare of others.

What about porn and young people? What’s the effect of an increasingly sexualised society on our young women, our daughters and granddaughters? What’s the effect on our young men?  Jon Ronson, creator of the Butterfly Effect and The Last Days of August podcasts, claims “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every twelve year old in the world, where porn isn’t restricted, is getting their sex education from Pornhub.” Age restrictions on porn sites often consist of no more than a button to click claiming to be eighteen or older. The average age of first exposure to pornography is now only eleven years old. According to The Recovery Village, as many as 93.2% of boys and 62.1% of girls first see porn before they turn eighteen. And according to the Guardian, “British teenagers are increasingly turning to pornography as an educational tool because schools do not tell them ‘what to do’ in early sexual encounters, with teachers instead focusing on issues such as contraception.”

That doesn’t come without issues, of course. Erectile dysfunction in 2014 was reported as going up one thousand percent in sixteen to twenty-four year olds, linked to the rise in pornography.  And in 2019, NHS experts noted a further increase in erectile dysfunction in otherwise healthy young men, and again, considered excessive porn use the most likely factor. Suffice to say, failure to perform in real life, after watching excessive porn, is hardly going to help a young man at a crucial stage of his life deal with confidence and esteem issues.

Porn has also changed how many young women present themselves, and not just the increasing proliferation of lip enhancements and breast enlargements. Of course, there’s always been fashions for young women to follow, and of course young women have often wanted to appear attractive, or sexy. But now we have girls as young as twelve and thirteen being shamed by boys, and sometimes other girls too, because they’re not wearing thongs, because they have hair under their arms and between their legs. They are being told this is disgusting; they should be smooth and hairless at all times. But our bodies naturally grow hair, so where does this come from? It comes from pornography, from the shaving of vaginas because pubic hair got in the way of close-up shots. So you might be watching adult porn, you might be watching two consensual adults having sex, but the boys in your daughter’s class are watching it too, and they’ve grown up with easy access to all forms of pornography, and their views on females and sex is changing because of it. And your daughter, or your granddaughter, your niece or friend’s daughter, could be shamed at such a vulnerable emotional age, because she’s doesn’t conform to what the pornography industry has helped standardise. She may be called a ‘freak’ or ‘frigid’ and may even struggle to get a boyfriend at the age of fifteen, because she won’t send sexy pictures of herself when asked by boys.

And yeah, I know I’m taking pot-shots at males here, and I know females watch porn too. In fact, some statistics claim a third of all porn is watched by women. But it’s almost always filmed from a male point of view, showing power over women that never refuse sex and that verges on, or explicitly shows, the using and abusing of their bodies. Women are almost exclusively submissive in porn. Things are done to them that satisfy the male ego and sex-drive. Is this a healthy way to view sex and sexuality? We live in a society where men are conditioned to feel in charge, to be powerful, in so many ways other than sexuality. Why can’t a man be submissive in sexuality? Why can’t a woman take charge? No wonder all these poor young men suffer from erectile dysfunction. Porn star and producer Casey Calvert states men’s sexuality is as nuanced and varied as women’s, and that most of her requests “are from men for cuckolding and hot wife stuff, or stuff where the woman is more dominant than the man,” and the men are often apologetic about it, because they think it’s something to be ashamed of, but it turns them on.

And while being turned on is fine, as long as it’s consensual and doesn’t hurt anybody, we drift back to fantasy now, because the longer you fantasise about something, for those who have pornography addictions, the more you become anaesthetised to its allure. Over time, it fails to do its job, and so you need something else to arouse you. Again, we could compare this with drugs and alcohol. You have to delve deeper to get the same level of kicks, like the body’s tolerance rising after repeated drug taking or alcohol drinking.

And here, we’re talking about a slippery slope, often abusive, where consensual sex turns into voyeurism, where the women doesn’t realise she’s being watched. ‘Upskirting,’ the practice of taking a picture up female skirts without permission, was outlawed under the new Voyeurism Act 2019, with offenders facing up to two years in jail and being placed on the sex offenders register. And that’s not all. What about those so-called porn-stars? They’re clearly not all paid for the ‘jobs’ they do. Yes, some are also uploaded by amateur men and women, who get a kick out of showing themselves being sexually explicit, but the largest and most successful porn sites are so successful because they allow users to upload content that is varied to differing tastes. We therefore find drunken sex parties and the like. As an anonymous respondent wrote for the Guardian survey, “you find videos where the girl is clearly too drunk to give consent. I hated myself every time, but I always went back.”

And what about revenge porn? Something might have been filmed with permission, but then uploaded to a public site without consent. This Covid-19 lockdown has caused a surge in the number of people contacting the Revenge Porn Helpline, the government-funded service for adults who have sexual images and videos uploaded to porn sites against their will, often by ex-partners who were controlling and abusive.  This was made illegal in 2015, and according to the BBC website, ‘figures from 19 of 43 police forces in England and Wales show the number of alleged cases being investigated by officers has more than doubled in the last four years – from 852 in 2015-16 to 1,853 in 2018-19. However, the figures also reveal that the number of charges dropped by 23% – from 207 to 158 – during the same period.’ And that was before the pre-mentioned surge of cases that have arisen since this lockdown started.

