Nesset speaks on his condition and crime

National Children's Alliance gives perspective on survivor trauma

Angela Mauroni and Joseph Tingley

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It was almost 8 a.m. and there were already visitors waiting to be led into the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio. Those who had visited the prison before filed through the metal detectors after removing their shoes without being directed to do so. The new visitors clutched and fumbled with their forms.

The corrections officers led the group into a large, white-walled, white-tiled room. Along one wall, there were vending machines and a bathroom, along another is a row of 12 visiting widows, a phone hanging on the dividing wall between each of them.

Behind the first window in line sits Kirk Nesset, a former professor of English at Allegheny College.

Nesset was arrested on Oct. 1, 2014, when federal and state law enforcement searched his Meadville home and discovered more than 500,000 video and image files of child pornography on a shared drive, according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint.

On Oct. 14, 2014, Nesset was indicted for receipt, possession and distribution of child pornography. On Feb. 8, 2016, he was sentenced to serve 76 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone in the federal courthouse in Erie.

You can just see the life and traumatic impact this has on victims.”

— Teresa Huizar

In a letter to Cercone, dated Jan. 23, 2016, Nesset explained that his hoarding was partly due to his battle with depression, isolation and the effects medication for Attention Deficit Disorder and anxiety.

“By the time I understood how miserable I was, how isolated and divided, I was sunk in a pit too deep to climb out of,” Nesset wrote in the letter.

Nesset said that moving from California to Pennsylvania in 1996 exacerbated his three existing mental illnesses, and led to the manifestation of another.

“It unmasked the bipolar state,” he said.

Fred Berlin, director of the Sexual Behavior Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said that without having ever personally examined Nesset he could not make a definitive diagnosis, but based on the medications he was on at the time, it was clear he had a host of pre-existing mental health  conditions that could have compromised his judgement.

“When people are having mental health issues, sometimes that does contribute to them exercising poor judgement or engaging in behaviors they might not otherwise engage in,” Berlin said.

Berlin explained that in cases of child pornography, the viewers are often driven by a strong compulsion similar to that of the human sex drive.

“It is driven behavior. In other words, the sex drive is a very powerful force in all of us and when it gets misdirected…it’s still a drive that wants to be satisfied,” Berlin said.

In many ways, these types of compulsions are similar to drug and alcohol addiction, Berlin said. For this reason, the treatments are often quite similar.

“Often group therapy, similar to what goes on in treating alcoholics, can be helpful, teaching people to avoid situations and temptation that might be difficult for them to handle,” Berlin said.

While the emphasis is usually on less intrusive methods, Berlin said medications that lower sex drive can also be used to control their compulsions. He said a problem that is often encountered is how seemingly easy it is to label the viewing of child pornography as harmless.    

“The ability for them to deny that they are causing anyone any harm, combined with the fact that it’s behavior that is energized by a very powerful biologically based drive, makes it very difficult,” Berlin said.

Preliminary studies on this type of behavior concluded there was a link between individuals who viewed child pornography and those who committed acts of molestation, Berlin said. More recent studies have concluded that in the vast majority of instances, this is not the case.

“All the subsequent studies that have been done have really come to the same conclusion, that very few people who view child pornagraphy, who haven’t had a prior history of being involved sexaully with children, subsequnntly go on to abuse a child in the future,” Berlin said.

While there is no evidence that Nesset ever committed acts of molestation, he acknowledged that his crime was not a victimless one.

“It is a crime…those were real people and every time someone looks [at the images] there is more demand,” Nesset said.

According to Teresa Huizar, the executive director of the National Children’s Alliance, based in the District of Columbia, Nesset is right.

“You can just see the life and traumatic impact this has on victims,” Huizar said.

She said survivors who have been identified receive official notification every time images of them are used against a defendant in a court case. This notification is meant to offer them the opportunity to give a victim impact statement; however, Huizar said this reminds them of their past abuse, and often invokes fear that the images and/or videos will impact their current lives.

As part of Nesset’s sentence, he will be expected to pay more than $78,000 in restitution to the identified survivors pictured in the files found on his computer. These survivors will have received the aforementioned notification.

Huizar also said many survivors feel guilt, as the footage is often used in subsequent cases of abuse and production. She said that people who are committing acts of child molestation will often have a child watch pornography and mimic the acts in it.

Nesset said even while he was downloading the files, he knew it was a crime, but he insisted that it was a “cry for help.” He said when the FBI came to his door at 5:45 a.m. on Oct. 1, he knew why they were there.

“I had dreamed about this…there was no way I couldn’t have gotten caught,” he said.

Nesset said his medical prescriptions also contributed to his actions. He claims he was prescribed NUVIGIL, which is a stimulant meant to treat his depression and ADD, but the stimulant exacerbated his focused hoarding.

The FBI, according to Nesset, entered his home with weapons drawn. He said the investigators used Nesset’s surprise to get information from him before he had time to collect himself. One investigator asked him repeatedly what his age preference was, asking over and over again, “Do you like babies, Mr. Nesset?”

“The things I said, I feel I said under duress,” Nesset said.

Since being in prison, Nesset said he has been teaching other prisoners about creative writing, and has been working on projects of  his own, such as stories, songs and a book.

In his letter to Cercone, Nesset revealed that one of his deepest regrets is that he will likely never see his mother or father alive as a free man again. In his letter, he requested that he be moved to a correctional facility in Safford, Arizona, which is closer to where his family lives.

Nesset’s sentencing judge, Cercone, is usually the federal judge serving in Pittsburgh. However, during Nesset’s trial, he served on the Erie court.

Cercone’s sentence was on the lighter side of what it could have been. According to Title 18 of the United States Code, section 2252A, the minimum sentence for possessing, distributing and receiving child pornography is five years. The maximum is 20. However, different circumstances could affect the severity of the sentence.

According to the United States Department of Justice, “Convicted offenders may face harsher penalties if the offender has prior convictions or if the child pornography offense occurred in aggravated situations defined as (i) the images are violent, sadistic, or masochistic in nature, (ii) the minor was sexually abused, or (iii) the offender has prior convictions for child sexual exploitation.”

Cercone agreed to put in the request for Nesset to be placed at the Safford prison, but there is no guarantee it will be granted. Nesset said he will only be told that he will be moved the night before, and he would not be told his final destination until arrival. Nesset was moved from the Youngstown facility on Tuesday, March 8, and as of Thursday, March 9, he was still in transit to the new location.

“I won’t know where I’m going. No one will know where I’m going until I’m there,” Nesset said.

Despite the uncertainty, Nesset said he has faith in the system.

Nesset said that since he began being honest about his inclinations in counseling after his arrest, life has improved for him. He also said going to prison was almost a relief.

“Life for me between my arrest and self-surrender was hell…I was so judged and reviled,” he said.

Despite his treatment before his self-surrender, Nesset said he was worried about what prison would be like.

“You hear stories about prison and you think ‘Oh, my God. Will I be beat up? Will I be raped?’ But it’s not like that here,” Nesset said.

Nesset, while at the Youngstown facility, was housed in a “pod” with older inmates and those with similar offenses. He said part of his goal while in prison is to help others who are suffering from similar conditions.

“I will never be out of treatment,” Nesset said. “I will always be in treatment and I want to help others who are suffering.”

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