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Before It’s Too Late

An organization’s efforts towards nipping paedophilia in its bud

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Five year old April Jones was kidnapped and murdered by a paedophile in 2012, generating a nationwide debate on the issue | Image courtesy: mccannfiles.com

Since his early twenties, ever since he first started fantasizing about having sex with kids, Paddy knew that something wasn’t quite right about him. He had tried to seek help for it but it wasn’t forthcoming.

“Whether you talk of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and Samaritans, I knocked everyone’s door. I even went to the police. I can assure you, nobody has helped me,” he says. “I once went to a psychiatrist in Dublin. He told me, ‘Fuck off’.”

One day about 20 years ago, the Irishman was at a bookshop in Newcastle, a city to the north of England. He saw two young girls across the aisle and couldn’t hold himself back any longer. When they caught him, he was masturbating in full public view. Paddy was arrested and jailed for six months for ‘gross indecency’.

It made matters only worse. His only escape, Paddy thought, now lay in anti-depressives.

Two years ago, he heard of a possible avenue for treatment in London and shifted base. Along with his therapist, he realized that his condition could be traced back to a violent childhood where he was beaten up by his alcoholic father and abused by a priest. More than a year in therapy now, the 65-year-old looks back at lets out a wry chuckle at the thought of his Newcastle episode. “The guy in the bookshop called me a pervert. It’s more like a cry for help, don’t you think?” he asks.

Paddy’s story echoes in several other cases. “A large number of people will tell you that you should lock these people up and throw away the key,” says Juliet Grayson, a psychotherapist from Wales. “When you talk to parents, the number is much higher.” Some therapists also feel wary in dealing with such client groups and are unsure if they should report them to the police. It’s a legal grey zone and they are not sure if they want to get into it.

Sometimes, it’s not only the patients who need help. Their therapists, too, can use some training to offer this help. In 2012, Grayson recognized this need and started working on founding Specialist Treatment Organization for the Prevention of Sexual Offending (Stopso), a first-of-its-kind body in the UK with the explicit aim of training therapists in dealing with paedophiles who seek help.

It was the same year that was marked by the high-profile disappearance of April Jones, a five-year-old girl from Wales. In the manhunt that followed, it was revealed that she was abducted by a paedophile who later murdered her. The accused was finally traced and sentenced to life imprisonment. But this was only the beginning of the problem.

“According to NSPCC, the crimes related to child sex abuse cost us around ‎£3.2 billion per year, from investigation and court proceedings to locking people up. StopSO could train more therapists and offer treatment to all sex offenders and those of risk of sexual offending, across the whole of the UK at less than a thousandth of the cost,” says Grayson. “It seems ridiculous to work with people who are sexually abused and not do anything with the perpetrators.”

Often, the perpetrators themselves have been victims at some point and are locked in a vicious cycle. Elizabeth Ross, another psychotherapist from London who has counselled a number of patients with latent and active paedophilia, says that she has never come across a paedophile who didn’t have trauma.

“I once worked with a man who was obsessed with clicking pictures of children. He had some 20,000 to 30,000 pictures. He was sent to a well-known institution but his therapist was so disgusted with him, the poor sod came out and nearly re-enacted,” says Ross.

Ergo, in each of the training sessions conducted by Stopso, the trainers are told to identify and assess the risks that the patient might pose to the society. The treatment is then tailor-made, suiting each patient’s needs. Grayson gives the analogy from her own days when she was trying to lose weight: “Just the way I might look at chocolate biscuits and think I shouldn’t have it, we want [these] people who look at [child] porn and think they shouldn’t be having it.”

Ever since it was set up, Stopso has trained 141 counsellors in helping those with such special needs. The therapy they give is meant as a preventive measure, much before the hammer of the law starts swinging. Earlier this month, the efforts of the organization came to a full circle after the father of April Jones decided to back its cause. Speaking to the BBC Wales, Paul Jones told a journalist his reasons for supporting the project: “They’re trying to offer help to paedophiles before they become offenders – it’s the way forward. Prevention has to be the key.”

But even as Stopso finds a scattered backing, there are little efforts from the government’s end to deal with potential paedophiles. Across the world, therapists often point to ‘Project Dunkelfeld’, the state-sponsored programme in Germany that allows non-offending paedophiles who recognize their problem to seek treatment. But in the UK, professionals at National Health Services (NHS), for example, are contract-bound to report paedophiles to the police if the former have been involved in perpetrating an act and not been convicted.

For Grayson, it creates several hurdles in getting the word across to the patients. “Paedophiles that have suffered from trauma at an early age can be helped to process that trauma and then they stop acting out. For other kinds of paedophile the problem seems to be more deep rooted. It is a sexual orientation that can never be completely cured. All he can do is keep his tendencies at bay,” she says.

And then there are always the occasional censure from the society that she has to face for her work. “Therapists who work with these clients fear being called ‘pedo lovers’. Some members of the public don’t look at us favourably. This only creates a fear on how to deal with them.”

Unfazed by all, she continues to carry the message forward, holding regular workshops and giving interviews to the media. “Around 45% of the people coming to us haven’t come to the attention of police yet,” says Grayson. “These people are coming to us asking for help. I think that is a positive sign.”