This report from January 2018 entitled ‘Online Child Sex Abuse Imagery’(CSAI) shows that the UK has made huge strides in tackling imagery online, but that the problem globally is as big as ever with most of the material being hosted in Europe (60%) and North America (37%). The report was produced at the time that the government were consulting on the Internet Safety Strategy, which contained a number of proposals of what social media companies should do. Seven areas are identified of how government, tech companies and the media might help in combatting imagery: Focus on the Top of the ‘Pyramid’; Improve Measurements of Online CSAI; Facilitate Sharing and Cooperation; Invest in Technology; Educate; A Greater Focus on Prevention; Report Responsibly.
In 2011 I was convicted of sexual offences. I was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment (suspended) and I was ordered to complete a 3 year community order.
At the same time that I was being sentenced, the Police requested that I be made subject to a SOPO (Sexual Offences Prevention Order) which contained various restrictions upon my activities. The judge agreed to the order, and announced that it would stand for an indefinite period.
Since I had been sentenced to 6 months imprisonment (suspended), then according to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, Section 82[i], I would be placed on notification requirements (commonly known as the sex offenders’ register) for 7 years.
However, the indefinite period of the SOPO would have the effect of extending the notification requirements to an indefinite period as well!
Unfortunately it was only later, long after sentencing had concluded, that I came to understand the consequences of the indefinite period of the SOPO.
A 2008 ruling by Mr. Justice Forbes in the court of appeal (Regina vs Paul Churchill Hammond, items 10, 11 & 12)[ii] conclude that a sexual offences prevention order must run in parallel to the notification requirements.
Therefore, any SOPO which extends the notification requirements beyond the mandate of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 should be challenged by the defendant’s solicitor or, if not, then made the subject of an appeal.
I only know all this in retrospect. At the time that it was happening, I had a lot of things to deal with in my life and I didn’t have the psychological bandwidth to concern myself with the SOPO. So I ended up being subject to it, along with the indefinite period, and my notification period therefore became indefinite as well.
I am not the first person, nor the last, to find himself in this position.
In 2017 I decided to apply for a change to the term of the SOPO. The opportunity for appeal had long since expired, but it is still possible to apply to the court for an amendment or a discharge of the order.
An application for amendment can be made at any time, but an application for discharge of the order can only be made with the permission of the Chief Constable unless it has been in place for more than five years. If the SOPO has been in place for longer than five years then you do not have to seek permission from the Police to apply for discharge of the order.
There are some legal implications for making an application to discharge an order vs making an application to amend an order. An application to discharge involves much wider considerations and is therefore less likely to succeed than an application to make an amendment to the order.
In my case I only wanted to change the SOPO such that its term ran parallel to my notification requirements, so I made an application for amendment. To do this, I contacted the court via email and explained what I wanted to do. I then had a short email exchange with the court in which they asked me for some details. After this I received a letter inviting me to attend court for a hearing a few weeks later.
One thing to be aware of is that the court will immediately make contact with the Police on this matter. Even if your SOPO has been in place for more than five years so that Police permission is not required, the court will still take into consideration the opinions of the Police (typically your PPU officer) and it goes without saying that the opinion of the Police will carry some weight.
In my case I decided to discuss my intensions with my PPU officer prior to making the application, and I found that I had the support of the Police in this matter. Because of this, I felt confident to represent myself at court rather than pay for a solicitor.
If I had been in the position of suffering a poor relationship with the Police then I would probably have taken counsel from a professional solicitor, since they can argue the case on points of law (see previous reference to precedent).
One thing that really worried me about my court hearing was the possibility of press interest. Such coverage would have the potential to undo a lot of the good work I had done to turn my life around in the 6 years since my conviction.
In practice I found that the press took zero interest in my hearing. The hearing is not considered a criminal matter, and therefore it is highly unlikely to attract anybody’s interest. My court hearing was empty, aside from the court staff that were necessary to run it.
At the court hearing I of course dressed appropriately, and I was polite to all the court staff at all times. I went prepared to justify my application, so I had armed myself with examples of how I had turned my life around and why the indefinite term of the SOPO negatively affected my prospects as a rehabilitated person going forwards.
