How paedophiles can be stopped

Many abusers start offending at an early age, often having been abused themselves. A new project aim

Kay will never know whether reporting her 14-year-old son Jon to social services for sexually abusing a neighbour's child prevented him from moving on to become an adult paedophile in the style of Ian Huntley and Roy Whiting. Would he have been another Chris Langham, who was last week found guilty of downloading sadistic and depraved child pornography? Or a Timothy Cox, recently put inside on an indeterminate sentence for running an internet chat room where punters watched filmed abuse of children, including the rape of babies?

It is certainly possible, says Donald Findlater, deputy director of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, where he works therapeutically with paedophiles. He hears time and again how their abusing began when they were children: "A 35-year-old man who came to me had started as a nine-year-old. By the time I saw him he had abused more than 500 children."

Such revelations rarely make us question what leads a nine-year-old boy to do this, but increase the cry for ever more punitive measures to deal with adult offenders. Earlier this year the government raised the possibility of chemical castration. While Kate McCann and her husband must face the fact that child abduction and trafficking is one way that children end up appearing in the kind of pornography watched by Langham.

But we ignore the fact that the child may be the father of the adult paedophile. Twenty per cent of people convicted of sexual offences are under the age of 20, according to the Home Office. Victim surveys report that 30-50 per cent of child sex abuse is carried out by young children and adolescents. Some 50 per cent of adult sexual offenders report sexual deviance in adolescence.

Paedophiles do not just appear fully formed as adults, says Andrew Durham, who works with child sex abusers for Warwickshire Council. "But fear and loathing of paedophiles blocks people from understanding the importance of their child hood circumstances. There is always something in childhood that breaks down the moral compass, in my experience. Many feel inadequate and isolated misfits who cannot form relationships with their peers. They gain power and control through abuse of younger children."

Preventing more victims lies at the heart of the work of Eileen Vizard, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and clinical director of the NSPCC's National Child Assessment and Treatment Service. For more than 20 years she has researched, diagnosed and treated some of the country's most disturbed and dangerous children who are sexually abusing others and who, if not helped to stop, may be on a trajectory that will lead to compulsive abusing as an adult.

Vizard led and co-authored the recently published first major study into this phenomenon, entitled Links Between Juvenile Sexually Abusive Behaviour and Emerging Severe Personality Disorder Traits in Childhood. It was funded by the Home Office and published on their website in November last year.

Early difficulties

This is a three-year study of 280 identified juvenile sexual abusers, more than 90 per cent male. Abusing had very occasionally begun as young as at five-and-a-half years, although 14 years was average. More than half had abused victims five years younger than themselves and the majority abused female victims. There are great similarities in the behaviour of young abusers and adult offenders. Most had abused relatives, friends and acquaintances. In more than half the cases there had been penetration, masturbation and oral sex; one-third used verbal coercion. In some cases there had been co-abusers.

The extent and reality of child-on-child sex abuse is shocking, but so are the childhood experiences and circumstances child abusers endure. Without exception, they share childhoods that should not be tolerated in a caring society.

A quarter endured physical abuse, 74 per cent emotional abuse, 71 per cent sexual abuse; 92 per cent were exposed to domestic violence and 73 per cent experienced family breakdown. Nearly half were found to have "inadequate sexual boundaries". The research divided juvenile sexual abusers into "early onset" - those beginning before the age of 11 - and "late onset" beginning after this age. The first group were more likely to have experienced inadequate family sexual boundaries; multiple forms of abuse, poor parenting and insecure attachment. The latter group misused substances, targeted specific groups and often used verbal coercion.

Vizard sees a "developmental trajectory" where the abusers may be having sexual fantasies and beginning harmful behaviour towards other children. She says: "Without help, some sexualised children may move on to abusing other children at home or at school, later masturbating to sexual images of children and becoming entrenched in patterns of frank sexual abuse of children."

The research also shows a sub-group with emerging severe personality disorder who are more likely to have an early difficult temperament; more insecure attachment; inconsistent parenting; placement disruption and parents with mental health problems. Their sexual abusing is often premeditated and predatory. The fear that child abusing may increase through the stimulus of online child pornography which more and more children and young people access is chillingly real. The web features in half the cases of child-on-child sex abuse cases that Andrew Durham sees each year. "When young people see adults abusing children on the net, it normalises what is being done," he says.

