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

Chris Ball/UNP
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The fish-eaters and the fasters

With a population split between whites and Asian Muslims, in some ways Nelson in Lancashire feels like similar-sized towns in Ulster: two communities separated by a gulf of non-communication.

In the late afternoon of local election day this month, the chairman of Nelson Town Council was working the terraces of old cotton weavers’ houses on his patch. Sajid Ali was wearing a red rosette and a navy blue cardigan over his capacious white shalwar kameez, and what looked like his dancing shoes.

This was not the forlorn ritual of unanswered doors, blank looks and curt responses habitually experienced by Labour canvassers even in more promising political times. Along these streets Sajid is a figure of some consequence: a jolly fellow and, as one opponent put it, an “interesting character”.

Almost everyone was in; Sajid knew almost all of them; and they in turn understood what was required. Sometimes a quick burst of Lancy Punjabi did the job: “Salaam alaykum, yoong maan, how yer doing? What time yer coomin’ to vote?” To older voters his spiel would be entirely in Punjabi and the response would often be a head-wobble, that characteristic south Asian gesture, which, when given to Westerners, can be baffling, but in these cases clearly signified solid intention.

The Labour candidate in the Brierfield and Nelson West division of Lancashire County Council, Mohammed Iqbal, held his seat comfortably on the day his party lost control of the county. And he did so on a poll of 58 per cent: a far higher turnout than in any of the other, whiter areas of Pendle; the highest in Lancashire; and higher than wards with these demographics would usually expect even at a general election. The average across Lancashire on 4 May was 37 per cent. It seems reasonable to conclude that the votes from those of ­Pakistani heritage, marshalled by Sajid, were wholly responsible.

Nelson is a strange, sad, divided, forgotten old cotton town, not without beauty. The weavers’ houses are stone not brick, which, elsewhere, might make them rather chic. A few minutes from town is wonderful Pennine countryside, and to the north the view is dominated by Pendle Hill itself, brooding like some sleeping sea monster.

Pendle is both the borough council and the constituency, where the mix of urban and rural has delivered it to the winning side in seven of the eight general elections since its creation 34 years ago. (Labour took it, five years prematurely, in 1992.) No one seriously believes the 5,400 Tory majority is in play. Nonetheless, Nelson can explain a lot about British politics in 2017.

“This was a cracking town,” said John Bramwell (“John the Fish”), who has been purveying cod, haddock and non-stop banter to Nelson for 41 years, first on the market, now from one of the last white-run, independent shops in the town centre. Nelson had a football team that played fleetingly (1923-24) in the old Second Division, what is now called the Championship. And in 1929 the Lancashire League cricket team, flashing cash in a manner that baffled the national press, signed Learie Constantine, the most gifted and thrilling West Indian all-rounder of his generation.

“When he arrived, no one in Nelson had ever seen a black man close-to,” said Derek Metcalfe, the club’s historian. “People would cross the road when he passed by. But he grew into their affections. He was a highly intelligent man as well as a great player.” Constantine, after a post-cricket career in the law, Trinidadian politics and diplomacy, finished life in the House of Lords as Baron Constantine of Maraval and Nelson, Britain’s first black peer. In July 1943 the Imperial Hotel in Bloomsbury accepted his booking but not his presence, and he promptly sued. His victory at the high court the following year was an early landmark in the fight against racial discrimination.

It was the 1950s before Nelson would get used to seeing non-white faces again, when the mill owners, battling labour shortages and overseas competition, turned to Pakistan to find biddable and affordable workers. They found them in Gujrat District, which is not one of the more worldly places, even in the rural Punjab.

“The first group were young men who in many ways integrated better than they do now. There were no mosques. They went to the pubs with their workmates and knocked around with local women. Then they had to go to the airport to collect the intended wives they hadn’t met yet,” recalled Tony Greaves, the Liberal Democrat peer who is deputy leader of Pendle Borough Council.