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Mainstream porn sites allow and financially benefit from abuse. We know these mainstream sites allow users to upload content free of charge, so how do they actually check this content is appropriate? How do they check it’s consensual, and not abusive? Pornhub insists it has an extensive team of human moderators, watching every single uploaded video to ensure all are legal. But the Internet Watch Foundation has this year confirmed 118 cases of children being raped and abused on Pornhub, stating over half are Category A abuse, meaning penetration and/or sadism.

A Sunday Times investigation found “Pornhub is awash with secretly filmed ‘creepshots’ of schoolgirls and clips of men performing sex acts in front of teenagers on buses. It has also hosted indecent images of children as young as three. The website says it bans content showing under-18s and removes it swiftly. But some of the videos identified by this newspaper’s investigation had 350,000 views and had been on the platform for more than three years. Three of the worst clips flagged to Pornhub still remained on the site twenty-four hours later.”

Stop-it.be, a pornblocker app, claim they found videos of child abuse on Pornhub that had been there for eight years. A petition to shut down Pornhub  can be found at traffickinghub.com, which aims to hold Pornhub responsible for enabling and profiting from the sex trafficking, rape and abuse of women and children.  At the time of writing, more than 800,000 people have signed it, from 183 different countries.

So if you must watch porn, but feel queasy about it, what’s a safer alternative? Pornography is not going to disappear all of a sudden. If you closed all the porn sites they would simply start up again under a new name, or with new owners. Stop watching free porn on the large tube porn sites, says Casey Calvert, the porn star and producer. Go to smaller more ethical sites, where you have to pay for the porn, or go directly to the performers own sites, where you know all the money you pay is going to them directly.

All this talk about others, about how many people watch porn but don’t admit it. I know what you’re thinking; what about me? Well, I’m no expert, but I wrote this from experience and research. I’ve watched pornography, of course I have. And whilst I researched and wrote my latest novel Paedophile Hunters, I watched more pornography than ever before, because it is addictive, and I gave myself the excuse it was for my book. It needs asserting here, that I watched legal adult porn, nothing that included underage children or abusive behaviour towards adults. I would never view anything of that nature, not just because of fear of being caught, but because I believe, like the hunters in my book and the majority of society, that it’s disgusting and immoral. That’s another story, that my novel touches upon. As for adult porn, I’ve actually not watched it since I finished my novel, and I believe that’s healthier for me. Maybe it is for you too?

Richard W Hardwick is the author of Paedophile Hunters, The Truth About Prison, Andalucia and Kicked Out.

Feel free to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  If anyone buys his latest novel Paedophile Hunters, takes a photo and tags him on their social media timeline, he will donate 50% of his profit to a charity that supports abused children.

If you want to comment on this article, but daren’t publicly, feel free to message him and he’ll post your comment anonymously. I bet many of you won’t though, because that’s partly the point. Most of you are watching it, but not admitting it or talking about it …

Borderline Books

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Teenagers these days, obsessed with smart-phones, computers and televisions. It’s not like the good old days, when they’d get stuck into a good old book for hours on end. Books are old fashioned, they take up too much space and gather dust, they’re boring.

How come then, when you take a sixteen year old girl to Borderline Books, and tell her she can choose free books, for herself and others, she can hardly believe her luck? She’s on her phone, asking others about their favourite authors, their favourite genres, so she can get books for them too. And then, the next time I travel to Borderline Books, there’s four teenagers crammed into my car. And when we arrive, they’re almost overwhelmed at the sight of all those books, and a lady called Amina telling them they can choose whatever they want, for free.

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Perhaps these teenagers aren’t used to such kindness; they’ve certainly had less of it than many of us, living as they do at Depaul House, supported accommodation for young homeless people. But some of them do have computers and smartphones, and there’s a project laptop and games machine they can use, and yet they’re still stunned and excited at the thought of free books. I guess random acts of kindness don’t fall upon some people that much, and it’s not often they’re offered things for free, no strings attached. And books still have meaning, for all ages. They hold knowledge. They take us somewhere else, into worlds of imagination and escape, back in time and forwards into the future. Books remind us of when we were younger, if we were lucky enough to have parents who read them out to us, before life became complicated and pressurised.  We turn pages and make sense of our own lives through the stories of others.

The teenagers I took to Borderline Books couldn’t have been happier, with the books on offer and with Amina’s gentle warmth. They collected books for college, books for pleasure and books to furnish future homes. And they didn’t just think of themselves either, because kindness spreads outwards in ripples. They collected books for a pregnant resident, books on childcare and stories to read to her baby. They collected books to give family members for Christmas, books on spirituality and self-help for fellow residents trying to come to terms with the hands life has dealt them. They chose carefully and indiscriminately, and were encouraged in both methods. We said our thanks and piled boxes of books into the boot of my car. And it made a difference, I know it did. In years to come, they’ll open a book and smile when they remember where it came from, they’ll tell others, and I hope they’ll be inspired to give to others as well, for the simple pleasure of it, as well as the virtue.

