Thursday, 17 February 2011

Sex Offenders and human rights

I must be turning into an outraged Daily Mail reader! On the way to work on Tuesday I was listening to the news item about sex offenders being able to apply to have their names taken off the Sex Offenders register if they could prove they were no longer a danger and I found myself thinking, "bloody human rights legislation"!

I am very much in favour of sex offenders' human rights being respected, but I confess to being more interested in the rights of children to be safeguarded and protected. If someone has sexually offended against a child, then there is always the possibility that they will do it again and that they might be a threat - how could anyone prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they were not? When the "rights" of a sex offender to be given greater freedom clash with the rights of a child to be protected from sexual abuse - then to me that is a no brainer!

24 comments:

  1. I agree, Sue. I think I'm turning into Melanie Phillips.

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  2. It depends on why they're on the sex offenders list. A 16 year old boy can land on it for having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend.

    Yes, there's a need for protecting children but there is also a need for common sense and for not over-reacting.

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  3. I must admit my knowledge of the law on this one is hazy and I know the things headlines scream can give an innaccurate picture. But, I have read that you are not currently placed on the register for life unless you have been sentenced to 30 months in prison for a sexual offence.

    I would think you would have to commit a fairly serious offence to be put on the register for that length of time?

    I don't think a 16 year old boy should be prosecuted for consensual sex with 15 year old - and certainly not given 30 months! If he has raped her, that's another matter.

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  4. And if someone is convicted of theft, should they go on a register for life? If someone has committed murder they aren’t put on a register for life...

    The actual idea is that FIFTEEN YEARS after the sentence has ended and the person has dutifully made their regular report to the police station, kept to the requirements of being on the register and demonstrated a desire to change their behaviour (I presume this would require evidence from psychiatrists etc.) they will then be judged as to whether they can be taken off the Sex Offenders’ Register. This does not mean they will be taken off the register, but it will mean they have a chance of earning some reward for proving they have a desire to change their behaviour. Nor does it mean they would be exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders’ Act: the conviction would still have to be declared for certain jobs whether or not a person is taken off the Register.

    Given this blog is supposed to have a Christian nature – as are the blogs of some of the comments – I do find it rather odd that the idea of repentance and change of heart is so alien.

    It is purely illogical to stick certain crimes on a register for life once they have left prison and others get away, having paid their price. The good thing about legal judgements like this is that they allow the law to do what the law does and keep politicians from interfering too much – their motives often tainted by thinking about the party’s rating in the polls. Judicial review is a good thing is more likely to preserve all our hard won rights than the reverse.

    As for the victims of crime – yes, I agree they have human rights. But you may as well just lock someone up for the rest of their life than take away the chance of redemption.

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  5. I agree with Anonymous. Taking someone off the register isn't the same as abandoning all checks on that person. And they do deserve a chance at life too. If I understood correctly, a panel of experts has to agree that this person is unlikely to be a danger to the public again, so it's not as if everyone was automatically taken off the register.

    Yes, there is a small risk, but there is a risk to everything we do in life. As anonymous says, it would be odd if murderers were treated more compassionately than sex offenders.

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  6. "If someone has sexually offended against a child, then there is always the possibility that they will do it again and that they might be a threat…"

    Refuting such a broad statement isn't easy because on the surface there is nothing anyone can say to prove that your statement is incorrect. But you need to take a moment and look at the facts, backed up by empirical data to get a true understanding.

    Although I don't have specific data for the UK, the US Department of Justice has shown that sex offenders who have committed crimes against children are the least likely to re-offend. Studies show that only 3% re-offend.

    Numerous various studies from various outlets also show without a doubt that the vast majority of sex offenses against children are committed by a family member or close family friend. Not by a stranger. The 'stranger danger' hysteria is a media and political creation not based in fact.

    If you'd take a deep breath and think for a moment you'd realize the absurdity of your statement. Your child is more likely to be sexually assaulted by a Uncle Bob or Aunt Sue; if assaulted at all. In fact he or she is more likely be killed in an automobile accident then fall victim to a previously convicted sex offender.

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  7. For a start, there is nothing in my post that says that I am assuming sex offenders are strangers to the child. I am acutely aware that a child is more likely to be offended against by a family member, not least because I was repeatedly sexually abused from the ages of about four to thirteen by a family member. I suppose that this does colour my judgement in these matters.

    My abuser abused multiple members of my family across several generations as well as other children with whom he came into contact and was still abusing children at the age of 81. So I am sceptical about the statistic that offenders do not reoffend, a one off sexual offence against a child is actually very rare. Of course, the vast majority of abusers are not prosecuted, or at least not successfully, for a variety of reasons. My abuser was questioned once by the police (for charges made outside the family) and the charges were dropped.
    As for the Christian concept of forgiveness and redemption, this is as freely available to sex offenders as to anyone else. But the issue of personal and spiritual redemption should not be allowed to confuse or conflict with the issue of the protection of children - and the protection of children should always be paramount.

