Dr Sarah Nelson When you visited Scotland's biggest, longest child pornography trial, you found the public benches almost empty. Usually courts are packed for trials involving sex, salaciousness and shock-horror, but this one seemed a "must miss".

Only an occasional journalist, the penetrating hawk-like features of Scotland's famed Cracker' psychologist Ian Stephen, and the rest of us glancing uneasily at each other. Was that a child's distraught mother? Were those beefy men police, adult victims of abuse, or friends of the accused?

Instead of relief, the shunning of this trial brought an uncomfortable sense of hypocrisy and double standards. As if salacious peeping is fine, but ... sexual abuse of toddlers - with proof in thousands of terrible images, and such respectable men in the dock? Was this a reality which most people couldn't contemplate, which people wouldn't want to read about, and which if we didn't attend, might somehow never have happened?

This was not an option for all the brave people we saw in that court. For nine long weeks the eight defendants, from civil servants and IT staff to a youth organisation chief, charged variously with possession and distribution, conspiracy to abuse a child and actual abuse of a young child, sat very still, staring ahead in a long line.

Strong emotions - one child's father wept in the witness box - plus painful painful evidence of gross personal betrayal and the horrible contents of chatroom exchanges, contrasted strangely with the calm, respectful atmosphere maintained by courteous judge Lord Bannatyne and the prosecutor whose slight figure dominated this trial: Dorothy Bain QC.

Much admired by lawyers and reputedly modest, publicly the new Advocate Depute is still almost unknown, despite prosecuting notorious cases like Peter Tobin's. With her flowing hair and striking appearance concealed by crookedly jammed-on wig and dark-rimmed specs, it slowly dawned that this deceptive insignificance hid someone special, whose star must surely continue to rise. Meticulous command of facts and patient courtesy were matched, not by the usual macho interrogation, but by quiet-spoken relentless delivery.

"What is LOL' ?" she innocently asked a squirming defendant, about his e-mail which looked forward to abusing toddlers. She continued with polite interest. "Laugh out loud? Laugh out loud. Please - no, do tell everyone - what is the joke exactly?"

"Mmm!" she read out lip-smackingly, during some sordid e-mail about what an accused wished to do to infants. The impact on a silent court was shocking.

Four points emerged strongly from this trial. Realisation hit you of how far pollution spreads - how many people, none of whom asked for this knowledge nor deserved it, are affected by repeatedly having to hear or see some men's poisonous enjoyments.

Judge, jury, prosecutors, defence advocates, police investigators, children's parents; journalists, court officials, witness support staff, scribes, the policewoman on the door... worst is not even the lurid words and images, but learning that some people revel in and joke about abusing helpless young children.

"It will haunt me for the rest of my life" said one official.

The jury in particular, plucked at random, a real mix of men and women of all sorts and ages, look at first sight bored until you realise they actually look glazed, half-slumped before their computer screens. It seems utterly wrong and unjust that juries cannot get post-traumatic support until after a trial. Surely this has to change, and is based on concerns which are simply misguided.

Such support would not mean their judgment of innocence or guilt would be swayed, as some contend: it is about coping with images they are forced to look at right now, and with unspeakable realities they have been forced to hear now. Moves are now being made to get lawyers such support. How could lay people handed such unsought gifts by the State deserve less?

Another disturbing, urgent question was raised by police officers' computer investigations. They found that far beyond the Scottish defendants, there's a popular international market for abusive images of even the youngest babies, and links with child torture sites. Babies? It's almost impossible to get your head round it, or what could motivate such people.

But somebody needs to. Child protection systems aren't geared to protecting the extremely young from sexual abuse. How can we do it, without all becoming ridiculously paranoid, when they can't tell us what's happening, nor fight back, nor run away? How might new measures be fed into any sensible child protection policy?

One serious anxiety for gay men will be that they yet again become dark, child-molester suspects - that trying, for instance, to adopt or foster children might become even more difficult, with Right-wing and religious lobbies waiting to unleash their media venom until after the verdicts. Apparently some people staffing the court precincts would refer disgustedly, not to a child abusers' trial, but to "the poofters' trial."

It will be important for gay support organisations to speak out unequivocally on child sexual abuse. But child protection specialists also need clearly to re-state that the vast majority of gay men have no sexual interest in children; that most child sex abuse is carried out by heterosexuals; and that child molesters and their partners can use their sexual orientation with adults as cover for their obsession with children.

Finally, but very important, although this was a difficult and painful trial to visit, it was also unexpectedly heartening and strengthening. Those of us involved in child sexual abuse work over many years have watched so few resources, so little interest, so many defeats by perpetrators over victims and fiction over truth.

This time we witnessed very senior people in the State and Scottish justice system taking a stand unequivocally beside all the most vulnerable, silent kids in those photos, investing with quiet determination huge amounts of time, resources and painstaking work over more than 18 months' investigation, rejecting defendants' attempts to plead guilty to lesser charges, and sending a clear message to other perpetrators.

That was a marker and declaration of intent of the new official drive against sex crime in Scotland, publicly launched by Lord Advocate Eilish Angiolini in March. The National Sexual Crimes Unit, set up on the recommendation of Dorothy Bain, is a dedicated team of specialist Crown counsel and specialist procurators fiscal. Their determination to improve and to realise justice for victims of sexual crime will have given many child and adult survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and those who work with them, fresh strength, belief and optimism for the future. All involved have been profoundly affected' Officials and families alike paid tribute to the parents, jurors, police, lawyers, and reporters who sat through day after day of disturbing evidence at the paedophile network trial. Speaking after the verdict, Morag McLaughlin, Area Procurator Fiscal for Lothian & Borders, said: "During the trial, the court heard evidence of a conspiracy to sexually abuse children and of the serious sexual abuse of very young children. Tens of thousands of photographic and video images of children being sexually abused were recovered. All of those involved in the investigation and prosecution of the case have been profoundly affected by it." After the verdicts, the family of Child F said in a statement: "We have been overwhelmed by the dedication to duty and professionalism offered by the police and procurator fiscal service. On a day-to-day basis the officers within Operation Algebra and those involved from the fiscal service have had to deal with horrific images and events to bring about this prosecution.

We would like to thank Dorothy Bain QC and those in her team for their dedication, dignity and respect in which she has dealt with the case, and the compassion she has shown us as a family."

Dr Sarah Nelson is a specialist researcher and writer on child sexual abuse, based at Edinburgh University.