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Borderline Books collect books that are no longer needed by publishers, shops, libraries and individuals and redistribute them free of charge to organisations working with survivors of domestic abuse, homeless people, ex-service men and women, former prisoners, young offenders, children’s homes, hostels for young people, refugees and those applying for asylum and vulnerable adults and children. Based in Team Valley, Gateshead,  Amina can be contacted on 07808 704307 or books@borderlinebooks.org

Alternatively, find out more at  Borderline Books Blog or Borderline Books website

Happy Birthday! Time to Change!

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It’s my daughter’s birthday today. She came in our bed at half six this morning, cuddled in; had to wait for her older brother to wake up before she could open her presents. Fragments of that day nine years ago float back … the telephone call at work; the drive home and to hospital; Anna standing with her palms flat on the car roof, waiting for another contraction to pass, before risking the slow walk to the maternity unit; clenching teeth; beads of sweat on her brow; tears streaming down my own face when it was over, and we discovered we’d been blessed with a baby girl to go alongside our boy.

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It’s an important day – one of the most important in our family. That’s why, when I was asked to consider a date in March for writing something about mental health, I chose today. When I was younger I considered myself pretty indestructible. Looking back now, I could have died on a number of occasions; mainly through excessive drug and alcohol use, but also by putting myself into dangerous environments. I could quite easily have become more damaged, physically and mentally. These days, I realise life is much more delicately balanced than I would ever have dared imagine.

My daughter is a perfectionist. If something’s not right, she’ll rip it up and start again, or rip it up and storm upstairs, slamming the bedroom door after her. So far, she’s always been popular and a high-achiever; being very successful in all her school subjects, in her swimming lessons and her various dancing classes. She yearns to please teachers. She needs them to like her and praise her. Next year, she moves up to Middle School and things change. There’s less creativity. There’s less warmth. There’s not the same connection between teachers and children. The kids are older and there will be more bullying; more violence; more pressure to look a certain way; act a certain way. There will be plenty of kids she has never met before and she’ll want to fit in. We will cross our fingers and hope she talks to us if anything happens. We do the same with her brother but he rarely tells us anything about his school experience.

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Time to Change is an organisation whose mission is to inspire people to work together to end discrimination surrounding mental health. “Time to Talk!” they announce, because they understand that communication is the life-force that streams through everything; the stories we listen to about others; the stories we tell about others; the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. I have friends who have mental health issues. I know people who judge them. I don’t think it’s my place to point out someone else’s mental health issue though – is it? It’s a tricky one. So I offer this advice – an anonymous quote:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

Life is full of tipping points. All it takes sometimes is a nudge; a wrong turn; an ill-thought or malicious comment. A once seemingly perfect life can split apart due to unforeseen and unalterable circumstances. The news is full of heart-breaking stories. I wonder what would have happened to my children if their Mammy’s cancer had destroyed faster. I still wonder what will happen to them if it comes back. I know it will be my job to cushion the fall as best I can, but I worry if I will be up to the job. I coped last time by getting on with things and by writing it down. They coped because their Mammy explained everything to them. She talked about it and made it all seem quite normal. Interesting then, that in both instances, communication was vital.

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Now there’s a quiet and peaceful house, I will continue on my next book, provisionally titled ‘Swallows and Black Streams.’ It’s a book for all those people who feel suffocated by bureaucracy, smothered in paperwork and instead dream about living a simpler life. For the past few years, it’s been fused to the dream that exists within me; that of making my name as a writer. I sometimes wonder what will happen if I don’t “make it”, after so many years of emotional and physical effort and time. But I put that thought out of my head, because I’m lucky, I can; and it’s not a good thought. But yeah, I know the stats. And yeah, there’s history of mental health issues in my family. But isn’t there with all of us, if we’re honest?

I will also exercise because I know what will happen if I don’t. I’ve been there before. If I don’t exercise I start to get depressed and lethargic. I will drink more alcohol and likely turn back to cigarettes. When I do exercise, I feel mentally more positive. Body and mind.

And then our daughter will come home for her birthday tea and it will be lovely – I hope. She’s growing up, just like her brother. Time goes so fast sometimes. The months just slip on by into years. There will be good times. And there will be hard times. I don’t ask much of them. Be kind to others. Don’t judge them too harshly for you never know what is really happening inside someone else’s head. And it may be ‘time to talk’ but actually, one of the most respectful things you can do for anybody is to listen to them; really listen to them, without jumping in and making comment. If we’re going to help people with their mental health, if we’re going to help our own mental health, then we need to foster an environment where everyone can feel safe to talk about things that can too easily be pushed under the surface.

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