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Can sex offenders change? A new documentary suggests there is little hope of rehabilitating all those men who behave like monsters

Parents protest: 45 million images of child abuse were reported by tech companies last year. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Parents protest: 45 million images of child abuse were reported by tech companies last year. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty


August 20, 2020   4 mins

Forty five million photos and videos of child sexual abuse were reported by technology companies last year. Forty five million. Every single one of those is a documentary of violence against a child; and every time one of them is downloaded, that child’s pain and shame is relived for the pleasure of the viewer. So how many viewers are there for this vast catalogue of agonies? Enough that in 2017, Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, claimed they could no longer deal with the volume of offences.

Every month, 400 men are arrested for viewing indecent images of children. Instead of charging and prosecuting them, Bailey suggested they be put on the sex offenders register, and given counselling and rehabilitation. This seems an outrageous proposition: how is it not an insult to the victims and a derogation of morality to treat looking at (and, let’s not forget, masturbating to) pictures of child abuse as such a low-level thing?

But in practice, it’s already common for men convicted of these offences – even those involving category A images, the most serious kind – to receive non-custodial sentences with a rehabilitation requirement. It’s probably not irrelevant here that these are often white-collar criminals, middle-class men with middle-class jobs and families. They acted monstrously, but they don’t look like monsters. Even if they did, it’s hard to see where an already overcrowded prison service would fit so many extra occupants, and hard to argue that prison has any solid track record of improving the character of those who pass through it.

So, there is a problem. What should be done with these 400 newly minted paedophiles each month. That is the subject of a documentary to be broadcast on BBC Three, which asks: Can Sex Offenders Change? Presenter Becky Southworth, a victim of sexual abuse by her father, talks to men with convictions for sexual offences involving children who are involved in treatment programmes, and to some of the experts providing the treatment. “I don’t want there to be any more victims,” she says. “I want to believe these programmes are actually working.”

What she doesn’t say is that treatment of sex offenders has a dubious history. Last year, it was ruled that the Ministry of Justice unlawfully continued the use of the Sex Offender Treatment Programme for five years after the evidence showed it was ineffective – or rather, that if it had any effect at all, it was to make participants more likely to offend.

A report into the treatment programme found it was effectively a networking opportunity for paedophiles: “When stories are shared, their behaviour may not be seen as wrong or different; or at worst, contacts and sources associated with sexual offending may be shared.”

The experts Southworth meets are not involved in that discredited programme, and claim good success rates – Belinda Winder, of the Safer Living Foundation, tells Southworth that of 60 high-risk offenders the foundation has worked with, only one has reoffended. The perpetrators give a closer view of what that success might look like, and it isn’t easy to sympathise with.

They fall into two broad camps. On one side, there are men like “Kyle” (all the men’s names have been changed and their identities obscured), whose compulsive use of pornography led them into more and more extreme territory, including imagery of children. They often describe themselves as “addicted” and attribute their crimes to stress.

On the other, there are those like “Andrew” who are sexually attracted to children – the “true paedophile”. It’s “Andrew” who causes Southworth the most concern. “He talks about his attraction to children as a sexuality,” she says, “and for me a sexuality isn’t something you can change, even with therapy.”

One thing the experts emphasise is that ostracising these men is the worst possible thing. The more they’re cut off from society, the less they have to lose from acting on their impulses. It’s one thing to hear that, and another to be confronted with the reality of “Vicky” who has stood by her partner “Chris” after his conviction for accessing child abuse images. Southworth starts by wondering how anyone could stay with a man like that, but at the end of their conversation, the question is more one of what “Vicky” is getting out of this. It might be good for society, but it doesn’t seem great for her.

With “Andrew”, the bar to empathy is even higher. He claims that early trauma has fixed him in a child-like mentality of which his paedophilia is one expression: Becky, who knows more than most people about trauma, gives a look of peerless scepticism to the camera at this point. The problem is that “Andrew” as a concrete person, rather than an abstraction, is pretty disgusting: when he complains that “I’m treated like a predator, but in reality I’ve always been much closer to a victim,” you wonder what room his philosophy contains for the actual victims in the images he used.