The mills disappeared, gradually but inexorably, but the Pakistani community kept growing and has now reached its fourth generation. The young men do not normally spend time in pubs; indeed, in a town of 30,000 people, there are only two left, plus a couple on the outskirts. It is hard to imagine anywhere that size in Britain with fewer. There are, however, at least a dozen mosques. The 2011 census recorded 40 per cent of the population as Asian, but on market day in the town centre the proportion seems much higher. The most prominent retail outlets are two bazaars: the Nelson (the
old Poundstretcher) and the Suraj opposite (the old Woolworths). Few white faces are seen in either: the saris and hijabs are beautiful but of little interest. They are all imported to this textile town from south Asia.

The white people have retreated, either out of the town altogether or to the semis of Marsden, on the hill. In the visible life of Nelson, they are clearly a minority. Population change on this scale can be accommodated, if not always easily, in large cities. It is a different proposition in a small town that was once tight-knit and, despite its closeness to larger places such as Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley, largely self-contained.

Even after 60 years, hardly anything has melted in the pot. The early migrants were villagers who placed little value on education. Recent history has led Muslims all over the world to turn inwards, to their own religion and culture. This is being exacerbated by white flight and by the advent of religious free schools, a disaster for anywhere in search of cohesion. The old Nelsonians have turned away. “Nelson is not multiracial or multicultural. It is biracial and bicultural,” says Greaves. “I would love to tell you that I go round to Abbas’s house to have chicken jalfrezi and he comes to mine for steak pudding and chips,” says John the Fish. “It’s just not like that.”

Unemployment is high at 18 per cent; there is no shortage of taxis. Educational attainment is patchy. Teachers at the two high schools fear their best pupils will be creamed off further by the promised grammar-school boom.

The vicar of Nelson, Guy Jamieson, and at least some of the local imams do their utmost to make connections between the communities. In certain respects Nelson feels like similar-sized towns in Ulster: two communities separated by a gulf of non-communication. In other ways, this description is unfair. When Burnley, just four miles away, suffered riots in 2001, Nelson stayed quiet. I could sense no threat, no active tension, merely resigned indifference on both sides. “There’s a poverty of confidence,” Jamieson said. “They don’t know how to sit down and engage.”

***

A modern English town council, subordinate to Brussels, Westminster, county and district, is an improbable power base, but Sajid Ali seems to be making Nelson’s work. Its precept is only £330,000 a year but this is not capped, so it suits both district and town if Pendle offloads smaller assets: parks, play areas, community centres. It is a minimalist form of devolution, but harks back to the days when Nelson was a borough in its own right, and looks forward to an improbable future when our towns might again be allowed to take their own decisions as they do in more grown-up countries.

But the council votes on party lines, Labour’s 16 councillors trumping the Tories’ eight. “They won’t work with us,” Sajid says flatly. “They don’t run it fairly for the town itself,” says the Conservative Neil McGowan. “If we put something forward for Marsden, we are always outvoted. One council official told me they’d never come across a town like it.” In Tony Greaves’s words, “The
politics in Nelson were always sour.” In the 1930s it was known as Little Moscow.

When I first met Sajid, however, he was outside a polling station doing a stint as a teller and laughing merrily along with his blue-rosetted counterpart, Arshad Mahmood. Yet things were not quite as they seemed. Mahmood was part of a mass defection of Pakistani Lib Dems to the Conservatives which appears to have nothing to do with Brexit, extra taxes for the NHS or Maymania. What it does have to do with remains elusive even to local politicians: “clan politics” and “personal ambition” were mentioned. It may be even more complicated than that. “So you’ll be voting for Theresa May next month?” I asked Mahmood. “Oh, no, I like Jeremy Corbyn. Very good policies.”

Perhaps this helped Sajid maintain some enthusiasm for the bigger campaign ahead, though he was daunted by one fact: the general election coincides with Ramadan, and dawn-to-dusk fasting comes hard in these latitudes when it falls in summertime. Still, he was impressed by all the new members Corbyn had brought to Labour: “The way I see it is that each new member has five, ten, 15, 20 people they can sell the message to.”

This seemed a bit strange: it implied he thought politics in the rest of Britain worked as it did in these streets. He had boasted earlier that he knew everyone. “All over Nelson?” “Oh, no,” he had backtracked. “In the English community nobody knows their next-door neighbour.” Which was an exaggeration, but perhaps not much of one.

