THE BLOG

Should We Lock Up Paedophiles and Throw Away the Key?

26/11/2014 17:22 GMT | Updated 26/01/2015 10:59 GMT
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When I was asked to take part in Channel 4's The Paedophile Next Door I knew it would be a controversial programme. But I also knew it was an issue that needed to be talked about so I did not flinch from taking part.

Society portrays paedophiles as monsters. And for those who abuse children, their behaviour is monstrous. But that's only part of the picture. Seeing them as people with a problem is the harder choice but it's also the first step to stopping them from acting out their fantasies and harming a child.

Paedophiles must never be allowed to think that their urges are normal or acceptable and anyone who abuses a child should be in jail. End of story. But there are men (and women) who know they are sexually attracted to children but haven't committed a crime so no police action can be taken.

If we are going to protect children from sexual abuse we must make sure that anyone who recognises they have a problem, and want help to make sure they don't harm a child, is supported in getting treatment. I don't think you can 'cure' someone of paedophilia but you can use therapy to help them control their urges.

The NSPCC's mission is to prevent abuse and protect children. We run services for children who have suffered abuse but ideally we want to stop it from happening in the first place.

Our work to prevent abuse involves educating children about what abuse is and how to stay safe. It also means working with organisations so they have robust and effective child protection procedures. And sometimes it means campaigning to change the law.

It also means we have to come face to face with the abusers and have conversations about things many people find very uncomfortable.

Just locking paedophiles up won't protect the public, because at some point nearly all of them will be released back into the community. Research has shown that treatment helps reduce the rate of re-offending. However we are not saying it is the complete answer. It is a way of starting to change offenders' behaviour.

So although we cannot completely eliminate risk, a lot can be done to minimise it. Sex offenders' behaviour needs to be tackled on three fronts: punishment, treatment and monitoring on release.

And whilst funding for therapy for victims must take priority this shouldn't be at the expense of treatment for offenders. We have to fund both. It will actually save money in the long run.

The NSPCC is providing these services at locations across the UK but our reach is limited. We can't be everywhere, we can't reach everyone who needs help. And our work can only happen with the generosity of the public - more than 90% of our funding comes from voluntary donations.

The NSPCC has calculated the total cost of the impact of child sexual abuse in the UK in one year at more than three billion pounds. That doesn't even begin to account for the cost in human misery. But it is a useful way to get the attention of people in charge of spending on services.

Cuts in funding for programmes to prevent child abuse, and for therapy to help victims recover, places a heavy financial burden on society in addition to the terrible personal toll on the victims.

The government should recognise that prioritising child sexual abuse as a public health issue like heart disease, smoking, or obesity could potentially produce substantial long term savings to the taxpayer.

If we continue to demonise paedophiles as a society to the point where we won't even engage with the ones who want to change, they will be less likely to come forward and seek treatment. If we flinch from treating sex offenders then we are failing children.

We must all find the will and the means to confront this social disease head on. Society has an opportunity to stop child abuse before it happens, we can't turn away from it.

The NSPCC runs a number of innovative services that aim to prevent sexual abuse, protect children from offenders, and help victims overcome their experiences. Find out more at www.nspcc.org.uk/sexualabuse

Anyone worried about a child can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk. Children and young people who need to talk about sexual abuse or any other problem can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or go to www.childline.org.uk