Working with sex offenders and paedophiles

The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending (StopSO) aims to reduce sexual offending by offering therapy to the (potential and actual) perpetrators in order to prevent harm, and thus protect society.

StopSO connects clients asking for help with a specially trained, experienced psychotherapist (or counsellor) who is geographically close. This service is available to anyone who feels at risk of committing a sexual offence, as well as those who have already committed a sexual offence. StopSO also offers therapy to the family members of sexual offenders.

Counsellor and Psychosexual Therapist Michael Stock from StopSO tells us about his approach to working with sex offenders and paedophiles.

"When I meet a client for the first time I see a suffering human being who has decided to try and deal with a difficult or troubling issue in their life, and who desperately hopes that I can help them. My role is to provide a safe environment in which they can share distressing material without feeling judged.

"The typical client is dealing with intense shame regarding their behaviour, the shattering impact of police officers arriving at the door early in the morning with a search warrant, the distress of their family and friends and the threat of losing their job. So initially I work with these issues and I describe the experiences of other clients, whilst of course maintaining strict confidentiality. This helps them understand that they are not unique.

"I also look at the triggers for their offending behaviour, as this awareness helps them change their behaviour to avoid being triggered. They may have experienced trauma such as abuse, or their childhood may have been loveless, both of which make it more likely that they will commit sexual offences in adulthood. I discuss the neuroscience of addiction. All addicts, including sex offenders, produce huge amounts of dopamine when they are acting out their addiction so the drug addict and sex offender share the experience of being out of control and driven to offend. This is not a justification for their behaviour, but this knowledge can help the client to start the healing process."

Working with sex offenders must be challenging; you must feel under great pressure to succeed.

"Working with sex offenders is challenging because they have harmed others and unless they stop they will commit further harm. Viewing indecent child images is not a victimless crime – others have directly abused children in order to feed the offender’s appetite. Unless the offender is able to acknowledge this harm then therapy will not succeed. I am aware that the quality of my work will influence whether the offender recovers or continues to harm others, including children. This pressure is particularly intense when dealing with offenders who have harmed children directly."

We hear in the news of high profile paedophiles such as Jimmy Savile, but what is sexual offending and paedophilia?

"Whilst female sex offenders and paedophiles exist, overwhelmingly this is a male issue. There are no really reliable figures - but there is a large group of men, perhaps 5 % of the population, who are addicted to online pornography and/or using sex workers. Their behaviour causes them distress and they struggle to stop it, but they have not committed an offence. Internet sex offenders usually have looked at indecent images of children, that means under 18, even though the age of consent for sexual activity is 16. They may also have looked at sexual acts between people and animals (bestiality) or extreme violence, both of which are also illegal. A paedophile’s primary sexual interest is in prepubescent children, and a person whose primary sexual interest is the early teens age group is known as a hebephile.

So if someone feels they need help, what do they do?

"Most sex offenders refer themselves for treatment, and this can be accessed through StopSO at www.stopso.org.uk . In my experience, offenders do not seek therapeutic help until they are arrested, but StopSO reports that over a third of their enquiries are from people who have not yet come to the attention of the police or social services.

"Offenders are generally relieved that they have been caught, so that they have the opportunity to recover. They are highly motivated to change, for themselves, and for their family and friends. They will have accepted that their behaviour has harmed others, very often children. As a therapist, I am motivated to help them heal but, ultimately, I believe that by working with these clients I will help save children from abuse and adults from harm such as witnessing exhibitionism - and that is what keeps me doing this work."

If you or someone you know is affected by this issue, you can visit: www.stopso.org.uk or telephone: 07533 996 906. Email: info@stopso.org.uk

Other information can be obtained from The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: (http://www.atsac.co.uk/);

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation (https://www.lucyfaithfull.org.uk/) and their child sexual abuse prevention helpline (https://www.stopitnow.org.uk)