In practice I found that I didn’t need to make much of these arguments because of the support I had from the Police. The judge read out the correspondence from the Police and stated that this satisfied him enough to agree with my application. In fact, he went further and immediately discharged the order, even though I had only made application for amendment.
I would strongly advise anyone who is in a similar position with an indefinite SOPO to consider making an application to the court for amendment to the term. If you are further able to gain support from the Police in the matter, then I would advise that you represent yourself in the hearing.
This brilliant film from James Cantor says it so clearly: here is a quote: “Inside professional circles the biggest questions have been about how we regulate our professional ethics. This really is where the correct thing to do, the thing that society needs us to do, the thing that our clients need us to do is coming against people’s gut emotional reaction. The minute someone says Doc I have a problem I think I am a paedophile, is the minute someone in the public thinks Oh you have a paedophile, shoot ‘em, hang ‘em, castrate them, throw ‘em out…. Even though the science says, This guy didn’t have a choice and our ethics need to follow from that knowledge! The emotions that the public has, the automatic unbridled reflexive unquestioned anger is just getting in the way. Never mind getting in the way of us actually helping this person, but getting in the way of helping society protect itself from child abuse. If we have a guy saying, Doc, I think I am a paedophile I want help. And all we have done is structure a system so that they can’t come in and get help – this is insane! This is not making it better for society. It is just making some [member of the public] feel better about themselves for expressing their righteous anger. If we think for just 2 seconds it is just the reverse of what we want to do. We need to make it easier for someone to get talking therapy…and …..it should be covered by the government. [Currently] all we have done is ban people from therapy when they are asking for help. When giving them help is going to reduce risk to children. It is insane! ”
Let me start by being really clear, that all child sexual abuse needs to be stopped. That includes everything: from inappropriate sexual conversations with children, sexual behaviour in the presence of a child through to looking at child abuse images and contact offences with children. Part of my life’s work is to work to reduce sexual abuse in all its forms, and I am very aware of the horrific consequences of child sexual abuse. However, many people never think about the world of the non-offending paedophile, and that is what I would invite you to consider.
The clinical definition of a paedophile is someone who has a primary or exclusiveattraction to pre-pubescent children (under 11 years old). The media, the police, and hence the public are very sloppy in their usage of the term paedophile. They incorrectly label someone who has looked at child abuse images – but whose primary attraction is to adults – as a paedophile. A person who has committed a contact offence with a child will usually be branded as a paedophile, even when they are happily married and sexually active with, and more attracted to, an adult than a child – which again is an inaccurate description from a clinical perspective. A paedophile is someone who is more attracted to children than adults, or whose sexual attraction is solely towards children.
In my therapeutic work with clients who are paedophiles I have found a variety of different causes. Many paedophiles have trauma in their history, often around the age of eight or nine for boys, and seven or eight for girls. Often they are re-enacting some aspect of their own history in some way. Working on and healing their childhood trauma through therapy seems to completely change their attitude to, and sexual desire for, children, and this appears to be a long-lasting result. But there are others, whose sexual attraction to children seems to be hard wired. Dr James Cantor of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, has been using MRI scans to explore the brains of paedophiles. He says, “Paedophilia is a sexual orientation. Paedophilia is something that we are essentially born with, does not appear to change over time and it is as core to our being as any other sexual orientation is.” In these cases, therapy will offer the person techniques and strategies to learn how to handle their sexual desires, so they remain non-offendingpaedophiles, but for them there is no cure.
This brings me to a very important distinction, that not all paedophiles are child molesters. Just because there is an attraction, doesn’t mean this has to be followed up with an action. I am sure there are some readers who have a happily married work colleague or friend, who they find sexually attractive, but would never dream on acting on that attraction. So it is for non-offending paedophiles. They recognise their sexual interest in children, but they spend a life-time managing their behaviour, and never break the law in any way. They never touch a child, or act sexually in the presence of a child, or look at child abuse images online. Of course there are also many paedophiles and other people who commit horrendous crimes including sexually abusing children, I am not wanting to discount that, but for the moment I am thinking about those who are living law-abiding lives.