    I believe that people may be removed from the register anyway if they have served a sentence of less than 30 months (that's what I've read) and it is only those who have served a longer sentence, thus for more serious crimes who are required to remain on there for life. Clearly it would be ludicrous if a teenager remained on the register for life because he had consensual sex with his fifteen year old girlfriend - I question how often this happens in reality?

    Sexual abuse has a devastating effect, not just at the time but in later years. If it were not the lives of little people at stake, perhaps I would not feel so strongly.

    As to murder, people usually have circumstantial reasons for that act. If someone has a psychopathic compulsion to murder again and again - I think their whereabout should also remain known to the authorities.

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  8. You can read some further posts on abuse by clicking the abuse or child protection tag.

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  9. Sue

    Obviously I am sorry to hear of your own experiences. However what you seem to be saying is that the majority of those who commit abuse don’t end up in prison. Indeed many a ‘respectable’ household can hide ongoing abuse. My own personal (I was sexually abused as a child) and professional experience (as an adults’ social worker who has been told by many people of their experiences as children and my time working in education welfare) seems to bear this out. My old confessor, the superior of the monastic community where I was a novice, told me that many of his penitents – who were mainly middle-class in origin and ranged from bishops to GPs, housewives to mother superiors - had been sexually abused as children.

    So is the need for our society to make a ‘special case’ for those who have been convicted of sex crime against children as simple as it just being a particularly heinous crime? Could it not be the case, that although many of us – even those who promote the ‘family’ as the apogee of safety and respectability – want to ensure someone pays for what many experience and yet so few seem to get their just deserts; even if it is just by proxy: vicarious justice for the pain and guilt we suffered ourselves?

    There is something peculiar in human nature concerning the manner in which many look to groups or types of people who are seen as the ‘locus’ of deviance or moral failing. In the late 18th and early 19th century there was the anti-slavery movement, which was championed by ‘Clapham Sect’ Evangelical Christians (e.g. Wilberforce) who themselves made much of their income from the productivity of British factory factories where employees lived lives often little better than the slaves in the Americas. Factory reform came much later – championed by humanists and a newer breed of Evangelicals. Similarly this week the present government has proposed legislation that will drastically change the welfare system (perhaps rightly so, but that isn’t the reason for mentioning it); I decided to have a look at the Christian Institute website to see what that fine organisation said about something that will have a real impact on the lives of many of the less well-off in society. But I found that the top three stories were concerned with ‘gay-marriage’ then something on ‘the day after pill’ in Ireland and something else on sex – I forget what... Massive unrest in the Arab world, social and economic problems at home (many of our own making) and yet it is the poofters that are the ‘real’ problem. Again a case of vicarious ‘morality’..?

    It is an idea that needs some working on, but I think there may be something in it.

    These academic musing are of little consequence, but I think the objectivity of law can sometimes overcome the prejudice and illogicality of popular feeling and political gain.

    Regards:

    S.

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  10. I honestly don't think I am motivated by a desire for a vicarious revenge, just by a desire to see children protected. I believe that those who are placed on the register should be those who have been convicted of offences that suggest they are likely to be a real danger to children. I do not believe that such people generally (there are always exceptions) stop being a danger to children. Therefore I think the authorities should remain aware of their whereabouts and movements.

    I am not naive enough to think this ensures complete protection for children BTW. The best protection for children is through awareness, education and resources such as childline to turn to.

    I think the sexual abuse of children and how we regard and deal with abusers, is a thorny problem. I don't like the tabloid depictions of paedophiles as less than human - because nobody should be depicted or treated this way. I am not interested in making sex offenders suffer for the sake of it. I did briefly consider joining a voluntary "trust and accountability" group some years ago - helping support and mentor those convicted of sex offences. After some thought and prayer I realised I was nowhere near strong enough - and still dealing with too many issues myself- for it to be fair or beneficial either to myself or the offenders on the scheme.

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  11. I agree with Sue. My own experience of abused and abusers, and extensive postgraduate research, both show that child sex offenders are very likely to re-offend. The protection of children ought to be our priority here.

    I was initially a great supporter of the Human Rights legislation. However, what we have seen is a growing tendency to think that rights come without responsibilities. In my view, if someone has committed a serious sexual offence against a child, they have forfeited their 'right' to be considered above suspicion for the rest of their life. They must always be treated with caution.

    There are 2 common misunderstandings of Christian teaching on forgiveness. The first is that we ought to forgive automatically, without the offender showing evidence of repentance and a serious attempt to make restitution. The second is that if someone has repented and been forgiven, they should no longer have to suffer the consequences of their crime. I don't think either of these beliefs can be justified from the Bible.

