By Tom Midlane @goldenlatrine
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Videographer / Director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: John Balson, Nick Johnson
Editor: Jack Stevens
Todd Nickerson, from Tennessee, wants to encourage other paedophiles to seek help and support for their sexual inclinations.
He claims paedophilia is better understood as a sexual orientation - although one he believes it is unethical to act on.
The 43-year-old is a moderator on the online forum ‘VirPed’ - short for ‘virtuous paedophiles’, also sometimes called ‘ethical paedophiles’ or ‘gold star paedophiles’.
The terms are used to describe those who have an attraction to prepubescent children but control their urges and refrain from watching child pornography or seeking sexual contact with minors.
The VirPed forum has a few thousand users, according to Nickerson, although not all of them are active members, and the site acts as a resource 'to help virtuous paedophiles remain law- abiding'.
Nickerson, who is one of only a handful of voluntarily ‘out’ paedophiles in the US, told Barcroft TV: "I am a paedophile. I’m not a monster. I have the attraction but I don’t act on it.
"I have never ever sexually abused a child and I never will. I do not look at child porn, I never will. I obey the laws, I respect the laws, I respect society’s position on this. I understand it and agree with it."
Nickerson went public as a paedophile in a blog for American liberal news site Salon in September 2015, generating a huge quantity of hostile replies in online comment sections and on social media.
However, he also received a large amount of positive feedback - including messages from people who had suffered at the hands of paedophiles.
He said: “You get the people who tell you to kill yourself and say you should be castrated and all of that kind of thing.
“Publicly, there was a lot of backlash but privately it’s been very different. I got hundreds and hundreds emails from people who were very supportive, a lot of which were from people who were survivors of abuse."
Although he is unrepentant about putting his face and name in the public domain, he does now carry a pocket knife with him for self-protection when he ventures out of the house.
Nickerson describes himself as a non-offending minor attracted person (MAP) and says paedophiles are capable of living a happy, productive, law-abiding life.
He said: “Not all paedophiles are child molesters not all child molesters are paedophiles.
"A paedophile is strictly speaking just somebody who has sexual attraction to children - they may act on it they may not.
“A lot of people think that if you are attracted to kids, you have some kind of unusual degree of urge to go out and attack kids and it’s not like that.
"The people that struggle with it have self control issues and we just try to encourage them - sometimes we have to use tough love because one problem with paedophiles at times is that they are very good at deluding themselves."
While some researchers claim a possible neurological or genetic basis to underage attraction, the origin of paedophilia is still a hotly debated subject in the scientific community.
Nickerson claims he was the subject of a one-off incident of sexual molestation by an acquaintance of a relative as a 7-year-old child, something which he acknowledges may have been a "contributing factor” in his sexual development.
He admits that he is attracted to children as young as 3 or 4, but that his attraction peaks with children aged around 9 or 10 years old.
The freelance graphic designer, who was born with only one hand and so wears a pincer-style prosthesis called an Adept, says he first became aware of his attraction to underage children when he was 13.
He said: “I call it my 'Eureka moment', it was the moment I realised 'okay this is something, I’m interested in these younger girls'.
"I was 13, and a neighbour had come over to visit and brought his little daughter with him, she was probably 7 or 8.
"I was in the living room drawing and I just remember looking up and just being blown away by her, by how beautiful I thought she was.
"Initially I repressed the feelings, especially in my teenage years when I was a regular at church, I’d ask God to take it away and I kind of thought he had.
“But I started ageing and realised that the age of the girls I was attracted to were staying the same, that’s when I realised this was going to be a problem.”
Although Nickerson is adamant he has never offended, he says he did have a moment of temptation when he was 18 while babysitting a five-year-old girl.
He said: “After that I moved out of town for a couple of months, anything that was going to present me with a temptation, I just cut it out of my life.”
He also admits that in the past he was part of an “unhealthy" paedophile forum where he claimed that children were not necessarily harmed by sexual contact with adults and that he would consider it if it were legal.
Nickerson says he now strongly rejects and regrets those views, writing in his blog: “I wanted desperately to be friends with people who shared my sexual orientation, even if they held crazy beliefs, but I could never quite reconcile with their viewpoint.”
