I am a 22 year old college student and am a strong Christian believer. My question is should I turn myself in to the police because of a crime I did when I was 14 or 15. Let me explain. I had a huge crush on this girl in High School and we kind of had a flirty relationship, but nothing sexual ever happened. I was looking at pornography at the time and would frequently use porn to satisfy my sexual needs. However, I began to realize that porn wasn't satisfying me as much as it used to, mainly because I was viewing girls who were much older than me. I wanted to look at girls that were around my age because that's what I was attracted to. My real fantasy was to find a girl who was the same age and looked like my crush so I could masturbate and pretend I was having sex with her. Rape or any of that kind of idea never crossed my mind, but the idea of looking up child pornography to find a girl that looked like my crush was appealing to me.
I knew that being caught looking at child porn was a huge offense, but I didn't care. I was "in love" with this girl and would go to great lengths (porn wise) to satisfy my lust. I did a few searches for child porn and found a website which I browsed around a little. I also looked on a sharing network for a bit. If I can recall, I wasn't very satisfied with the results and opted to just watch regular porn instead. This made me believe that those sites weren't actual child pornography sites because I remember having a hard time getting any images whatsoever. That is really besides the point. The real problem is that I initiated the search with the intent to look for child pornography. The idea that I would become a pedophile by doing this search never crossed my mind because I probably wouldn't have done the searches if that was the case. I thought that I was just doing a stupid teen thing that no one would find out about. I lived guilt free for several years until last year. I was browsing the news and found an article regarding the arrest of a man who had been looking at child porn. The judge booked him for several years in jail and at that point I realized that I was no better than that man. I would have viewed that man as the scum of the earth, but now I knew that it could have been me going to jail. I have had a guilty conscience ever since. I debated turning myself into the police because the guilt had gotten so bad. I kept trying to reason to myself that I was just a minor and a fool in love, or that it only happened one time, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was a terrible person. I also hate having a guilty conscience because I often would pride myself in being truthful.
I've been doing a lot of reasoning with myself. I have told myself that God didn't have me arrested because He is merciful and is showing me grace. I also am telling myself that God is keeping the guilt with me to remind me of His grace mercy and love, and that He is using the guilt as a barrier to keep me from ever doing something like that again. This gives me peace of mind, but I am still bothered by it occasionally. I am also in therapy right now for OCD and guilt because it drives me crazy at times. I pray often and ask God to show me His will and thank Him for his mercy, but I can't shake the feeling that I should turn myself in to the police. I feel that turning myself in to the police would just lift a huge weight off of my shoulders. However, I am not sure if this is from God or from Satan. So after all of this reading, my question is: regarding my circumstance, should I turn myself in to the police?
While you admit that your unsuccessful attempt to look at child pornography was wrong, what I don't see is any direct statement that you sought God's forgiveness. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). Perhaps you assumed that it was obvious.
Pornography of all kind is sinful and wrong. Whether man's laws recognize this fact or not does not matter. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God" (I Thessalonians 4:3-5). See A Look at Pornography for more details about why it is wrong. Yes, child pornography is an especially vile form of pornography because it exploits the innocent. "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). But all sin can lead a person into Hell.
From what you wrote, it appears you've finally grew up and stopped the pursuit of fornication and pornography. Truly you could could claim to be a Christian while being involved in such things. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10). I hope that you did as the Corinthians and became a Christian in truth. "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:11).
Now, the question is whether you should turn yourself in for your sins from seven years ago. First, the law makes it illegal to receive, distribute, or produce child pornography. The maximum sentence for someone only involved in receiving child pornography is five years. The maximum sentence for distributing child pornography is fifteen years. Therefore, the pedophile you were reading about was not just looking at pornography, but also sending it to others. He wasn't involved in the same crime that you were.
What the law also makes clear is that if a child pornography is received but promptly destroyed, it isn't what the law is trying to focus on in defining it as a crime. This doesn't necessarily mean it is morally right, but the government is trying to weed out the criminals from the accidental cases.
From what I can read of the laws, no prosecutor would consider what you did a crime. You were a foolish teenager who fortunately didn't get snared by this type of crime. There is no reason to turn yourself in for something that the police would not consider to be a crime.
As I said, this doesn't make what you were doing morally right. You were involved in lust, lewdness, and pornography. All of those things are sins and need to be corrected. Guilt for knowing you did wrong is there to remind you not to repeat the same mistake. But what you should obtain is the state of looking back at your past and saying, I was really a dumb kid caught up in all sorts of lusts, and I'm so glad I not that person anymore. "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (I Peter 4:1-3).