There were no posters along Sajid Ali’s streets – not one. The information about which house to choose was on the canvass return and, more significantly, in his head. Just once he got it wrong. A little white girl opened the door and then a tattooed, muscular figure in a singlet barrelled towards the door. He wasn’t aggressive, just brisk. “Naaw. I doan’t vote.” End of. It was a sudden reminder of the norms of modern British politics.

***

Another norm is that, at any local count, no one ever thinks much of the big picture. The rise and fall of prime ministers, earthquakes and landslides are no more than distant rumours, of surprisingly little interest to the principals; what matters is the here and now. Where did that ballot box come from? How big is the postal vote? Any chance of a recount? When the five seats for Pendle were counted the next day at the leisure centre in Colne, one stop further up the clanking branch line from Nelson, no one was talking about the Tory takeover at County Hall.

Here there was something for everyone: Mohammed Iqbal won, just as Sajid predicted. Azhar Ali took the other Nelson seat even more easily for Labour. Both results were greeted with more effusive male hugs than would be considered seemly in Berkshire. In Pendle Central the Tories knocked out the sitting Lib Dem, but – heroically, in their eyes – one of the Lib Dem candidates grabbed a seat in the rural division.

But the most interesting result came in the most trifling contest: a twinned by-election for two vacancies in Nelson Town Council’s lily-white ward of Marsden, so electors had two votes each. The seats were won by a Conservative married couple, the Pearson-Ashers, who got 426 and 401; the single BNP candidate had 359 votes, with one Labour candidate on 333 and the other on 190. The first of these was called Laura Blackburn; the second Ghulam Ullah. This suggests a good deal of vote-splitting that Labour might find rather unpalatable.

In fact, Marsden already has one far-right relic: Brian Parker, who sits on Pendle Borough Council, is the last survivor in the top two tiers of local government of the BNP mini-surge that took them to 55 council seats across the country by 2009. Of Parker, two opposing councillors told me: “He’s actually a very good ward councillor.”

Curiously, Ukip has made little impact in Nelson or in Pendle as a whole. So there is not much scope for the party to fulfil what appears to be its immediate destiny: as a way station for Labour’s historic core voters to catch their breath on the arduous journey into Theresa May’s arms. According to John the Fish, whose shop functions as a kind of confessional for white opinion, they may no longer need a stopover: “I’m getting plenty of people, staunch Labourites, telling me they can’t stand Corbyn.”

I asked him how many Pakistani regulars he had. He broke off from chopping hake and held up five fingers. On 8 June the fish-eaters of Marsden can be expected to rouse themselves more energetically than the Ramadan fasters across town.

***

Seedhill, the cricket ground graced by Constantine, is pretty Nelson rather than gritty Nelson, even though a chunk of it, including the old pavilion, was lopped off years ago to form an embankment carrying the M65. Upstairs in the pavilion is a wonderful picture of the great man, eyes ablaze, down on one knee for a full-blooded cover-drive. It would have made a better monument in the town centre than the 40-foot weaving shuttle that has dominated Market Street since 2011. I thought it was a torpedo; children think it’s a giant pencil.

The packed houses that watched Constantine lead Nelson to seven league titles in nine years have dwindled now: there were only a couple of dozen to watch his successors play Accrington recently. But it was a drab day with a chilly breeze and Burnley were at home to West Brom in the winter game down the road.

And generally the club thrives better than the town. Given the lack of hotels and pubs, the pavilion is much in demand for functions, and the team remains competitive. Nelson fielded four local Asians for the Accrington match, which suggests that, in one activity at least, integration is just about where it should be.

It seems unlikely that a similar situation would apply at the crown green bowls or the brass band, or any other of the long-standing recreations in Nelson (though small but growing numbers of Pakistanis are now taking allotments). The knee-jerk liberal reaction might be that this is somehow the fault of the white Nelsonians. I think this attitude is a grave oversimplification that has done much damage.

In one respect the incomers have re-created the old life of Nelson. In the hugger-mugger stone-built terraces, the neighbourliness, the power of extended families, the external patriarchy and the internal matriarchy, the vibrancy, the sense of communal struggle . . . that is exactly what this cotton town must have been like a century ago. 

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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