CHILD SEXUAL OFFENDING – NEGLIGENCE ON AN INDUSTRIAL SCALE
“In too many cases in prisons, we found that little if anything was done to reduce the likelihood of reoffending …
[for] sexual offenders in the community … the overall assessment of sexual offenders was inadequate in a third of cases”.
HM Inspectorate of Probation: “Management & Supervision of men convicted of sexual offences”: 24 January 2019
Last autumn Waterside Press published an updated edition of the book I wrote in 1995 with the late Ray Wyre – Britain’s most effective expert on controlling the behaviour of paedophile offenders.
The Murder of Childhood recounted Ray’s ground breaking work with the child sex killer Robert Black, but – most importantly – placed this within the context of the chronic lack of understanding of sex offenders, and the shambolic official programs to prevent them abusing, or killing, more children.
Ray had developed pioneering and successful programmes to change the behaviour of offenders. Much of this took place within the Gracewell Clinic, then the only residential treatment facility for paedophiles outside prison; but a toxic combination of public ignorance and suspicion, worsened by governmental negligence caused Gracewell to be shut down just before the book was published.
For the new edition, ten years after Ray’s untimely death and a full quarter of a century after the original publication, I wanted to re-examine the issue which dominated his life and try to discover whether the warnings we set out in The Murder of Childhood had been heeded. What I found was depressing and infuriating in equal measure. As the introduction to the 2018 book reported:
“Changes in way convicted paedophiles are treated in prison, and monitored after their release, [have not] improved our ability to protect children from them.
If anything, the sombre picture we painted in The Murder of Childhood is more disturbing and dangerous in 2018 than it was when the book was published in 1995.”
Ray’s most trenchant warning had always been that refusing to examine (much less understand) what leads – or enables – adult men to inflict sexual abuse on children prevented any coherent or effective work to stop them doing so again. This double failure, he argued, all but guaranteed that more and more children would be sexually assaulted, exploited or – in rare cases – murdered by men whose distorted belief systems had not been changed, even when they were – all too rarely – caught and imprisoned.
Fast forward 25 years and statistics showed an explosion in the number of victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Yet, despite Ray’s tireless public campaigning, I found that very little public money or effort had been expended on attempting to understand the pathology of these men – nor to work effectively inside prison or in the community to interrupt their cycle of offending.
The sole successor to his pioneering facility, the Wolvercote Residential Clinic, had been shut down in a depressing re-run of the Gracewell closure, abetted by either incompetence or negligence within the government department notionally responsible for policy on sex offenders – the Home Office – and the attempted sex offender treatment programs inside prison were so poorly designed that the Ministry of Justice’s own analysis showed that men who took part in them were slightly more likely to reoffend than those who did not.
To a degree, however, the evidence presented in the new chapter of the 2018 addition was necessarily anecdotal – the result of a failure of successive governments to assign funds for work evaluating the nature of, and threat posed by, paedophilia.
But today, H.M. Inspectorate of Probation released a report which confirms the anecdotal evidence – and shows that the systems in place to prevent sex offenders committing further offences are utterly inadequate. The Management and Supervision of Men Convicted of Sexual Offences says that offender treatment programs inside prison are ill-conceived and poorly delivered, with the inevitable result that:
“Work in prison with men convicted of sexual offences was poor overall …
in too many cases in prisons, we found that little if anything was done to reduce the likelihood of reoffending”.
Nor is the post-release position any better. The report found that:
“The overall assessment of sexual offenders [in the community] was inadequate in a third of cases …
in too many cases … the majority of sexual offenders did not have their risk levels and needs adequately reviewed.”
It gives me no pleasure to say that The Murder of Childhood was right in 1995 and again in 2018. The protection of children from men who would sexually abuse them was lacking then and remains so today. There is no excuse for this. In 2015 (then) Prime Minister David Cameron wrung his hands at what he described as the “industrial scale” of child sexual abuse, and promised that it would henceforth be dealt with as “a national threat” akin to terrorism.
As with much else, Cameron’s honeyed words were never translated into action. The responsibility for that lies with the Home Office – a department which is a repeat offender in public policy failures. Its political proprietor in 2015 has succeeded Cameron in Number 10. Theresa May has become adept in dodging the blame for Home Office scandals; but amid the chaos of Brexit (caused by Cameron and which she has exacerbated), today’s she should not be allowed to duck responsibility for the governmental negligence which today’s Probation Service report reveals. It should be hammered to her door until she is forced to deal with it.