Shine A Light

Consider the impact of rape on a child: paedophiles must spend longer in jail

The partner of an abuse survivor convicted of killing a suspected paedophile calls for longer sentences for sexual offences against children

Lydia Smith
31 January 2012

A child who has been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted can grow up to feel unsafe in the world, to feel that everyone is going to hurt it, to have little self-confidence, be fearful, isolated and angry. This child can feel powerless, fear losing control, and lack respect for and trust in authority.

All this is compounded and intensified if the child has no support, is met with disbelief or simply cannot tell anyone. A child is isolated by abuse.

The abuse breaks the normal bonds that hold society together, it transgresses boundaries. If there is family breakdown, no home stability and a lack of solid nurturing roots, such children are known to do less well at school because they are either not there or when they are there they can't concentrate.

Missing out on a consistent education and qualifications, their job prospects may be poor — they're more likely to be unemployed or on a low income, with no conventional means of earning a decent living.

The abused and isolated child may feel no link to the rest of humanity and there is a danger that the child will learn by imitation, surviving by aggression to bolster confidence, feeling unloved will not give love, feeling disrespected respects nobody, feeling powerless seeks control, lacking respect for elders and authority will not respect the law.

When the worst has already happened, what is there left to lose?

Of course, not all abused children have problems with the law. The effects of child abuse on adult male offending is under-researched but Janet Currie in ‘Does Child Abuse Cause Crime?’ finds that it is a significant factor in offending behaviour: it approximately doubles the probability of engaging in crime —more so for boys — and the probability increases with incidence and severity.

Abuse survivors in prison
It is difficult to find UK statistics relating to abuse survivors in prison but research by the Ministry of Justice and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) records a 28 to 37 per cent  Yes response to the question "Were you a victim of childhood abuse?" (It is not clear how the respondents defined abuse). The survivors’ group AMSOSA (Adult Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse) which counsels survivors in prison, puts the figure at 80 per cent.  Surveys in the United States suggest 66 per cent of the prison population are survivors of abuse, with an even higher rate for women.

In traumatic situations it is common for victims to dissociate.  A child being ‘abused’ (which is a very woolly term that does not fully express the horror of rape and sexual abuse) often learns to ‘zone out’ as a coping strategy — if he or she can't physically escape from what is happening, the child will detach from the situation; the mind splits into two.

This response may persist into adulthood to the extent that the survivor can slip from one facet of themselves to another so easily and frequently that they feel they are not functioning as a single person.

Survivors commonly report intrusive memories, vivid flashbacks so real it's like it's happening again, terrifying nightmares. Anything might trigger these off, including smells or sounds.  These ‘tuned out’ states to try to blank-out the flashbacks can be achieved through drugs and alcohol, depression, and self-harm.  In extreme cases this dissociation can develop into a dissociative personality disorder.

My partner David has been in prison for 16 years for killing a suspected paedophile, and he has attacked convicted abusers in jail. He was horrifically abused himself as a child. Neither his first abuser, nor any of the subsequent paedophiles in the children's homes he was sent to, were convicted. How can anyone grow up with a sense of self-worth and respect for a society that allows such people to walk free? David had no support, and developed a personality disorder in his twenties, prior to his offence. David does not think any of this is an excuse or justification.

We all have responsibility for our actions, we all have personal choice. Easy words. David is ill.

In the detached state of a personality disorder episode, when someone has 'switched', then reason, logic, reality, and consequences do not mean anything.

All that child's rage had to go somewhere. It is simple cause and effect. You cannot treat a child in this way and expect nothing to happen.

David 'switches' to the child he was and feels it is the child itself who is demonic, not what was done to that child.  He is not himself and has no control over what is triggered off, and he has no proper memory of it afterwards.  To try to overcome these violent feelings he engages in furious 'automatic writing' he equally has no control over. He will starve himself in an attempt to weaken the rage.

David was not born this way.  His abusers may not have stabbed the man he killed but they certainly sharpened the blade.

