Home Australia BEL MOONEY: My neighbor has a secret about child pornography. Should I tell my other neighbors?

BEL MOONEY: My neighbor has a secret about child pornography. Should I tell my other neighbors?

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 BEL MOONEY: My neighbor has a secret about child pornography. Should I tell my other neighbors?

Dear Bel,

I have a terrible moral dilemma. I am a divorcee who has lived in an apartment on a small, respectable estate since my adult children moved out. I know all my neighbors well because we share a community hall and a green area – a small, close-knit community.

A year ago, a pleasant-looking 60-something man moved into one of the flats and quickly ingratiated himself while tidying up some of the common areas. He told us that he had previously been a long distance truck driver, so he had never settled down and had gotten divorced, so he moved out on his own.

One night, I decided to look for him on social media (I know I shouldn’t have), but I couldn’t find a trace. I tried a search engine and, finding nothing, tried some longer versions of his name (he had told us his name was ‘Jim’, I tried ‘James’).

I was surprised to find a news article, with a photograph, about his conviction and imprisonment for possessing child pornography several years ago.

Some of my neighbors have small children and there is a small playground on the lawn. It horrifies me to think that this man lives among us and none of my neighbors know what he is capable of.

But on the other hand, I have read about vigilante mobs attacking pedophiles and he has served his sentence. Does he deserve the chance at a new life, even if I can never look him in the eye again? Should I tell my neighbors or keep silent?


Bel Mooney responds: This is very worrying. You say you “shouldn’t” have looked for it, but curiosity is natural.

Most of us like to know about other people. But I wonder if you thought there was something strange about him.

In the 1970s I wrote quite a bit about prisons and prisoners for a left-wing political weekly and I still hold some of those liberal views. As you say, if a person has served his sentence in prison, surely he has the right to start over? Should they be forever shunned by their fellow citizens? The pragmatic answer is: “It depends on the crime.”

I think I could tolerate a scammer or thief living across the road, thinking they should be able to rebuild their life from scratch. But he couldn’t extend that mercy to anyone who had been cruel.

The most vulnerable members of our society are those most in need of protection, which is why crimes against children rightly trigger the strongest feelings of revulsion and rage.


The grandmother had died. The curtains fluttered in the gentle morning breeze.

Looking at the children, Death said in a low voice: Cry, Heart, but never break. Let her tears of pain and sadness help you start a new life.

From Cry, Heart, But Never Break, by Glenn Ringtved (Danish children’s author, b. 1968)

Of course, the man’s crime could have been committed when he was ill or under incredible stress and was overcome by a kind of madness that led to his behavior. It is possible that he has changed and feels great shame that his crime was serious enough to receive the prison sentence that would have resulted in him being placed on the Sex Offenders Registry.

You may also be subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order. Like Megan’s Law in the US, Sarah’s Law is a disclosure scheme in England and Wales that allows people to formally ask the police about people they are worried about, who has access to their children and whether have committed a child sexual crime.

So (depending on how long you’ve been incarcerated) the problem may not be entirely up to you. I must emphasize that I am not a lawyer, so I suggest you get advice. The crucial point is surely that you would never forgive yourself if you did nothing, only to discover later that he had been hanging around the playground, or worse.

You are right to be horrified at the thought of unleashing a mob of vigilantes to drive the man out of your community. You talk about “never looking him in the eye again,” but my gut feeling is that someone needs to talk to him.

Is there a male member of your community who you trust? Someone calm and authoritative? What would happen if you trusted him and asked him to accompany you to the police to clarify the situation? You could also talk quietly to the man you care about so much. I think you need help to achieve peace of mind.

I stayed with my wife after an affair 25 years ago.

Dear Bel,

I refer to the letter of May 11: “I am still furious about my late husband’s affair.” I wanted to thank you for your advice because I sent you an email last year (too long, too emotional) about the same topic.

After 20 years of marriage and three teenage children, I discovered in 1999 (by accident, there were no signs) that my wife was in a long-term relationship at work. Business trips, conferences, courses with overnight stays, etc. were used to carry out the matter.

I had no idea. He trusted her, loved her, and believed she felt the same way. All of his co-workers knew this, as we attended functions with his mistress and his wife. Cruelty, humiliation, and (I assumed) ridicule shattered my faith in everything I thought I had.

My wife was completely distraught and hysterical when I confronted her, as he was the man she wanted, not me.

She was inconsolable for a long time, but we stayed together. She knew it was for our children, not our marriage.

As in the case of ‘Kathleen’, our sex life essentially ended then. My wife had changed, there was no desire, passion or will on her part.

