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Last Updated: Friday, 1 June 2007, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Treatment of child porn voyeurs
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Child internet porn is a "monstrous" problem, say charities
A police child protection chief has argued that paedophiles who look at child pornography on the internet should not necessarily go to prison. But just how should they be dealt with?

Child abuse experts and the police in Britain were shocked by the scale of internet child porn revealed by an inquiry known as Operation Ore.

Around 2,300 people were found guilty of offences earlier this year following a four-year inquiry into images accessed from a US website.

Why not invest in prevention, why wait until a child is harmed?
Juliet Lyon, Prison Reform Trust

And a survey for the NSPCC earlier this month found that half of children using the internet have had an "unwanted experience" online. Such an experience could mean anything from being bullied and threatened, to being asked to perform sexual acts.

The survey reinforced the need for the charity's "Don't Hide It" campaign against child abuse.

So no one doubts the enormity of the problem, the difficulty lies in how to tackle such a complex issue.


Michele Elliot, the director and founder of Kidscape, said that people who looked at child porn were just as guilty as the people who took the photos and should be sent to prison.

"I wonder how victims of child sex abuse who are involved in pornography would feel if they thought we were saying that we have so many people looking at this that we just need to caution them?" she asked.

NSPCC 'Don't Hide It' poster
'Don't Hide It' is the NSPCC's child abuse campaign

"I'm not saying that you go to prison and that's it. You go to prison and receive treatment."

She said it made her angry that some offenders were already receiving cautions rather than a prison sentence.

"It sends a message to other people that may download child pornography - 'that's not really such a serious office'."

Ms Elliot said she accepted that some sex offences were more serious than others, adding: "The sentence should be greater if they download more. But if they download even once maybe they need to spend a month in prison so they realise they have done something really serious."

Sex Offenders
28,994 registered sex offenders in England and Wales
About 110,000 people have been convicted of sex offences against children
With treatment, sex offenders are far less likely to re-offend
In extreme cases, a sex offender may abuse more than 200 children
  • Source: Home Office/NSPCC
  • Donald Findlater, director of research and development at child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said child internet pornography was a problem of "monstrous" proportions.

    "People who feel they are developing a sexual interest in children often want to seek help, but the prospect of police, courts and prisons are massive obstacles.

    "If we can get to people early enough, we can nip this problem in the bud."

    The charity, named after its founder, Baroness Lucy Faithfull of Wolvercote, undertakes risk assessments of offenders and suspected offenders for the police, courts, local authorities and other voluntary organisations.

    It also runs a course through its Information Forum for Families with Internet Problems (Inform) for people related or close to someone who has been accessing illegal material on the internet.

    Seek help

    The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) says that most of the adult sex offenders it treats have been referred by the probation service or local authorities, while others are unconvicted adults who are concerned about their thoughts or behaviour.

    The charity uses Home Office approved psychometric tests and interviews to assess sex offenders and to establish an individual action plan for their treatment.

    Cognitive behaviour therapy, which is a form of treatment used to change habitual patterns of thinking, in one-to-one or group sessions is the most common treatment used by the NSPCC. The offender's spouse or partner may also be involved in the treatment.

    Prevention is better than prison, say some experts

    A spokesman said: "Treatment is designed to help offenders change their thinking patterns so they can acknowledge they have a problem and that their behaviour is inappropriate, harmful and illegal.

    "They are helped to develop an awareness of why children cannot give consent, children's likely experience of abuse, and an understanding of its damaging effects on victims.

    "Treatment can enable offenders to recognise patterns in their behaviour that make committing further offences more likely and to avoid risk situations, lapses into risk behaviour or relapse into re-offending."

    Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the solution lay in protection, before children were harmed.

    She said: "To keep children safe, probably the most important thing we can do is to make it possible for people who fear that they are developing a sexual interest in children to seek the help and treatment they need - before the police knock on their door, before they have to be locked up and before there is a victim.

    "The prison service operates a limited number of sex offender treatment programmes, and these are effective for some, but the urgent questions remain: why not invest in prevention, why wait until a child is harmed?"

    The NSPCC reaction to the child porn findings


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