Saturday, October 04, 2014

On managing paedophilia

Paedophilia is a fact of human life.

We cannot arrest and lock up all paedophiles. Men with an inclination towards paedophilia make up about 5% of the male population, about 1.5 million for the UK. The present prison population of England and Wales, shamefully one of the highest in Western Europe, is 97,000, so a full-on lock-up would mean a fifteen fold (x 15) increase in the prison population. This is simply not feasible.

About 1% of the male population actually practices paedophilia in some way. That is still 300,000 men, three times more than the present prison population.

Therefore we need to think flexibly and creatively about how to handle the problem.

Violent abusers
Clearly, society must be protected from predatory, violent paedophiles, who commit kidnappings, rape and murder. They must be imprisoned for significant periods, and also controlled on release, perhaps by life-long probation, tagging, or hormonal therapy. They should never be allowed unsupervised contact with children.

The effect of hormonal injections is interesting. Here is an academic review of anti-androgens for sex offenders. One female hormone, medroxyprogesterone acetate, called Depo-Provera in the UK, is commonly used in women as an injectable contraceptive.

Two other classes of drug are useful: LHRH agonists and anti-androgens. The latter are also used in men to treat prostatic cancer, and have shown promise in trials.

One interesting fact is that in some cases, men lose their abnormal interest in children on treatment, but regain their interest in normal sexual activity.

Hormonal treatment is an emotive subject, as journalists inevitably describe it as "chemical castration". However, it is a reasonable approach to a severe problem, and one that is at present being trialed in the UK.

Some paedophiles are troubled by their urges, and welcome the chance to try hormonal treatment voluntarily.

Potential abusers
We need to decide how to manage the less dangerous - those caught viewing child pornography, and those who may have touched inappropriately, rather than penetrated, or demanded oral sex of children.

Some of these may need to go to prison for a time, to drive home the message that what they do is not acceptable. For these less threatening cases, re-education (primarily to teach the impacts of paedophilia) and in cases where the victims wish it, restorative justice, followed by probation, is one way to go.

Internet pornographyChild pornography (more correctly termed "Images of child abuse") on the internet is a challenge, because of the vast quantity in existence. There are two measures that can be applied to reduce it.

First, there are portals for pornography, where sites put up one image typical of what they are offering. The page will typically contain images of women at the top, and then, further down, specialised themes begin to appear. Some of these are clearly of younger models. Clicking on these would open pages of sites offering ever younger models until child abuse sites would appear.

It would be easy to require porn portals to provide a URL to a reporting site such as this ASACP site on each page. That would quickly close down the portal link, since portal owners would not want the hassle that comes with complaints via a link on their own page.

The problem will remain in the vast numbers of images that exist independent of these portals.

Searching vast numbers of images is time consuming and distressing for police officers. This work can be automated using Image Recognition Software (IRS). This exists already, though it may need development for application to the kind of images that we are seeking to identify. The software will need to be able to measure the head-body ratio of an image in order to diagnose a child. It can also be designed to recognise certain poses, and proximity with adult forms. This ability is not beyond the scope of what IRS can do, and may exist already.

Internet chat rooms
Some paedophiles go onto internet chat rooms to befriend, groom and finally meet up with children for sexual purposes.

A Channel 4 film The Paedophile Hunter shows how this activity can be stopped definitively. A group of young men led by Stinson Hunter go onto chat rooms pretending to be young girls. They get into conversation with older men, some of whom start to steer the conversation towards sex. The "girls" state their age, and do not lead the men on. Eventually, the man requests a meeting. He steps into a situation where he is filmed and confronted non-violently by the group, who present their evidence of the text message conversation to the police. They have obtained several arrests.

This is non-police action, so it attracts the term "vigilante", with attendant criticism. The hunters do put images of the paedophiles they trap onto Facebook, which is dangerous since it could lead to others taking violent action against the offenders.

The remedy for this is for police to do this work themselves. It is ludicrous for police to send warning letters to Stinson Hunter warning him off his work, (as they did in the film) when the police' record in this area is so shambolic, (not to say corrupt), and when the police are not offering to take over in a constructive way.

The documentary is hard to watch, quite dark, but there is a moment of unintentional humour when a QC says that evidence gathered by amateur hunters "might be lost" - ironic, considering how many items of evidence have been lost by the police themselves.

The effect of replicating the work of Stinson Hunter extensively by police or trained support personnel  (such as Stinson and his friends) would quickly eradicate the danger of grooming in chat rooms, by making the risk of discovery and arrest too great.

Voluntary treatment
Once abusers from Westminster, judges, and police have been brought to justice, it will be established in the popular consciousness that child sexual abuse is not tolerable. In this case, there is a need for young people whose sexuality is forming up to be able to seek treatment if they are worried that they are developing paedophilic tendencies.

New money and expertise will need to be made available to provide a safe, confidential and effective service for these people.

In conclusion, paedophilia can be managed and reduced in its prevalence by an imaginative and meaningful set of reforms. It is feasible.

All that is needed is the political will.

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