At his trial he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (emotionally unstable) and Conduct Disorder, which is found only in children, but this was not taken into account — it was decided he was 'bad not mad'.  Instead of being referred to hospital and given treatment he was sent directly to jail, whose purpose is containment not help: having to be on guard 24 hours a day on busy wings full of bullies, at risk of violence and rape, frequent strip searches by male officers — and confronted daily by jailed paedophiles and other sex offenders.

David will not get out of prison until he can prove that he is not a danger to the very people who were so dangerous to him when he was a child.

It’s a cruel irony of David’s situation that he would be of less risk to paedophiles if he were free. It’s on the inside, in prison, that he comes into regular contact with known identifiable paedophiles.

To prove that he is no longer a risk to paedophiles he has to sit peaceably in group therapy with them and  listen to their point of view. There is surely no other therapeutic situation in existence where a vulnerable person would be put in such close contact with those responsible, and have to listen politely to their self-justifications.

Paedophiles in prison
Having been transferred to many prisons over the past fifteen years, always on wings where paedophiles are held, David has become familiar with their patterns of behaviour.

Photographs of their victims are given to them when they get the paperwork for their cases. They can be observed gathering round, sharing these crime-scene pictures, swapping stories, as enthusiasts do, bragging, enjoying glorying in their crimes.  

They use pornography and get ideas from books by survivors, discuss strategies of how to continue offending without getting caught. 

These men aren’t sorry. They don’t take responsibility for their actions.  All is self-pity, excuse and justification. Released sex offender Andy Deaves has complained to the European Court of Human Rights that being on the Sex Offenders’ Register “is in serious breach of not just mine but my family’s human rights, fundamental freedoms, freedom of movement and Right to respect for private and family life. It also prevents us from returning to any kind of normal life after doing my sentence and paying my penance.” No mention in Deaves’s letter — published in prisoners' newspaper InsideTime — of his victim’s chances of returning to a normal life.

Paedophiles and the law
Fifty-four year old Barry McCloud drug-raped a poverty-stricken ten year old girl in India after befriending her family. He was initially given a life-sentence with a tariff of eighteen years —reduced to fourteen years on a guilty plea (he shouldn't get credit for this; he couldn't very well deny it since he'd filmed himself doing it).

McCloud appealed this lenient sentence and at the High Court Justice Treacy, reducing it to a less draconian ‘IPP’ (Imprisonment for Public Protection) agreed that “life sentences should be reserved for even more serious criminals”, claiming that  "the offences were not so egregious as to require a term of life imprisonment". 

Jo Sidhu, for McCloud, said in mitigation that "he restricted the abuse to one child". That's all right then. He had in fact downloaded child pornography images which is not a victimless crime and surely shows intent.

Perhaps the prevalence of child sex abuse has reduced its power to shock the courts.

The familiar bleat that most child abusers were themselves abused as children should be met with scepticism as another cynical attempt to get leniency in courts.  The overwhelming majority of survivors would never pass the abuse on in this way. In any case it would be no excuse.

David Finkelhor, director of the New Hampshire-based Crimes Against Children Research Centre, identified a pattern of abuse:  the abuser wants to abuse; overcomes his inhibitions to abuse; creates opportunities to abuse; and chooses to act.  It is not a random, spontaneous lack of control; it is about control. They abuse children because they can. They are not ill.  They know it is wrong and they choose to do it anyway.

In prison, when the balance of power is against them, they call on the law to help them out.

Attacks against paedophiles in prison are not uncommon.  Prison hierarchy ranks sex offenders right at the bottom and delivers its own justice.  Surprisingly, those known to have a burning hatred of paedophiles frequently find themselves opportunely placed on the same wings, like some interesting Roman sport.

Then the law steps in.

Ian Huntley, who killed two ten-year-old girls in 2002, wanted to sue the prison service for £100,000 damages for not protecting him against his attacker Damien Fowkes.

Fowkes went on to kill child sex killer Colin Hatch who had killed seven year old Sean Williams eleven weeks after getting out on parole, having served just two years of a three year sentence for a similar assault on another boy. 

