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The Expert

?Why is it so easy to buy a child for a packet of crisps today? Because if you know what to do, it?s easy as that.?

?Offenders have told me that the reason they were able to get away with these things is that most fathers know more about their cars than their own kids.?



It is a warning few are yet heeding, in the rush of headlines about child killers and abductors stalking the streets, and our desire as a community to hound and punish those we think responsible.

Wyre deals with paedophiles - ?I prefer the term child molesters? - every day of the week. He assesses individuals for the police and Crown Prosecution Service; treats them; and tries to educate society about them.

?In one week I saw a paediatrician, a teacher and a doctor who?d all been accused of sexual abuse. There?s no profession I haven?t worked with,? he stresses.

A former submariner who left school at 15, Wyre has spent the past 20 or so years working with sex offenders and paedophiles; from being a Probation volunteer to setting up his own treatment clinic, Gracewell, in 1988. If anyone knows the mindset of the abuser - apart from the abuser himself - it is this man.

And he wants the molesters to feel bad about what they?ve done; to take responsibility for their crimes. Yet as he himself stresses most of them are never convicted; and in his opinion current trends towards punishment and vigilantism mean our children are being left at greater, rather than lesser, risk.

?If we?re in child protection we must work with those who are abusing. As a society, we have decided the way we deal with sexual crime is punishment. But punishment is determined on what you can prove. It?s not about sentencing people for ?dangerousness?, it?s sentencing them for what you convict them for.?

His own residential clinic was closed after local pressure; now only one remains open in the whole country. Wyre is its principal consultant. It can, given time, turn men around, protect society. It has space for just 22 of them. Its location can?t be revealed; again, because of the fear and misunderstanding which would spread in the local community, and the possibility of arson.

For Wyre, the fear within society - stoked up by the media - is stopping effective work and preventative treatment with sex offenders: ?We mustn?t allow our policies and the fear in our society about this small group of abductors to basically stop us doing what we need to do. Most sex offenders are never going to behave like that. They?re going to form a relationship with children and turn that relationship into a sexually abusive one. Most are never going to get caught, most children are never going to tell and that?s the reality of it.?

?But for those that do,? he continues ?we need to work with them, whether that be in prison or the community. The problem today is that every sex offender is being seen as ?The Monster?. But monsters don?t get close to children. Nice men do.?

In 1984 six children were abducted by strangers and 76 by parents or relatives. By 1993 the respective figures had changed to six and 67. The highest number ever of stranger/abducters was nine, in 1991, and that pales when compared to abductions by family members.

So can they be treated? According to Wyre you can; but you can?t ?cure? them as such. ?That?s what I?ve never understood,? he argues. ?People say to me, does treatment work? Well, even if it doesn?t, they?re still going to be your neighbour. I?d rather have an offender next to me who has gone through some form of programme. But even if they don?t, they?re still going to be there, because society has decided that punishment is the way we?re going to deal with the problem. I just know that punishment on its own is not enough.?

Offenders in treatment also tell us more than children and it helps us understand how they operate, which in turn helps future investigations. We learn how they control their partners and colleagues, and stop the children from telling. Wyre says this is invaluable.

?There is no doubt that working with the offender significantly reduces risk,? he adds. In a special conference paper, ?The Sex Offender In The Community?, Wyre points out a few home truths about our notions of paedophiles: Most sex offenders are never caught. Usually if there are suspicions Social Services will attain a risk assessment about a family and perhaps force a man to leave his home: ?The very fact that he is being seen as a risk and is too dangerous to be in a home with children suggests that just removing him from home is not about child protection.?

Often this man will disappear, or join another family somewhere else. So what has been achieved; are children any better protected? In addition, agencies fail to work together. Social Services assess children and a non-abusing partner, not the paedophile. Mental health specialists only look at the mentally ill, not the majority of paedophiles who are classified as having a ?personality disorder?, which is incurable. Wyre himself advocates the creation of a special, multi-disciplinary agency able to cope with all these elements. Furthermore, although the civil courts can be used to move a man from his home, they are powerless to deal with the scout leader or music group leader.

For convicted offenders, Wyre maintains that society must stop lumping their crimes into one group - raping and killing a child, or downloading child pornography from the Internet, are both sex offences. But they require vastly different approaches in both sentencing and treatment. And without treatment, we are not protecting society, he says, because one day these men will leave prison.