Maybe “Andrew” will read me calling him disgusting, though, and spiral into more offending. What is there to hold men like him back from acting on their desires? They know they’re held in public contempt. The only place they get to feel normal is with others who share their transgression – the main way images of child abuse proliferate is by informal distribution through paedophile networks. The men Southworth meets are reprehensible people, or at any rate, people who’ve done reprehensible things. Experts say their rehabilitation depends on them learning to think of themselves as not wholly reprehensible. It’s hard to stomach.

Like Southworth, I started this documentary wanting to believe sex offenders can change. I ended it with profound admiration for the people providing the programmes, because it turns out this is a point where my compassion cannot pass.

I want these men to live in shame of what they’ve done and terror of what would happen to them if anyone found out. I want them to have their second chance in theory, but in practice I can’t think of a single one I think they deserve. I want them to disappear. Instead, there are 400 more of them every month.


Sarah Ditum is a columnist, critic and feature writer.

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Julia H
Julia H
3 years ago

Of course they can change. Simply shut down their sexual urges completely with mandatory chemical castration. What’s that? It’s against their human rights? Well, there’s your problem. In the hierarchy of protection I would place children above paedophiles however when there is no hierarchy the paedophile’s rights are equal to the child’s. Expect more victims.

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

Unfortunately, from what I have read, chemical castration doesn’t really work and can even backfire. If they are unable to achieve release solitaire because the chemicals have inhibited their ability, they become more likely to offend. Of course, one may instinctively say, “Good, I’m glad they can’t achieve release!”, but I think our natural desire to make these criminals suffer should not outweigh our desire to protect the children.

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
3 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

Be careful. Unless we know it doesn’t have adverse effects on wider society, I’d not be a cheerleader for chem cast. If sexual urges no longer motivate their abhorrent behaviour, perhaps they become more likely to commit violent, non sexually motivated crimes. All I’m saying is, know the outcome through trials (for example, on pedos who say they want to stop but assert they’re too weak. If they’re willing to accept a testosterone antagonist, that’s a route to knowledge).

Adrian
Adrian
3 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

Once you normalise chemical castration, you get people liek Aaln turing committing suicide. And with the speed with which sexual norms are politicised these days, who knows when all of the patriarchy are up for a visit to the doctor?

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
3 years ago
Reply to  Julia H

You are a fool.

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago

I don’t really see the point of this article. It doesn’t say anything new, nor does it offer a new perspective. It might as well have been published on a tabloid or on “heard it a million times before”, rather than “unhe(a)rd”.

ralph bell
ralph bell
3 years ago

Very poorly balanced article that added nothing to the field. The writer could at least had studied techniques overseas and having tried to gain a fuller insight into the perpetrators backgrounds and what triggered the criminal behavior and when. Another point is that when this is such a prevalent behaviour from a large number of Males and some females then a different model of thinking and prevention is surely needed, as is the case with illegal drug use and associated criminal behaviours.

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
3 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

I agree Ralph a flimsy piece of writing. Focusing on a TV program to the exclusion of a mountain of information from specialists working in the area is naive at best and appalling ignorance from a journalist at the bottom of her trade.
Child abuse is far too serious to slap out a few words to grub a few easy pennies.
This blot in our society has been around for ever. It will not go away. The internet has only made it easier for these creatures to hide. The perpetrators of these crimes are cunning and beyond redemption. They do not want it and will never cease. Despite claims by innumerable agencies my belief is recidivism in this area is 100%.
So how to stop it? First start to put more resources into an effort protect the potential victims rather than on a hopeless cause.
Of course that means some ‘experts’ in the field would have grasp that their hand ringing cringe making mew-lings are for nought. To change the cosy work environment they enjoy to tackling the beginning of the crimes may be too much to ask.

Judy Simpson
Judy Simpson
3 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

Well said. If we are serious about protecting children we need to better understand the Paedophile and have more open conversations, however uncomfortable they may be.

jamiegcross
jamiegcross
3 years ago

Give them a choice, locked up or physical castration. I don’t care what it is that makes them do it, I just want them to stop.
Paedophiles are devious individuals who wreck children’s lives forever and there are thousands among us.

iambetsytrotwood
iambetsytrotwood
3 years ago
Reply to  jamiegcross

Thank you for your sane response.