Tension, stress and anger turned into a total rejection of physical contact. We have stayed together and, in all other respects, have had a long and generally very happy marriage.

Our children married lovely people and then had grandchildren; We are retired, we are financially secure, we enjoy each other’s company, we go on vacation, we spend time together and yes, we love each other, but in a different way.

Well you may wonder what my problem is. I have been in a platonic marriage since I turned 40, due solely to my wife’s decisions.

Heading into my 70s, I feel cheated in many ways, not only by his betrayal, but also by the permanent decline of our marriage.

We will be together for life: more friends for life than a couple.

Too often I think about the damage their affair has caused. My feelings vary: anger, grief, sadness for the marriage I actually lost but am still in, and for the woman who caused it.

I often feel like I could have coped with grief more easily. Her response to Kathleen gave me some comfort because now I know I’m not the only one who can’t accept what my wife did. That’s why I feel like I should thank you.


Bel Mooney responds:Bel Mooney responds: Thank you for writing to us again, although you don’t have any specific questions. I decided to print your letter to highlight the fact that both sexes can fall passionately in love and cause great damage to long-term marriages/relationships, which may not always survive.

Men hurt women and women hurt men, because passionate, illicit love can be a force as great as any earthquake, sweeping away everything in its path.

The affair that devastated ‘Kathleen’ occurred 34 years ago; your heart was broken 25 years ago and both prove that time doesn’t always heal.

I have no time for those whose irritating optimism proclaims that those who have been terribly hurt can “get over it” or “move on.”

Yes, it is possible that over time they will come to accept the pain that has been inflicted on them, which means learning to live with it, albeit with difficulty. However, it will always remain a scar.

Of course, some people can forgive, but they can never forget, and occasionally the memory of pain and rage cuts through that old scar and releases fresh, scarlet blood. Those who escape such experiences are truly fortunate.

Some of us (and yes, that includes me) have inflicted great pain and been victims of equally great pain, and we remain sadder and wiser as a result.

Years and years go by, but it takes a second of remembering to feel guilty or distressed again.

Good literature has always provided me with information. Tolstoy, George Eliot, Thackeray, Dickens and many more have illuminated, through their words, the plight of hapless and desperate humans who cry, sin and ask for compassion.

That’s all we can do: understand how people behave and take them into account. Because who knows what we ourselves would have done if circumstances were different? A chain of destruction can be started by seeing a face across a room.

You still love the wife who hurt you. You still resent the years spent without physical affection. You have found happiness in the shared love of children and grandchildren, and in all the little things that bring satisfaction to lives that have learned to accept commitment as a necessary means to survive.

There is a beautiful passage in one of Edith Wharton’s stories, when the heroine discovers her husband’s lies: ‘He saw now, in this last great flash of mercy… that, just as a beautiful marble can be made from pieces of worthless mortar, glass and pebbles, so that from mixed bad substances a love can be formed that withstands the tensions of life.’

I hope you can try to live in the present and allow the good things you share with your wife to bring you peace.

And finally…

It is not always a mental health problem

Last Saturday, my husband was reading this column at the table when he looked up from ‘Carole’s’ letter about her difficult mother. Describing how unpleasant his elderly mother can be, he added: “It affects my mental health.” Why, Robin wondered, put it that way? Why not say that she really affects her or that she drives her crazy?

I wasn’t criticizing the writer, just the tendency to attribute all human emotions to “mental health issues.”

My colleague Max Pemberton has mentioned this more than once in his excellent column in the Mail. Working full-time as a psychiatrist in the National Health Service, he knows what he’s talking about.

What could we say instead of ‘it affects my mental health’? It frustrates/feeds me up a lot. It drives me crazy. It makes me sad/angry/depressed/hostile/melancholic. It bothers me and then I feel guilty.

I sometimes worry that the Internet, useful as it is, does nothing to encourage people to hold on to sad feelings.

There are countless charities and self-help groups dealing with every human condition under the sun and trying to help by encouraging people to register on a forum and exchange messages with others. Everything good… or not?

It can be comforting to know that you are not alone. But I’ve seen Facebook groups and forums that seemed to act like magnets for repetitive pain, almost dragging people into a world of suffering.

For example, I was deeply disturbed by one for bereaved mothers that seemed to encourage those who suffered to stay that way, reiterating their pain forever. ‘Mental health’ can put you in a sealed box. Try lifting the lid.

  • Bel answers readers’ questions about emotional and relationship issues each week.
  • W.rite to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.
  • Names are changed to protect identities. Bel reads all the letters but regrets that she cannot correspond personally.

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