“To me, my clients are suffering human beings who have decided to try and deal with a difficult or troubling issue in their life, and who desperately hope that I can help them. My role is to provide a safe environment in which they can share distressing material without feeling judged – but there are challenges. Most will have come to me because they have been arrested and I must assume that they have harmed others, quite possibly children.
The typical client is dealing with intense feelings of shame regarding their behaviour. They are worried about their family and friends and the threat of losing their job. Initially I work with these issues and I describe the experiences of other clients, whilst of course maintaining strict confidentiality. This helps them understand that they are not unique. I also look at the triggers for their offending behaviour, as this awareness helps them change their behaviour to avoid being triggered.
Many of my clients have experienced trauma such as abuse, or their childhood may have been loveless, both of which make it more likely that they will commit sexual offences in adulthood. I discuss the neuroscience of addiction, which enables the client to understand that they were not born as an addict. Since they learned to be addicted, that means that they can learn not to be. This is not a justification for their behaviour, but this knowledge can help the client to start the healing process.
Working with sex offenders is challenging because they have harmed others and unless they stop they will commit further harm. Viewing indecent child images is not a victimless crime – others have directly abused children in order to feed the offender’s appetite. Unless the offender is able to acknowledge this harm then therapy will not succeed. I am aware that the quality of my work will influence whether the offender recovers or continues to harm others, including children. This pressure is particularly intense when dealing with offenders who have harmed children directly.
Managing the parallel processes of therapy and the law is another challenge. Offenders will remain on bail for months and as the court date gets closer they may find it hard to concentrate on therapy. Sometimes I am asked to write a letter of support for the client. This is commissioned by their solicitor for use by the court. Since I find that offenders do genuinely engage in the therapeutic process, more often than not I feel able to write a letter describing the process of recovery if the client wishes me to.
Overwhelmingly this is a male issue, although female sex offenders and paedophiles do exist. There is a large group of men, perhaps 5 % of the population, who are addicted to online pornography and/or using sex workers. Their behaviour causes them distress and they struggle to stop it, but they have not committed an offence. Internet sex offenders usually have looked at indecent images of children, sexual acts between people and animals (bestiality) or extreme violence, all of which are illegal. A paedophile’s primary sexual interest is in prepubescent children, and a person whose primary sexual interest is the early teens age group is known as a hebephile.
Most sex offenders refer themselves for treatment, and this can be accessed through the Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending (StopSO). Many have used the information provided by The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity (ATSAC); The Lucy Faithfull Foundation and their child sexual abuse prevention helpline. StopSO reports that over a third of their enquiries are from people who have not yet come to the attention of the police or social services.
In my experience offenders are relieved that they have been caught; they want the opportunity to recover. They are highly motivated to change, for themselves, and for their family and friends. They will have accepted that their behaviour has harmed others, very often children. As a therapist I am motivated to help them heal but, ultimately, I believe that by working with these clients I will help save children from abuse – and that is what keeps me doing this work.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Stock is from StopSO: The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending works to prevent sexual offending through therapy. StopSO is an agency that connects clients asking for help with a specially trained, experienced psychotherapist (or counsellor) who is geographically close. This service is available to anyone who feels at risk of committing a sexual offence, as well as those who have already committed a sexual offence. StopSO also offers therapy to the family members of sexual offenders. StopSO’s aim is to reduce sexual offending by offering therapy to the (potential and actual) perpetrators in order to prevent harm, and thus protect society.
T: 07473 299883