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago

It’d be fascinating to hear the views of Patricia Whoitt, Jack Droney, and Harriet Harperson on this, given their long years of experience working alongside the PIE.

Mark Reed
Mark Reed
3 years ago
Reply to  chrisjwmartin

Hewitt (and Chakrabarti) apologised in 2014 whereas Dromey and Harman have not. Of course, it is no longer possible to apologise for anything these days. Apology means guilt which means end of career; hence most people in the public eye simply justify their behaviour and opinions ad infinitum. Hewitt apologised of course, once her political career was past….

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Reed

That’s so well put. That’s the danger that the neo-Marxist (neo-Stalinist) woke movement doesn’t realise in its demand for utter purity. They drive people to dishonesty and secrecy because redemption has been made impossible. And the result can only be an increase of the “impurity” they rail against.

annettehowey
annettehowey
3 years ago

I’ve been abused. My experience is no one wants to hear about it. If your problems stem from this abuse, sorry it’s your problem. Don’t make it mine.

iambetsytrotwood
iambetsytrotwood
3 years ago

Having been abused all the way through the 1970s by a monk on Caldey Island, i can tell you, nothing would change a paedophile; all guilt and shame is projected, they do indeed feel the only victims. A wordless exchange takes place: The true victim is obliged to don the very guilt and shame shed by the perpetrator. It is only later that one realises just how deeply flawed this interchange was. By then, the paedo may even be dead, as a group of us discovered on Caldey Island. Many of us told the adults around us at the time because the acts seemed so odd and scary. Sadly, the information was too shocking for adults to hear which then had the effect of making us all feel like liars. Years later, i became an Official Prison Visitor – and visited paedophiles for a while. I wanted to investigate, see if there were any patterns? Sexual proclivities feel good so the paedos there did not seek help. I also noticed a curious lack of guilt and shame generally in the paedos i visited. Every life difficulty was not their fault. One thing above all others struck me: sexuality had been hyjacked to express deep hatred towards children – in an attempt to induce the sort of shame and guilt (not sexual) that the paedo had endured as a child, from older siblings or a parent. It was always this process: a turning around of their own crap: hatred so unbearable that it found a sick disguise via a perversion. As it succeeds in its “turning around” aim, the paedo will not walk into psychotherapy asking for help. They also demonstrated a curious lack of anger. The victims are always children from compromised circumstances. Robust families with healthy lines of communication – with and to their children – do not attract paedos into their midst.

The only real answer is to bring back “mental illness” and stop idiotically calling it all “mental health” – otherwise madness is normalised to an insane degree. Madness/hatred have become taboo which very simply assists paedos and others with hatred underlying their pathology.

In 2011 another paedophile going by the name of Robert Judd (real name Paul Ashton) was running a child porn internet distribution business on Caldey Island next to the Abbot’s bedroom! He got a mere 30 months. Nothing will change till these true monsters are properly punished and seen as properly mad. They ought to be sent to a penal colony and made to do hard labour. Or hanged. They should not be allowed to cost the state a penny. The only time psychotherapy has ever helped anyone is if they are hurting and honestly seek help. You only have to think of all those couples therapy goers with one person not so keen! Invariably they are the root cause of the marital difficulty, the blameless one!?!

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
3 years ago

Loathsome behavior. However, at least for the examples in this article, comparisons can be made to drug abusers whose illicit purchases lead to piles of corpses and other violence. It is a grim activity to compare exploited children with dead, usually third-world people (many of whom are also children), but the disparate treatment received by those who demand the content / substances seems like a blind spot.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Cho Jinn

The difference with drug users is that harming others is not an essential part of the process, and comes about due to the legal status of the drugs. It’s still massively irresponsible to buy cocaine because of the harm that it causes to producing countries and corridor countries, but what the user is pursuing is the cocaine, not the death.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

There is that distinction, yes. Though are pedophiles specifically interested in the suffering of children (I tend to think not, or at least not where the pedophile isn’t also a psychopath), or is that suffering / abuse just a direct and unavoidable result of their sexual proclivities? Do we legalize all drugs, eliminate the black market, and make prepubescent-looking sex dolls freely available?

