With over 47,000 sexual offences against children recorded in the UK in 2014-5, it is obvious that we need to reduce the amount of child sexual abuse in the UK. However, contrary to the impression received from the media, the re-offending rates for sexual crimes are surprisingly low. According to UK government figures , In 2012-3, the re-offending rate for theft was 40%. For sexual crime in the same year it was 12.1%, and for a serious violent and or serious sexual crime it was 0.4%. What this indicates is that there is something that is as important as stopping re-offending, i.e. the second and third offence. That is, to stop the first offence.
The Earlier Sex Offenders Are Helped, The Fewer Victims Are Created
Almost forty per cent of the 288 people who have approached StopSO , The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending, for help in the last 3 years, had not come to the attention of social services or the police. These perpetrators are contacting StopSO asking for therapeutic help, voluntarily, early in their offending journey. The earlier they contact StopSO, the fewer victims are created, and the easier it is for the perpetrator to change their behaviour. Eighty-five per cent of these perpetrators referred themselves, and eight per cent were 'non-offending paedophiles,' who recognise that they have a sexual preference for children but are determined not to act on it, or break the law.
As a Client Described It
A non-offending paedophile, Chris was concerned about his sexual thoughts towards children, but was not sure where to go for help. He has given me permission to write about his story. In his late twenties, he had been living with these thoughts for some ten years. Chris had never touched a child sexually, nor looked at illegal images of children, but he was starting to think about them more and more. He wanted help to ensure that he didn't act out, and not knowing where to turn, he went to see his GP. The GP did not know where to get help for Chris, but he Googled 'sex offender help UK,' and found StopSO who would offer therapy.
Chris told me, "I waited until I was desperate to ask the GP. I was suicidal. He helped me access a therapist at StopSO who knew what they were talking about, and offered supportive therapy. It has made all the difference." Chris found the treatment so helpful that he called BBC Radio 4 programme P.M., to talk about his experience. The link to listen to that 17 minute interview is on the StopSO website or click here. Chris said, "It's such a relief. I do not feel at risk of acting out inappropriately any more. I am very aware of my triggers, and my early warning sign. And if the urges ever come back, I will contact StopSO again."
Paedophiles in Germany
In Germany they have an interesting culture. It is illegal for a therapist to break client confidentiality under any circumstances. This enabled Germany to set up Project Prevention Dunkelfeld. There, paedophiles are offered free therapy and complete confidentiality. Dunkelfeld means 'dark fields', and they were especially interested in attracting perpetrators who were unknown to their criminal justice system. Using a TV publicity campaign, initially sponsored by Volkswagen, they let paedophiles know that help was available without fear of prosecution, even for those who were still committing child abuse. At March 2016, 6,412 people seeking help had contacted the project.
In 2015, the National Crime Agency said that there are 750,000 men in the UK with an interest in having sex with children. Child protection experts fear the 750,000 figure might be underplaying it. A pop-up warning that appears when someone Googles an illegal image, was triggered three million times last year in Britain!
There Is Not Enough Space to Lock Them All Up
Understandably, most British people want to criminalise all sex offenders. Yet we cannot lock everyone up who commits child abuse. The total prison population in the UK, for all crime, is less than 86,000. There simply isn't space for all the sex offenders. Gavin Thomas, President of the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales, recognises this. He proposes that some paedophiles who download child abuse images, but do not commit offences involving contact, should go down a 'health route' and be sent for treatment rather than to prison.
How Can We Make It Easier For Sex Offenders To Ask For Help To Stop
The Lucy Faithfull foundation, and StopSO both have evidence that people do come forward asking for help to stop sexually inappropriate behaviour. The question we should be asking is, "How can we make it as socially acceptable, and as easy for people in the UK to come forward and ask for therapeutic help as it is in Germany?" And when perpetrators do come forward, how can we ensure that therapy is available to everyone, even those who cannot afford to pay for themselves?
Juliet Grayson is Chair of StopSO: The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending. She is a UKCP registered psychosexual therapist. In 2016 she published Landscapes of the Heart: The working world of a sex and relationship therapist, published by Jessica Kinsley Publishers.
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