How We Are Failing to Stop Sex Offenders From Harming Our Children

There is a paradox in the way that we currently deal with sex offenders; a contradiction that is putting innocent people in harm's way, and stopping us from preventing these horrible crimes from happening.

There is a paradox in the way that we currently deal with sex offenders; a contradiction that is putting innocent people in harm's way, and stopping us from preventing these horrible crimes from happening.

Sex offenders are rightly dealt with severely by the criminal justice system when caught. The latest criminal justice statistics released by the Ministry of Justice have shown that more sex offenders are receiving custodial sentences now than ever before, and for longer periods of time.

This harsh punishment is quite right. The impact on the lives of victims of sex offending, adult or child, can be suffered for the rest of their lives, therefore it is only right that sentencing reflects this.

But what about the prevention of sex offences? What are we, as a society, doing to stop this from happening in the first place and protecting those at risk?

The answer is currently very little. As a society, we have not previously been prepared to consider that we should do anything that is seen to 'help' sex offenders. By doing this, are we not just waiting for perpetrators to hurt and harm their victims until we do something to try and change their behaviour?

The parents of April Jones, who at the age of five was murdered by Mark Bridger, recently published a book in which they suggested that the people who feared they were going to commit crimes against children should be given assistance if they asked for it. Paul Jones, April's father, said "if you are thinking that way and you haven't committed any crime, if you call out for help, that can only be a good thing. Someone calling out for help deserves a chance. If you do carry on and you become a paedophile, the law should be thrown hard at you."

This is an extremely powerful perspective.

The support and treatment available to sex offenders once convicted is vast. In Northamptonshire, our Force has a dedicated Dangerous Persons Management Unit that work hard to monitor and provide support to sex offenders living in our communities, keeping the public safe and ensuring they do not commit further offences. In prison, particularly in specialist sex offender prisons, offenders receive treatment aimed at changing behaviour whilst they serve their sentence. But this form of support is only offered to those who have already harmed their victims. For these victims, it is too late.

If we are serious about keeping our children and adults safe, we need to recognise that the lack of any form of intervention for people who may be at risk of committing sex offences is not sustainable. We need a public health approach to encourage collective action across agencies and communities - enforcement alone is not enough.

There are a number of projects that have started to address this. The unique Prevention Project Dunkelfeld operates in 11 centres across Germany. The Project provides therapeutic prevention for men who fear they are capable of sexual offending against children and early adolescents, or feel drawn to child sexual abuse images on the internet. The treatment enables the participants to learn to deal with their sexual impulses in such a way as to ensure that neither children nor the participants themselves come to harm. Since it was first set up in 2005, more than 5,350 people have contacted the network for advice or to find out more about the therapy, including people from the UK.

There are also a number of organisations here in the UK that offer support to sex offenders or those who fear they are capable of committing sex offences. But increased awareness and support of these services is needed; otherwise these services will only continue to struggle to reach out to those who seek help.

The sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and sexual violence of children and adults can and will be stopped through a renewed focus on prevention and changing behaviour. Commit a sexual violent act and the full weight of the law and the consequences should and will be brought against you. But we must do everything we can to protect victims and potential victims of sex offences, and realise that providing interventions before individuals set out to commit sex offences will protect potential victims by preventing an offence in the first place.

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