Two StopSO client that I spoke to have allowed me to report their stories, provided I change their names. Let’s call one Chris. He was concerned about his sexual thoughts towards children. He was not sure where to go for help. Now in his twenties, he had been living with these thoughts for some ten years, since he was a teenager. He had never looked at illegal images of children. But he was starting to think about this more and more and wanted help to ensure that he didn’t act out. He went to see his GP. His GP was open with Chris that he had a duty to report him.
The GP did not know where to get help for Chris, but he Googled ‘sex offender help UK,’ and he found StopSO: The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending. Chris was referred for therapy, but he could not afford to pay for himself. Luckily, StopSO had been given a small grant to subsidise therapy for those who couldn’t afford to pay for themselves.
Meanwhile, the GP completed a safeguarding referral to the local authority. The local authority held a strategy meeting which was attended by the GP, social services, local safeguarding children’s board and the police. The strategy meeting took the decision that there were insufficient grounds for any further investigation or action to be carried out. This was because Chris didn’t have any contact with children and there was no evidence that any offence had been committed.
Chris told me, “I know of an individual, much younger than me, who sought help for his worrying thoughts about children. He also went to his GP, but it was a different local authority, and he ended up being formally investigated by the police because of it. He had an horrific experience. In the end they found that he was completely innocent. He had no illegal images on his computer or phone. He had no children in his immediate family or living near to him. The authorities eventually decided that he was telling the truth, and their investigations confirmed that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed, nor did it seem likely that a crime would be committed.”
Chris told me, “If I had known his story beforehand I would never have gone to see my GP at all. And, if I had known there was somewhere to get help, where I would have been treated confidentially, I would have sought support much, much sooner. I waited until I was suicidal to ask the GP for help. Finding StopSO was, for me, what made the difference at the end of the day. I got access to a therapist who knew what they were talking about, and it has enabled me to remain law-abiding. I never want to harm a child, despite my desires. I have strategies now to manage myself, and talking about it has made all the difference.”
Chris went on, “Once you accept the idea that there are people who want to seek help to stop themselves harming children – which can only be a good thing – logically society should surely make that process of seeking help as easy as possible. Otherwise people aren’t going to do it. We want more people to recognise, and admit, that there is a potential problem and seek therapy at the earliest opportunity. It both minimises the risk of any harm occurring, and also, early intervention is obviously easier and may be more effective.” Chris found the therapy so helpful that he called Radio 4 P.M. programme, to talk about his experience(click here to listen to that interview). Chris does not feel at risk of acting out inappropriately any more. He also knows he can come back to StopSO if he ever needs to.
Another client, James recognised that he had a sexual interest in children by the time he was twenty. “I couldn’t talk to my mum and dad. I was lucky, I was able to tell one of my friends, and I think talking to him really helped. Finding a therapist who was open to my thoughts and knew how to help me control my urges has changed my life. It is a very difficult thing to discuss with your parents or your friends, but I think more needs to be done to help people like me, not to feel odd and excluded. I have found that when I cannot talk about it, I am more likely to be drawn to act out. When I can talk about it, it is like a pressure valve gets released, and I feel like I can manage myself. Virped www.virped.org a website for virtuous paedophiles has really helped me not to act out sexually, and at times I rang theStop It Now helpline too. Provided I didn’t tell them my name, they could talk to me and help me confidentially. But one-to-one therapy is the thing that has really made the difference to me. I hope that society will gradually accept that being a paedophile, for some people, is an involuntary condition. But being a child abuser is a deliberate choice..”
It is clear that both Chris and James are paedophiles who are separating the attraction from the action, both determined to remain completely law abiding. If we can let people with this sexual preference know that there is sympathetic help out there to stop them from committing a sexual offence, surely that should be a vital part of our child protection strategy in the UK.
Also published in the blog on www.sexuallyinappropriatebehaviour.org
Posted September 16 2016
Written by Juliet Grayson, Chair of StopSO: The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending.