Dehumanising the Paedophile: A restorative justice approach

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.