Today the media has been in meltdown after Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey was quoted about ways to deal with men and women viewing “low-level” child abuse images. He argues that the police are so overwhelmed by the volume of people being arrested for these crimes, around 400 per month. The volume of these arrests may divert resources to protect children at risk of abuse. C.C. Bailey argues that it may be time to look at the way these offenders are dealt with, instead of imprisoning those who view low-level images, manage the offender with use of the Sex Offenders Register and rehabilitative therapy. Needless to say it has provoked quite an angry reaction on social media.
I didn’t feel I could condense my thoughts into 140 Twitter characters or a facebook post, instead I’ve decided to try and thoughtfully blog my thoughts, questions and opinions.
Firstly using the words “low-level indecent images” may mean something to those in the know, but to the lay person, one must question what is “low level”? Does it refer to the type of images? Does it refer to say a child in underwear or swimwear? Does it refer to a naked child? Does it refer to a child in a state of undress being touched in a non sexual manner? Does it even include a child being forced to perform a sex act or have a sex act performed on them? Does it include a child being raped? In my mind there’s little difference, the use of these images are used to sexually stimulate the viewer in the same way pornography is used, the difference is the child is unable to consent to the images being taken and used. Does low level abuse images refer to the number of images the acused is in posession of? if that is the case how many is “low-level” 1?10?20?50?100? 500? 1000? or thousands? again we go back to the issue a child can not give consent for these images to be taken.
Secondly we come to the issue of what risk an offender poses? Anyone involved or complicit in the abuse of children at best are in denial or bare faced liars. Just today it was reported a man in York was spared a custodial sentence for being in posession of more than 600 indecent images of children. It was reported that despite having previous convictions for indecently assaulting children he continued to deny he had any sexual interest in children. We must question whether he therefore is a credible risk to children and whether a community rehabilitation sentence is apropriate to protect children. C.C.Bailey suggests risk assessment is the key to whether someone should be considered for non custodial sentence, one of the key risks is whether they have access to children. Here lies a problem for me. I am a survivor of historical abuse, I had always said to myself unless he had abused others or was in a position to continue his crimes would I go to the police. in 2006/07 I discovered he had abused another friend, so I went to the police and made my statement. In 2013 I discovered he was working as a self employed landscape gardener specialising in building children’s playhouses. This was a major warning sign for me, not only because he was in a position that checks wouldn’t be made because he was self employed but his abuse of me included in a playhouse. This man would eventually be convicted in 2016 but he still has access to children which can’t be controlled by being on the Sex Offenders Register. I simply fail to see how risk assessment would consider such an individual in the future.
There is an argument that treatment of offenders through rehabilitative therapy legitamises their behaviour and the crimes comitted against children. The comments by C.C.Bailey have been interpreted, rightly or wrongly that some abuse of children is ok. I’m sure everyone, including Bailey would agree abuse of children is never ok.
The other issue to be considered is this debate has once again focused on the offenders. I’m fairly sure there’s many survivors of historic and current child sex abuse asking “where’s our therapy?”. Debates like this rarely consider the victim in favour of what to do about the offender. Last October I phoned into The Wright Stuff on Channel 5, the debate was what to do with offenders who view indecent images of children. My belief, and I must state this is my personal belief is that each image found should relate to a separate charge. It was a belief reinforced following an article of Richard Arrowsmith who was spared prison for possession of 137,000 indecent images. During the debate Mathew Wright pointed out the costs to the taxpayer for jailing people like Arrowsmith and referred to the previous phone in about a Clinical Commissioning Group restricting surgical procedures to smokers and the obese. I reminded him what about the cost of health care for victims of abuse, after all each image viewed had a victim who was more than likely to be suffering from mental health problems from the trauma of abuse. I believe we can’t have a debate about one without the other. It’s not often we hear a debate about care and support for those who have been abused. That is a debate I’d really like to see more of.
Whether C.C.Bailey believes this to be an effective way of managing offenders and protecting children, or a means to politicise child sex abuse and exploitation to garner more funding from the Home Office we must have an open discussion on the issue to protect the vulnerable in society. It is time to have a proper discourse on all aspects of abuse, from historical to current, indecent image viewing to rape and indecent assault, Grooming via the internet to abuse in sports and in the familial home.