The Taith Project, managed by Barnardo's, gets referrals of eight- to 18-year-olds from across Wales with "concerning" sexual behaviour. De nise Moultrie, the children services manager, says: "Particularly worrying about chat rooms is not just the images of child pornography being seen but the relationships children get into online around what they see."

The importance of taking the acts of young abusers seriously cannot be overstressed, says Vizard, who believes that as a society we have to do better than merely condemn paedophiles as depraved monsters as though they existed outside normal humanity; we have to understand how damaging their childhoods can be.

This is not indulgent liberalism, but a conviction, built on many years of learning how young abusers think, feel and behave, that potential victims could be protected by the kind of work that she and others are doing. What is needed is sufficient public support to ensure that the funding is made available to do this work on the scale that is needed.

Moultrie stresses that we are talking about children right across the social scale: "I think we are hugely handicapped in getting support because of public revulsion. A lot of professionals don't want to acknowledge that children are sexual abusers of other children. Parents read newspapers and don't want to identify their child as a monster, so they may reject the child or deny what is happening." Others, who might be prepared to support funding for children who are being abused, do not recognise that young people who are abusing other children may also need support.

Constructive help

Yet Vizard has seen how, with intense therapy, young abusers change direction. Their disturbing and distorting experiences are addressed; they are helped to see why the way they are acting is wrong and the impact they have on victims. They are taught techniques based on cognitive behavioural therapy for dealing with feelings and impulses in a non-damaging way, rather than leaving them to develop the compulsive behaviour that makes adult paedophiles so very dangerous.

Durham is confident that working with young abusers makes a difference: "You can get remorse at what the victim has suffered. These young may not have reached the stage of blocking out empathy and they are capable of forming a relationship with me as a safe adult. So they will listen and see that they can choose to learn not to follow the path they have taken. We have been going 12 years and have a very low rate of repeat sexual offences."

Kay is one of an increasing number of mothers of teenagers who tell the Stop It Now! helpline - set up for those who are abusing or fear they may - about their problem. She says that reporting Jon was agonisingly difficult, but through his treatment, in which she was involved, he learn ed techniques for controlling his behaviour.

"We have learned to communicate as a family and to talk about whether a situation is 'safe' for him. He has a therapist and I feel so very grateful that through this work Jon has taken responsibility for changing."

But if that constructive help had not been available, she dreads to think what might have happened.

Stop it Now! helpline 0808 1000 900

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Road fix

André Carrilho
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"Jeremy knows he can't do the job." What now for Labour and Britain's opposition?

Senior figures from all parties discuss the way forward: a new Labour leader, a new party or something else?

In the week beginning 13 March 2017, the Scottish National Party demanded a second referendum on indepen­dence, the Chancellor tore up his Budget and George Osborne was announced as the next editor of the London Evening Standard. One fact united these seemingly disparate events: the weakness of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

When Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, addressed journalists at Bute House, her Edinburgh residence, she observed that Labour’s collapse entailed an extended period of Conservative rule. Such was the apparent truth of this statement that it went unchallenged.

Twenty minutes before Prime Minister’s Questions on 15 March, the Conservatives announced the abandonment of their planned rise in National Insurance for the self-employed. Their expectation that Jeremy Corbyn would be unable to profit was fulfilled. “Faced with an open goal, Jeremy picked up a tennis racket,” one Labour MP lamented of his leader’s performance. Rather than a threat, the government regards PMQs as an opportunity.

Two days later, Osborne was announced as the next editor of the Standard. “Frankly @George_Osborne will provide more effective opposition to the government than the current Labour Party,” the paper’s co-proprietor Evgeny Lebedev tweeted. His decision to hand the post to a Conservative MP was another mark of Labour’s marginalisation. In more politically competitive times, owners are warier of overt partisanship.

The Tories have a parliamentary majority of just 15 – the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 – but they enjoy a dominance out of all proportion to this figure. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat former deputy prime minister, told me: “The fundamental pendulum swing of democracy, namely that the people in power are always worried that the other lot are going to hoof them out, has stopped.”

Labour is hardly a stranger to opposition: the party governed for just 20 years of the 20th century. But never in postwar history has it appeared so feeble. By-elections are usually relished by oppositions and feared by governments. But in Copeland in the north-west of England, a seat that had not returned a Conservative since 1931, the Tories triumphed over Labour. In recent polling the governing party has led by as much as 19 points and on one occasion it was leading in every age group, every social class and every region.