Alexandrea Anderson
Alexandrea Anderson
11 months ago
Reply to  Cho Jinn

Its a direct and unavoidable result of their sexual proclivities and unfortunately it is more in likely the pedophile wants to hurt the kid whether they know it or believe it or not, deep down inside they know what they are doing is wrong, unnatural and disgusting and now they are trying to justify it but that won’t go well and is impossible to achieve really. As for making prepubescent-looking sex dolls freely available all I have to say to that is: Are you insane? Thoughts can lead to action and allowing a pedophile to have such a sex doll will only increase their desire to offend again cause the look of the doll, or, it may make their pedophilia worse and make them go after younger children.

christofferrahm02
christofferrahm02
3 years ago

I agree, change is possible. Excellent work by Belinda Winder and the SLF. Please also see https://www.iterapi.se/site… , an ongoing trial for individuals who are using child sexual abuse material and want to stop. It’s evaluating a new, anonymous and online therapy, free of charge. Recruitment ongoing.

Alexander Allan
Alexander Allan
3 years ago

Easiest form of rehab for child abusers is to claim they are trans. They will then be venerated by the alphabet people and progressives. They can go do story hours at the library surrounded by kids (not sure this happens in the UK but does in USA where many have been exposed as child sex predators).

Ultimately the next stage of the sexual revolution is to legalise child sex. We already have the hyper sexualising of kids who have been brainwashed into thinking they are trans which is applauded by the BBC and other culture revolutionaries.

After all as sex is now seen as predominantly for the purpose of self pleasure and this is good, it is no longer logical to then say that children should not benefit from this good. Furthermore progressives are now saying it is bad to have children (environment etc) thus sex for one of its true purposes has become bad.

In the end you reap what you sow

probonopublico111
probonopublico111
3 years ago

This was a silly article about a largely pointless film. Becky Southworth was entirely the wrong person to have made such a film, as because of her background as a victim of sexual abuse she was completely incapable of presenting an objective view.

She embarked on the film with cast iron preconceptions and simply used the various offenders to reinforce them.

The film perpetuated the myth that people who have looked at indecent images are essentially the same as people who have sexually abused children. This is completely untrue. The vast majority of those arrested for this offence have never committed and probably would never commit actual sexual abuse, any more than the viewers of a murder film would ever commit murder. And as one of the offenders said, if he’s only accessing images that may have been on the net for decades and isn’t paying to see them how is his behaviour actually harming anyone other than himself?

As the author says, many people who are arrested for this offence are middle class men with good jobs and families. They are not sex offenders in any real sense, yet their lives and those of their families will often be destroyed for an offence that in reality had no actual victims.

Unfortunately, this shallow film and the equally shallow article about it have contributed absolutely nothing of any use to this hugely complex problem.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

I want them to live in shame, and in fear of what happens if they do it again.

But the converse point is also true – if they are to stand a chance of living a normal life and not reoffending, then they must find some form of self esteem as well. But that can’t come from downplaying the awful things they have done, or there’s no possibility of reform. If there’s any possibility of reform in the first place.

I too have trouble with any compassion here. The Louis Theroux documentary from some years ago about a post-prison rehabilitation centre for sex offenders in the US was interesting to watch. It was clear that with so many of the men he interviewed that they just didn’t fully comprehend what they’d done, or why everyone else was so upset.

iambetsytrotwood
iambetsytrotwood
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Shame and guilt are projected by the perpetrator. The child unconsciously picks these up and wears them FOR the perpetrator in an unspoken interchange. It is only later, with an adult brain that they realise just how sick that unspoken interchange was, when with help as an adult, they can at last hopefully articulate it. The unspoken can stay unspoken, can’t it? It’s what paedos most of all want: no words.

Andrew McGee
Andrew McGee
3 years ago

I greatly doubt that a sexual inclination towards children be ‘changed’. As far as I know, no one has ever discovered a reliable way to effect forcible change to s person’s sexual. Moreover, the fact is that there are some people who do have that inclination. Recognising these two points might make for a sensible starting point for discussion. Then we need to decide at what age we regard young people as able to make decisions about their own sexual behaviour. I think that 16 is too high, though I recognise that this is controversial. I would favour a reduction of the age of consent, coupled with an approach involving education to help those attracted to children to understand why they need to control their urges. Being angry and demanding savage punishments strikes me as unhelpful.

