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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 14:52 GMT
Paedophiles 'may go underground'
Burning car
Anger over paedophiles on a Portsmouth estate
By BBC News Online's Peter Gould

What happens to sex offenders when they complete their sentences, and have to be released back into the community?

While some emerge from prison reformed, many simply revert to their old ways, and seek new victims. Tragically, that was exactly how Sarah Payne came to be abducted.

The continuing danger such men pose to the public, especially children, means they now come under greater scrutiny, and not just by the police.


Where exactly are convicted sex offenders supposed to live?

"Stephen"
Paedophile

The hostile reaction of neighbours who have discovered a convicted paedophile in their midst has resulted in attacks on the homes of some offenders.

Few paedophiles ever talk about their crimes, before or after their release from prison. The last thing they want is to attract even more public attention.

So what goes through the mind of a sex offender, contemplating his return to the community, and knowing that life on the outside is likely to become very difficult if his identity is revealed?

Harassment

"Stephen" is a convicted paedophile. It is not his real name, but he says he wants to spare the families of his victims any further distress.

He is serving life sentences for offences that include rape and murder. He is in a prison that provides treatment for sex offenders.

Police guard home
Police guard home of suspected sex offender
At the end of his sentence, he will have to co-operate in the drawing up of a "release plan", and discuss ways to avoid any relapse into his offending behaviour.

Stephen told BBC News Online that many of those convicted of such crimes have not fully understood the significance of the requirement to register as sex offenders.

He says: "Few men are able to comprehend the probable difficulties they may encounter when actually released.

"I know of one lifer who has had to move accommodation about six times because of Press harassment, neighbour problems and probation interventions - not because he has done anything wrong but because other families have moved into the same street after him."

Isolation

Stephen says treatment programmes for sex offenders need to overcome such problems to ensure they can be re-integrated into society.

"Support networks and family ties are worked on and developed. They are nurtured and reconciliations effected.


Failure to heed this warning may result in secret ghettos of sex offenders living and operating in rings

"Stephen"
Paedophile

"The rationale behind this is that a sex offender on release who has somewhere to go and a family base, especially after completing a course of treatment, is more likely to succeed in the community.

"All this can be destroyed if the community is told where he is and what he is."

Stephen goes on: "In order for a sex offender to offend he needs secrecy, isolation. He needs to be a master of manipulation, he needs to feel unwanted, pathetic, of low self-esteem, unloved, self-pitying and rejected by 'normal' adults.

"It amazes me that society's wish to exclude these people from mainstream society plays straight into their offending behaviours. Inclusion, or making such offenders feel normal and wanted, instead of demonising them, will help make them more law-abiding and useful citizens."

Devious people

Stephen says he has become increasingly concerned about the "hysteria and fear" over sex offenders and the "populist rantings" of politicians over the issue of registration.

He says: "I have no real problem with the police maintaining a register, but to alert neighbourhoods to the whereabouts of paedophiles is another matter.

News of the World
A national newspaper identified paedophiles
"I cannot see how informing a community will stop a sex offender from re-offending. It will certainly not stop first-time offenders or in-family offending. Sex offenders too are notoriously devious people; as a consequence there would most likely be a displacement effect."

Stephen turns to the continuing debate about whether people have a right to know about sex offenders within their communities. The government has said that the Sex Offenders' Register will not be open to public scrutiny. But others believe that paedophiles should be identified.

"Some people may feel it will solve society's problems where sex offending is concerned, but a fundamental question remains glaringly unanswered," he says.

'Lynch mob'

"Where exactly are convicted sex offenders supposed to live if personal details are published in local papers, in shop-bought directories or in registers made available to the public?

"There will be no doubt that sex offenders will be hounded from their homes even if, given any past offending, they have managed to re-establish themselves back into the community.

Computer screen
Information about sex offenders in some American states is now available online
"Many sex offenders undertake and respond well to treatment programmes but I fear that this work may well be undermined if on release a sex offender is subject to a lynch-mob mentality.

"I am wondering now if sex offender treatment programmes should incorporate additional sessions to help them survive, in a very real sense, in a climate that could deny them a place to live as well as employment and which will serve only to isolate them.

"I believe the police and related agencies, the politicians and society as a whole should think very carefully about the consequences of naming sex offenders in neighbourhoods and those already released from prison having paid for their crimes.

"Failure to heed this warning may result in secret ghettos of unknown numbers of sex offenders living and 'operating' in rings, seeking comfort, companionship and solace from each other because society refuses them the chance of rehabilitation and integration into normal, mainstream life."

Full coverage of the trial

The verdict

Catching a murderer

Protecting children

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.


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