Wyre really believes we should be developing secure treatment facilities within the criminal justice system; secure alternatives to prison, where the worst sexual offenders can be incarcerated for both their own and society?s good. If they were amenable to treatment, some could eventually move from there to supervised facilities, and from there back into the community, albeit still supervised.

In the extreme cases, they would not be released. But ?working with offenders is still the best way of reducing risk of further offending.? If we don?t take such measures, the example which follows could happen again: An offender came to Wyre?s clinic from a young offenders prison on a parole licence. It was clear he was dangerous; he warned staff that without treatment he would re-offend. In the end, the Probation Service could not find the ?100 a week that was their contribution to his funding. So he had to leave. His Probation officer became so concerned about his subsequent behaviour that he was sent back to prison until the end of his parole licence. He then left with no supervision - he had served his sentence, as society had wanted him to do. Because he had made numerous threats to kill, warnings were issued to all Probation Services and police kept him under surveillance. They had heard he was going to kill on a certain date, so they stopped his car on the day before this date. However, it was too late. He had already killed - there was a body in the boot of the car.

?This tragic case illustrates the need for resources and also illustrates how difficult it is to monitor and supervise such men,? says Wyre. He also warns of the dangerous state of affairs where men are not given parole, because they are too dangerous to release into the community - they are released at the end of their prison sentence anyway.

Without probation, they have been denied supervision and treatment in the community. Sometimes the time difference between parole and full release is only a few months.

And according to Wyre, a Register does not protect society against the monster/abductor - few in number though he may be - that it most fears. ?Let?s not pretend that registers or databases protect anybody. Supervision doesn?t stop anyone reoffending by itself.?

But wasn?t he, or those like him, calling for just such a register in the first place? ?The reason I wanted a full register is that I wanted those who were going to employ people to work with children to have a database which told them whether or not those people were convicted offenders. That is still not done. None of those 110,000 sex offenders who are child molesters (from a total of 210,000 sex offenders) are going on the Register.

The only people going on the Register are those who are subject to some order on 1 September 1997 - they?re on parole licence, in prison, or subject to probation. We?re talking about a very small number.? As they come out of prisons, many offenders have to take B&B accommodation, as housing associations and councils reject them.

But as Wyre points out in his paper, this doesn?t stop them offending. It doesn?t stop them going to the park, or driving to the next town along to see children. In prison they can be controlled. In clinics, if there were any, they could be supervised.

After they leave these environments - if they were one of the five percent or so of sex offenders who ever go to prison - it?s impossible to watch them all the time.

?I don?t mind emotion and its responses, but let?s do things that work, put things into being that have an effect. Community notification sounds like a terrific idea, until you understand what it means. I understand the community saying ? I want to know about a sex offender?.

But it?s not the sex offenders they know that are the dangers, it?s the ones they don?t know.? Wyre reminds us that there was a high profile case recently where an abusing husband and wife were released from prison. They were hounded from place to place. They now live in a van: ?No Fixed Abode?.

?This action cannot be child protection. If individuals are motivated to abuse, they will go where children are. If individuals have no hope, if they cannot settle back down in the community, they are more dangerous, not less.? There is a stark, final warning from his conference paper: ?Have no doubt that Dunblane is only the first. If the Government do not get control of this situation we will have more of these incidents.?




These articles were originally published in MSN NEWS

Other stories in this series:

Sex abuse: the survivor

The lasting nightmare of child abuse. Peter Saunders tells how the scars last for a lifetime.

Sex abuse: the probation officer

How to shatter the sex offending cycle. Donald Finlater helps sex offenders survive back in the community.

Sex abuse: the police

Inside Scotland Yard?s Paedophilia Unit. We?re dealing with very serious crimes warns DCI Reynolds.

Sex abuse: the mother

Whirlwind romance led to horror of child abuse. He was everything my first husband wasn?t.

Sex abuse: the legal expert

The law is failing the victims of child abuse. Barbara Joel-Essam is trying to change the culture around sex offence.

Sex abuse: the investigator

The man who catches child abusers. Abusing children is the main focus of some people?s lives.

Sex abuse: the expert

?You can buy a child for a packet of crisps?. Grim warning from Britain?s top sex crime consultant.

Sex abuse: the abuser

Abuser who claims six-year-old led him on. Convicted paedophile hasn?t yet taken full responsibility for his crimes.

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