poacheruk
poacheruk
3 years ago

In 15,000 BC, when girls and boys became sexually mature at 10 or 12, and you were a grandparent at 25 and dead at 35, it was perfectly normal to marry and have sex with a 10 or 11 year old girl. You had to, if you wanted to ensure the survival of your genes. The problem is that society evolved and with increasing longevity, and sexual maturity moving to 16 or so, (although its now retrogressing back to 10), it became only acceptable in societal terms to look for 18+year old mates, the old learned sexual impulses for 10 year old remains in some men. But whereas most men can obey societal norms and stick to 18+ year olds fior sex, other men still follow ice age instinct. So the issue is why can some men over come instinct to comply with societal taboo, and some cant?

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago
Reply to  poacheruk

1) Interesting stuff, and sounds reasonable although a lot of it doesn’t seem consistent. For example, why would a man transfer his “learned sexual impulses” for a mature 10 year old (as you claim they were before the last Ice Age) onto the modern 10 year old who is not sexually mature?
2) Why is female sexual maturity “retrogressing” now? Nutrition?
3) On another note, would it then follow that Muhammed was probably having sex with a sexually mature girl when he consummated his marriage with the 9-year-old Aisha? Or did girls not mature earlier than today in the 7th century? Hey, believe me, I am the last to want to defend Muhammed, but fair is fair.

iambetsytrotwood
iambetsytrotwood
3 years ago
Reply to  poacheruk

Sexual norms are completely affected by culture. You are normalizing paedo behaviour today by looking back thousands of years! Incredible!

D Herman
D Herman
3 years ago

The western world is in a mess – the left want to drive ever broader ideas into liberal modern use. Babies can be killed at birth because woman have the right to control their reproductive life (not in the UK yet, but in Democrat states in the USA and elsewhere – already spoken of here) . Transgressors are seen as victims because – well they can’t help it. 40 years ago some of the recent characters at the top of the Labour Party wanted the age of consent lowered to 14. The UK isn’t in some respects the worst in this drive to the bottom of morality. A few months ago in Sweden an under age girl was gang raped by a number of men, who shall we say, didn’t originally come from Sweden. The girl was physically and mentally destroyed. Me – I would have strung them up – they got 3 months.

Society has to decide what it wants – if you want continual degeneration, built on your “rights” without any responsibility – it will only get worse.

Another serious and well balanced article Sarah – thank you

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  D Herman

This is fear-mongering nonsense. No, nobody in america is talking about killing newborns.

Get a grip.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Abortion up to birth has just been legalised in Italy, and it’s what abortion ‘rights’ activists are pushing for in the UK.

Leila Carlyle
Leila Carlyle
3 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

??? Source??

Dave Tagge
Dave Tagge
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

See this quote from Ralph Northam, the (Democratic Party) Governor of Virginia, speaking of cases of an infant who is “non-viable” or suffers from a severe deformity:

“So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Permit me to quote the Governor of Virginia on that state’s latest abortion bill:

“If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen,” the governor went on. “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother as to what happens next”

If that’s not a discussion about killing newborns I don’t know what is.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  nigel roberts

This is a massive stretch, is in relation to a bill that was not passed, and your quote misses out the context – “

there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that’s non-viable”

So let’s go back to the original claim “Babies can be killed at birth because woman have the right to control their reproductive life”Patently false, they can’t, all you have there is the Governer of Virginia made a rambling, unclear comment about a bill that wasn’t even passed.

John Alyson
John Alyson
3 years ago

Certain things need to change. We have to get past the pervasive but relatively novel (until recently) idea of “sexual identities” and start talking about personal responsibility, self control and choices in behaviour.

Secondly we need to clamp down on pornography. Yes, those who really want to access it will always be able to do so, but we can make it awkward for the casual or inquisitive viewer and more risky for those peddling it.

Thirdly, we need to revisit ideas on corporal and capital punishment. Whilst corporal punishment sound outlandish to us these days (despite still being used in a perfectly respectable society such as Singapore) it is actually a very good form of punishment that does not destroy people’s families, enhance criminal networking and is egalitarian with respect to wealth etc. We also need to hang those clearly guilty of killing children and modern forms of sexual slavery. It is better for society and sometimes actually better for the perpetrator themselves.