Following our 2017 blog on the issue of paedophilia and restorative justice, RJ4All intern, Dr. Sharma, writes about her views on this controversial topic.
Our media has vilified paedophiles to the point that they are no longer seen as human beings. Labelled as monsters (1) and filth (2), it is no wonder that 58% of the UK public believe that paedophiles are ‘innately evil’ (3). This topic elicits strong emotions and for good reason: we all have a duty to protect children, and a crime against the most innocent members of our society can be difficult to rectify.
However, research continues to show that punishment and a mob-like attitude does not lessen the threat, but rather drives criminals underground (4). As one offender put it, “that will teach me not to tell the truth” (5).
Restorative Justice is the act of bringing the offender and victim together, facilitating communication that empowers the victim, giving them the time and space to share their story. But above all, restorative justice is an ethos! At RJ4All, we have a project on explaining just what restorative justice is and how it can be used in everyday life.
It also gives the offender the opportunity to hear about the impact of their actions, to take responsibility and to make amends (6). Can Restorative Justice help us to humanise paedophiles and subsequently reduce child sex offences in the UK? Here, I use two examples to highlight the importance of Restorative Justice in this sensitive issue.
Circles of Support
Circles of Support and Accountability was set up in 2002 by the Home Office in an attempt to reduce reoffending in convicted child sex offenders (7). It is run by 105 volunteers across the UK and the concept is simple: in groups of 3-4, volunteers meet with an offender each week for up to a year. With a professional coordinator, the volunteers assist the offender by acting as a sounding board to their thoughts and fears, confronting any self-justifications or thoughts they may have about their offending while working closely with the probation services and the police. Circles is built on the concept of Restorative Justice and illustrates how Restorative Justice can change perceptions and humanise those who are most stigmatised.
“Since then, I've come to see core members not as sex offenders and 'monsters' but as people - electricians, plumbers, Man U supporters, whatever - who have also committed sexual offences.” David, Circles Volunteer (7)
A study of Circles in Canada (where the programme first started) found that offenders who participated in Circles had a sexual recidivism rate of 5% compared to 16.7% for controls (8). When this study was replicated in 2009, the findings were once again reproduced with a recidivism rate of 11.4% for offenders who participated in Circles compared to 38.6% for those who did not (9). Circles has also been found to improve the psychosocial wellbeing of offenders, with one study showing that 70% of offenders had improved emotional well-being and 50% were involved in more age-appropriate relationships (10). Other factors that were increased in offenders included self-esteem and internal locus of control and emotional regulation (11), all of which are linked to offending (12).
The Online World
Paedophilia is such a taboo subject that those suffering from such thoughts (and not necessarily commiting a crime) turn to the internet for help. The anonymity of the internet offers respite from a judgemental world. One example is Virtuous Paedophiles, a website for those who are suffering from thoughts about children but do not wish to commit any harm (13).
“Imagine for a moment that it was your child who was unfortunate enough to be attracted to children. According to leading scientists, there is approximately a one percent chance of this happening no matter how good a parent you may be. What would you want for your child? Would you want him or her to be alone, full of self-hate, forced to bear this burden without help? Or instead, would you want your child to be treated with sympathy and respect, to have access to help so he or she could live a happy, productive and law-abiding life?” Virtuous Paedophiles (13)
Such websites are a haven for those who cannot turn to anyone else. Another website, B4U Act (14), offers not only support for those suffering with such thoughts but also aims to bring together professionals in this area to encourage a different way of thinking about this problem; a complex issue that requires communication, a listening ear and a non-judgemental mind (15). Everything that Restorative Justice has to offer.
We are becoming increasingly open in today’s society, experiencing the world through another person’s eyes. With the help of social media we can see the impact of words and behaviour on others lives, from racism that has built hierarchies to sexism that still continues in the workplace.
This openness of human nature and empathy with human life is vital for Restorative Justice. We have faced many challenges in the modern world, and one of our last taboos is a crime that takes away our breath. We must face it with openness and compassion. Not only is it best for the offender, it is also best for the future of our children.
RJ4All continues to explore all possible avenues that are based on the restorative justice values of power sharing, fairness, equality and involvement in decision making. We have a project on child sexual abuse as well as other programmes that dare to take steps where others have failed.
All views are welcome and therefore we invite you to submit your thoughts in the comments box below or engage in our social media posts.
Dr. Sharma is an RJ4All intern and a junior doctor. To join or support our work click here
Day, L. 2019. ‘Monster’ paedophile sexually abused young girl and teenager [Online]. Available at: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/monster-paedophile-sexually-abused-young-16098375[Accessed 21st June 2019].
Loweth, J. 2019. ‘’Filthy’ paedophile devastated the lives of three young girls with ‘routine and blatant’ sexual abuse’ [Online]. Available at: https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/17638969.filthy-paedophile-devastated-the-lives-of-three-young-girls-with-routine-and-blatant-sexual-abuse/[Accessed 21st June 2019].
McCartan, K. 2004. ‘Here There Be Monsters’: The public’s perception of paedophiles with particular reference to Belfast and Leicester. Medicine, Science and the Law. 44:327-342.
Wright, V. 2010. Deterrence in Criminal Justice [Online]. Available at: https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Deterrence-in-Criminal-Justice.pdf) [Accessed: 21st June 2019].
Australian Institute of Criminology Research and Public Policy Series No 12. 1997. Paedophilia: Policy and Prevention. Australian Institute of Criminology.
Restorative Justice Council. Criminal Justice [Online]. Available at: https://restorativejustice.org.uk/criminal-justice[Accessed: 21st June 2019].
Roberts, Y. 2016. ‘’They’re not monsters’’ [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2006/jul/11/crime[Accessed: 21st June 2019].
Wilson, R. J., Picheca, J. E., Prinzo, M. 2007. Evaluating the effectiveness of professionally-facilitated volunteerism in the community-based management of high-risk sexual offenders: Part Two—A comparison of recidivism rates. The Howard Journal.46: 327-337.
Wilson, R. J., Cortoni, F., McWhinnie, A. W. 2009. Circles of support & accountability: A Canadian national replication of outcome findings. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment.21: 412-430.
Bates, A., Macrae, R., Williams, D., Webb, C. 2012. Ever-increasing circles: A descriptive study of Hampshire and Thames Valley Circles of Support and Accountability 2002-09. Journal of Sexual Aggression. 18: 355-373.
Höing, M., Vogelvang, B., & Bogaerts, S. 2015. “ I am a different man now”- Sex offenders in Circles of Support and Accountability: A prospective study.International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. 1-22.
Dumas, L. L. 2004. Do offenders’ life goals reflect locus of control and personality traits? [Online]. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a011/836d471572f9a42871037f5ba6a1d6fd8d76.pdf. [Accessed: 21st June 2019].
Virtuous Paedophiles. 2019. Virtuous Paedophiles [Online]. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a011/836d471572f9a42871037f5ba6a1d6fd8d76.pdf[Accessed; 21st June 2019].
B4U-Act. 2019. B4U-Act [Online]. Available at: https://www.b4uact.org[Accessed: 21st June 2019].
B4U-Act. 2017. Spring 2017 Workshop: Developing Best Practices [Online]. Available at: https://www.b4uact.org/events-timeline/workshops/spring-2017-workshop-developing-best-practices/[Accessed: 21st June 2019].