Corbyn’s MPs fear that were he to lead Labour into a general election, the attack dossier assembled by the Conservatives would push support as low as 20 per cent.

When David Miliband recently said that Labour was “further from power than at any stage in my lifetime”, he was being far too generous. After the forthcoming boundary changes, it could be left with as few as 150 seats: its worst performance since 1935.

The party’s plight was both predictable and predicted – the inevitable consequence of electing a leader who, by his own admission, lacked the requisite skills. “Now we made to make sure I don’t win,” Corbyn told supporters after he made the ballot in 2015. The lifelong backbencher stood with the intention of leading debate, not leading the party.

Neil Kinnock, Labour’s leader from 1983 to 1992, told me: “From the outset, I said that Jeremy [Corbyn] just can’t do the job . . . Now I think he knows that. He’s been a member of parliament for 34 years and will have a sense of self-examination. Both he and the people who work around him know that he just can’t do the job.”

Morale in the leader’s office has seldom been lower. “They’ve got the yips,” a Lab­our aide told me. Shortly after the Tories’ Budget U-turn, Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications, Seumas Milne, asked journalists whether there would be an early general election. He produced no evidence of any hope that Labour could win it.

Yet Corbyn’s leadership alone does not explain the crisis. In the early 1980s, when Labour was similarly enfeebled (but still strong in Scotland, unlike today), the creation of the Social Democratic Party provided hope. But the mere 23 seats won by the SDP-Liberal Alliance in 1983 (on 25.4 per cent of the vote, against Labour’s 209 seats from 27.6 per cent) acts as a permanent warning to those tempted to split.

With only nine MPs, the Liberal Democrats are too weak to function as an alternative opposition, despite their accelerating recovery. The third-largest party in the House of Commons – the SNP – is an exclusively Scottish force. The hegemony of the Nats, which cost Labour 40 seats in Scotland in 2015, has encouraged forecasts of perpetual Tory rule. “I don’t think there’s any way the Labour Party in this day and age can beat the Conservatives south of the border,” Clegg said.

To many eyes, the UK is being transformed into two one-party states: an SNP-led Scotland and a Conservative-led England. “The right-wing press have coalesced around Brexit and have transformed themselves from competitors into, in effect, a political cabal, which has such a paralysing effect on the political debate,” Clegg said. “You have a consistent and homogeneous drumbeat from the Telegraph, the Express, the Mail, the Sun, and so on.”

In this new era, the greatest influence on the government is being exercised from within the Conservative Party. “Where’s the aggravation? Where’s the heat coming from? Eighty hardline Brexiteers,” Anna Soubry, the pro-European former Conservative minister, told me. “They’re a party within a party and they are calling the shots. So where else is [May’s] heat? Fifteen Conservatives – people like me and the rest of them now. So who’s winning out there?”

Soubry added: “The right wing of the party flex their muscle against the only lead Remainer in the cabinet, Philip Hammond, for no other reason than to see him off. And that’s what they’ll do. They’ll pick them off one by one. These people are ruthless, this is their life’s work, and nobody and nothing is going to get in their way.”

Theresa May’s decision to pursue a “hard Brexit” – withdrawal from the EU single market and the customs union – is partly a policy choice; there is probably no other means by which the UK can secure significant control over European immigration. But the Prime Minister’s course is also a political choice. She recognised that the Conservatives’ formidable pro-Leave faction, whose trust she had to earn, as a Remainer, would accept nothing less.

***

The UK is entering the most complex negotiations it has undertaken since the end of the Second World War with the weakest opposition in living memory. Though some Tories relish an era of prolonged one-party rule, others are troubled by the democratic implications. Neil Carmichael MP, the chair of the Conservative Group for Europe, cited Disraeli’s warning: “No government can be long secure without a formidable opposition.” It was in Margaret Thatcher’s and Tony Blair’s pomp that calamitous decisions such as the poll tax and the invasion of Iraq were made. Governments that do not fear defeat frequently become their own worst enemy and, in turn, the public’s. The UK, with its unwritten constitution, its unelected upper chamber and its majoritarian voting system, is permanently vulnerable to elective dictatorships.