Fowkes got twenty years minimum. Huntley got twenty years for each girl

Lee Foye, who is in prison for killing his young girlfriend, for which he got a sixteen-year tariff, went on to kill paedophile Robert Coello.  Foye had said on numerous occasions in prison group therapy that he wanted to kill paedophiles but was told to "keep talking about it".  So was Coello encouraged to keep talking about his offences — he loved bragging and  was very vocal in the group about the four rapes and twelve other offences against a schoolgirl for which he'd received a tariff of seven years.

Foye has such a severe personality disorder that last year he cut off both of his own ears in the CSC in Woodhill prison.  Four doctors recommend hospital; even the prosecution said he needs help.

But instead of receiving manslaughter due to diminished responsibility and a hospital order, he got another life sentence — this time with a tariff of thirty-five years.

Some might argue that the life of a man who rapes a schoolchild has as much value as the life of a 19 year old mother — but twice as valuable? 

A quarter of child sex offenders are let off with a caution, according to records for 2008. Hundreds more get community penalties or suspended sentences, despite the seriousness of their crimes.  In 2008, of 5123 offences against children, including rape, just 2559 were sent to jail.  Almost a quarter (23 per cent) were given cautions, including thirty-six child rapists (918 community penalties, 302 suspended sentences). Half of all paedophiles escape prison terms.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council, whose guidelines are binding in crown courts in England & Wales, told judges in May 2007 in relation to child victims under thirteen that "it may be material in relation to sentence if the child agreed to sex" — which totally disregards the principle of the age of consent, to protect children because they're too young to make such decisions and are vulnerable to coercion.

The Chairman of the Parole Board, Sir David Latham, speaking on the Today programme in January 2011, admitted fears that more offences are committed by released dangerous offenders than official figures suggest.

The figures for recidivism for child abusers vary from 15 to 43 per cent, but these figures are meaningless anyway —reconviction is not the same as reoffending.  A person who has been in prison, in any subgroup, may learn how not to get caught. Paedophiles learn better how to ensure their victims stay silent, often for decades.

Home Office estimates in 1993 state there were 110,000 men over 20 years with convictions for offences against children. 15 per cent of that figure is 16,500 men. That’s a lot of men and a lot of victims. Every single crime can have devastating effect.

More than half of those child offenders supervised by the probation service and two thirds of those discharged from prison have not been through a sex offender treatment programme designed to counter distorted beliefs, help control deviant behaviour, take responsibility for their actions, and increase awareness of the impact on the victim. Many do not sign on the Sex Offenders Register for fear of reprisals and simply disappear. The Home Secretary Theresa May has recently bowed to a Supreme Court ruling that up to 1200 convicted sex offenders a year will be allowed to seek removal from the register.

Paedophiles’ victims don't get a second chance.  Why shouldn't paedophiles be kept in prison longer, punished for the damage they have caused, not released until they are demonstrably no longer a threat to children?

A child who cannot speak of its experience, is disbelieved or is otherwise not supported may express itself in other, antisocial ways.  It is not uncommon for an abused child to end up in 'care', to be further abused, runs away, and as a homeless child/teenager again falls prey to predators.  Is it any surprise that eventually something changes within that child?

David's mental health meetings in the Close Supervision Centre were often cancelled at short notice and there is such a high concentration of inmates with mental health problems that the psychiatrist simply does not have time to give them all the necessary attention.  David was rejected by Broadmoor Hospital last year; they said his needs could best be met in prison but the fact is that nobody's needs are met in prison: that is not what prison is for.

An abuse survivor, like anybody else with mental health difficulties, needs consistent reliable one-to-one care with a psychologist or therapist in a sympathetic environment, not having to sit in with a group of paedophiles describing their crimes in graphic detail.

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood sends counsellors into prisons and has been getting support from the Ministry of Justice. They have found that if survivors get help in addressing the roots of their difficulties it helps break the cycle of offending. They will soon be delivering a pilot twelve-week course of group therapy at HMP Manchester. The survivors’ group AMSOSA also counsels survivors in prison.

If a survivor can go through this painful process and stop offending, then so can paedophiles humbly accept punishment for their offending behaviour and the devastation they cause.

"Lydia Smith" and "David" are pseudonyms


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