At age 20 Nickerson tried dating a woman who was 26, but his lack of interest in adults meant the relationship quickly ran aground.
He said: “She was very petite so she was my type physically. I wasn’t really attracted to adults, but I thought maybe I can make this work."
The pair dated for three weeks, but when it came time to consummate the relationship, Nickerson was unable to perform and the woman broke up with him the next day.
Nickerson added: “For all intents and purposes I am a virgin, I never had full blown sexual intercourse, it just hasn’t happened.”
Realising that marriage and children were unlikely to materialise, he spiralled into a period of deep depression and social anxiety, and was plagued by suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.
But in August 2014 he discovered the website Virtuous Pedophiles after the forum’s founder Ethan posted on the ‘unhealthy’ forum Todd was frequenting,
And Nickerson says becoming an advocate for other ‘virtuous paedophiles’ has helped turn his life around and given it meaning.
"I am part of one of the most hated groups of society, no question about it, we are the scapegoats du jour,” he added.
“If you look at history, there is always one minority that everybody kind of persecutes and I think at the moment we’re it.
"I would like to see some protections for people like me, protections against being fired from their job and being protected from violence."
Nickerson says his goals are twofold - to end the demonisation of paedophiles, which he says helps drive them underground, and to encourage other offenders to seek support.
He said: "I would like people to empathise with us and understand that this is not a choice.
"We didn’t choose our sexuality, we just have to deal with it and their empathy helps us and the abuse actually makes things worse for us.
"We just want to educate the public and help people understand where we are coming from and hopefully see our humanity.
“The other aim is to bring people who are struggling with this attraction to our forum that we can help them by providing us a circle of support."
And while the subject of underage attraction remains deeply taboo, Nickerson says his friends and family are proud of him for trying to help shed light on the complex issues surrounding paedophilia.
He said: "I’m a pioneer, I’m out here doing something that really needs to be done, raising awareness and letting people what people like me deal with and struggle with.
"I am neither proud nor ashamed of being a paedophile, at this point I just accept it - it’s who I am.”
Maia Christopher is executive director for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, an umbrella organisation of around 2,700 clinical practitioners and academics globally who work to establish best practice in managing and preventing sexual abuse.
She said: “If someone has sexual interest in children and they’re having difficulty learning how to manage or live their lives in a way that makes it less likely for them to offend then we should absolutely be helping them.
"One of the biggest myths about people who sexually offend is that they’re all the same.
"With paedophilia there’s an idea that there’s this overwhelming urge to offend all of the time, but like everyone else paedophiles' sex interests differ.
"Some people are not all that interested in sexual activity, some people are very interested in sexual activity, and it’s the same with people who have sexual interest in children."
Christopher says that significant work is needed to encourage non-offending paedophiles to feel comfortable engaging with professional medical help or support networks.
She said: "We have certain legal barriers that can make it challenging, such as mandatory reporting laws.
“People with these sexual interests have a lot of fear that if they speak about having had sexual thoughts about children, that people will act as if they’ve acted on it already, or if they haven’t done it already, they are about to do it at any moment.
"I don’t think we should do a lot to destigmatise any kind of criminal behaviour, sexual assault is a criminal offence and should be viewed as a criminal offence.
“But how we treat non-offending people with dignity and respect and help them build a meaningful life is a different question."
And Christopher is clear that forums like Virtuous Pedophiles can play an important part in stopping people from offending.
She added: “People sexually offend for more reasons than just sex, and that includes people who offend against children - there can be emotional components and life circumstances that contribute to offending.
"It’s not just about controlling the sexual interest, like everyone else it’s about building a life that’s meaningful and worthwhile, where you feel valued and part of a community and are able to live your life with a sense of agency.
"Building that community is really helpful in terms of building protective factors that stop people offending.”
Jenny Coleman is the director of Stop It Now!, a Massachusetts-based organisation dedicated to
She said: “We frequently refer adults to VirPed and while we strongly emphasise the importance of specialised professional treatment, we recognise this online community as a resource and possible support for adults committed to the safety of children."