As they gasp at Labour’s self-destruction, politicians are assailed by Lenin’s question: “What is to be done?” Despite the baleful precedent of the SDP, some advocate a new split. In favour of following this path, they cite an increasingly promiscuous electorate, a pool of willing donors and “the 48 per cent” who voted Remain. Emmanuel Macron – the favourite to be elected president of France in May, who founded his own political movement, En Marche! – is another inspiration.

A week after the EU referendum, the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, was taken by surprise when a close ally of George Osborne approached him and suggested the creation of a new centrist party called “the Democrats” (the then chancellor had already pitched the idea to Labour MPs). “I’m all ears and I’m very positive about working with people in other parties,” Farron told me. But he said that the “most effective thing” he could do was to rebuild the Liberal Democrats.

When we spoke, Nick Clegg emphasised that “you’ve got to start with the ideas” but, strikingly, he did not dismiss the possibility of a new party. “You can have all sorts of endless, as I say, political parlour game discussions about whether you have different constellations or otherwise.”

Anna Soubry was still more positive about a new party, arguing: “If it could somehow be the voice of a moderate, sensible, forward-thinking, visionary middle way, with open minds – actually things which I’ve believed in all my life – better get on with it.”

However, Labour MPs have no desire to accept that the left’s supremacy is irreversible. But neither do they wish to challenge Corbyn. An MP distilled the new approach: “There is a strategy to give Jeremy [Corbyn] enough rope to hang himself. So it has not been about popping up in the media and criticising him in the way that colleagues did a year or so ago.” By giving him the space to fail on his own terms, rather than triggering another leadership contest, MPs hope that members will ultimately accept a change of direction.

Corbyn’s opponents acknowledge the risks of this approach.

“People are incredibly mindful of the fact that our brand is toxifying,” one told me. “As each day goes by, our plight worsens. Our position in the polls gets worse and the road back gets longer.”

Shadow cabinet ministers believe that Corbyn’s allies will never permit his departure until there is a viable successor. An increasingly influential figure is Karie Murphy, the director of the leader’s office and the partner of Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey. “She’s holding Jeremy in place,” I was told.

Leadership candidates require nominations from 15 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs, a threshold that the left aims to reduce to just 5 per cent through the “McDonnell amendment” (named after the shadow chancellor, who failed to make ballot when he stood in 2007 and 2010).

Should the rule change pass at this year’s party conference – an unlikely result – the next leadership contest could feature as many as 19 candidates. Labour has no shortage of aspirant leaders: Yvette Cooper, Dan Jarvis, Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry, Chuka Umunna. (Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary and Corbynite choice, is said to believe she is “not ready” for the job.)

All are clear-sighted enough to recognise that Labour’s problems would not end with Corbyn’s departure (nor did they begin with his election as leader). The party must restore its economic credibility, recover in Scotland, or perform far better in England, and bridge the divide between liberal Remainers and conservative Leavers.

Lisa Nandy, one of those who has thought most deeply about Labour’s predicament, told me: “I do think that, for many people, not being able to have time with their families and feel secure about where the next wage packet is coming from, and hope that life is going to get better for their kids, is really pressing as a political priority now. They will vote for the political party that offers real solutions to those things.

“That’s why power is such an important unifying agenda for the Labour Party – not just through redistribution of wealth, which I think we all agree about, but actually the redistribution of power as well: giving people the tools that they need to exert control over the things that matter in their own lives,” she says.

But some Labour MPs suggest even more drastic remedial action is required. “In order to convince the public that you’ve moved on, you have to have a Clause Four-type moment,” one member told me. “Which would probably involve kicking John McDonnell out of the Labour Party or something like that.

“You have a purge. Ken Livingstone gone, maybe even Jeremy [Corbyn] gone. That’s the only way that you can persuade the public that you’re not like that.”

Political commentators often mistake cyclical developments for structural changes. After Labour’s 1992 election defeat it was sometimes said that the party would never govern again. It went on to win three successive terms for the first time in its history. In March 2005 Geoffrey Wheatcroft published his book The Strange Death of Tory England. Less than nine months later, the Conservatives elected David Cameron as leader and returned to winning ways. As the US political journalist Sean Trende has archly observed, if even the Democrats recovered “rather quickly from losing the Civil War” few defeats are unsurvivable.

From despair may spring opportunity. “It is amazing how this Brexit-Trump phase has really mobilised interest in politics,” Nick Clegg said. “It’s galvanised a lot of people . . . That will lead somewhere. If in a democracy there is a lot of energy about, it will find an outlet.”

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition