The majority of internet offenders admit what they have been doing immediately when confronted by the police. What has hitherto been a private world, between them and their computer, suddenly comes crashing down the moment the police walk through the door. The reality of exposure to the police, courts, social services and most of all their family and friends is for many a tidal wave of emotion, fear and panic. They know what the police will find. They know something of what that means. And most want help.
But what help is available? Is there therapy for a sex offender?
The police will hand over a leaflet directing a person to a few charitable organisations; the Lucy Faithful Foundation (and the Inform Plus course), Stop it Now and Stop SO. All do tremendous work in this field, but none offer a treatment program. There are a handful of other charities offering support and some counselling. All suffer from being overwhelmed and somewhat under resourced. Just getting through on the phone can be hard.
The state offers nothing whatsoever at this stage, even to the person who desperately wants that help and support. It is a significant gap, given the obvious interest for society that sex offenders in the community receive proper intervention to prevent reoffending. Such intervention may be ordered by a court later on, right at the end of the criminal process, and paid for by the state entirely, but for those, and it is most, prepared to voluntarily undertake exactly the same sort of program and more, there is nothing.
Instead, those offenders wait, generally unsupervised, for the process to grind on. The police might not find the evidence they need for a court case, though they generally do, and months or years later an offender must face a judge. Any court will applaud the efforts of an individual to get voluntary therapy. It is by far the most persuasive mitigating feature in any of these cases. It is often the difference between going to prison or going home. Yet the opportunity to get that therapy is incredibly limited, and more or less non-existent to those who cannot afford it.
Moreover, when it does come via a probation course, generally now a group-work program called ‘Horizon’, the limitations of the process rapidly become apparent. For many it will take more than 6 months to even start the course after the end of the case. It is necessarily a group program. Although there will be additional probation supervision and days of Rehabilitative Activity Requirements, there will have been no formal Treatment Needs Assessment. Indeed the risk assessments undertaken by probation will have been crude and limited, usually based on a single very short meeting of an hour or so. Everyone is lumped together, and will ‘pass’ the course by essentially simply attending. Some will be there just to avoid prison. There is no meaningful assessment of the extent to which risk has changed after the course is completed. The efficacy of Sex Offender Treatment courses in the criminal justice system has a troubled history at best in any event.
There is a missed opportunity to allow those who wish to seek help and support voluntarily at an early stage to do so. They should be incentivised so to go through stronger recognition (when they do eventually come to court) and easily accessible routes into treatment. In an alternative future, diversion from prosecution might be available for those who volunteer into a rehabilitation pathway.
Until then, and no-one will hold their breath for a more enlightened approach to the treatment of sex offenders, the only option for getting help is private therapy, and even that is not necessarily easy to find or access. A thorough assessment of treatment needs and a bespoke program of therapy is a rare and specialised package. At Stone King we are collaborating with specialist independent psychiatrists to offer a comprehensive Therapy and Rehabilitation Package that can meet the needs of offenders and their loved ones, to allow those who want help to get it at the right time. It can be a vital step in the road to recovery.
All offenders who genuinely want therapy and help to prevent reoffending should be able to get it. These will be people who want to be able to demonstrate they are getting help to a court, an employer, to social services, to their wife, family or friends. These will be people who want a program of support tailored to their needs, who want to go beyond mere counselling sessions and really tackle the causes of offending and create clear and effective plans to prevent relapse and reoffending.