    And we do have biblical grounds to say that sins against children are in a different category from other crimes, even serious ones such as murder. Jesus said in Matthew 18 that if a person offends or is a stumbling block to one of the little ones, he would be better off being thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck than facing God's judgement. St Paul also indicates, in 1 Cor 5, that punishing a person in this life may lesson the punishment they face in the next.

    Iffy Vicar

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  12. The proposed changes are about sex offenders, though, not just child sex offenders.

    And I would really like to see some more verified studies first. On these comments alone various research with widely different conclusions has been mentioned. It can't all be right. If "the vast majority" of people reoffends, then obviously, these proposals are unacceptable. If "3% of people reoffend" then it is right to to try to allow the majority who don't a genuinely fresh start.

    I understand that this is a hugely emotional topic for people who have endured sexual abuse, and I can't imagine how awful this must seem to you.
    But for someone like me who has not experienced this, a little more general factual information would be hugely helpful to make up my mind.

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  13. Iffy Vicar

    Thanks for this. I am always rather worried when we start looking at the Bible for how we should construct the laws of a basically secular democracy – secular liberal democracy has brought about far fairer, just and equal societies than centuries of ‘Christian’ rule and ironically have better fulfilled the social morality of both the Torah and the N.T. (Please don’t wave the Decalogue under my nose as the basis of Western law, as Roman Law and Greek influence are just as present (as they are in the New Testament.)) The need is to step outside emotive language and religion look at the issue from a logical point of view.

    Similarly the ‘special’ status for heinous crimes against children rather belittles the trauma, hurt and devastation of other crimes again the person. The fact murderers or violent criminals don’t go on a register when they are discharged from prison hints that there is more to this issue than meets the eye and that the failure to treat those convicted of serious crimes against the person equally could have serious consequences for the justice system. People who commit violent crimes often reoffend (my sister has the letters GBH & ABH behind her name, plus convictions for common assault), yet there is no national outcry that these people should be on a register for life.

    I am a pragmatist, and to my mind the issue is purely that of integrity and equity. If the government decided that those who have committed violent crimes, murder etc. had to register for life, then I would happily agree that sex-offenders should also remain on a register for life. Yet the fact is we have singled out one class of crime against the person for ‘special’ treatment does not make any rational sense. You either treat criminals equally or you don’t. If you opt for the latter, then you are faced with the difficult situation of stating that the law is not fair. Once you arrive at this conclusion, then you undermine the main premise of the justice system.

    Regards:

    S.

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  14. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2006/jan/18/childrensservices.politics1

    This is useful!

    I think the facts are important, and one of the reasons why I said I felt like a Daily Mail reader was that I had a reaction without looking into the different views - I do usually reserve judgement until I know more.

    It is interesting to note that, depending on the severity of the crime, different people on the sex offenders register are treated differently. For some it is as simple as informing the police of a change of name or address - you'd do that for your bank!
    A 16 year old could be placed on for underage consensual sex - or even for a caution - but obviously would be removed after a period as this would not carry a 30 month sentence. It was also interesting to note the different views, some human rights groups complain that individuals are placed on at all for more minor transgressions - others point out it might be part of a more general pattern that could emerge in time, and if you do not keep people on the register for a reasonable amount of time you might fail to get a picture of a habitual offender - and "low level" habitual offenders can go on to be serious offenders.

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  15. The register is actually called VISOR and is for "Violent and Sexual Offenders" - so I guess murderers and violent criminals do go on the register? (Does anyone know?)

    Iffy Vicar is really not in the habit of waving the bible under people's noses - and I guess was responding specifically to earlier comments that my attitude was not appropriate as a Christian response rather than saying this should be the basis of secular law.

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  16. Sue

    Yes, I did rather regret the ‘Bible under the nose’ phrase – perhaps I have become a little wary of Bible verses being included in a discussion about the law. The Narnian is an example (as is Ann Widdicome) of someone who lives under the misguided belief that Western civilisation has based its entire legal system on the Bible. It hasn’t – and never has!

    That said I will add, after have a quick read of Matt 18 in English (NIV) and the original Koine Greek*, that Jesus does indeed caution that children are special – but with the proviso only ‘those who believe in [him]’ (cf. Matt 18:6) Which would suggest other children don’t have special treatment, hence why I believe caution is needed when turning to the Bible for guidance on how moral and social issues are dealt with in a secular and pluralistic society.

    (*I mention the Koine Greek, not to show off but because although I often use the NIV as my preferred translation (despite my ‘Catholic’ sentiments I was for four years a member (and on the staff of) a large Evangelical Anglican church and old habits die hard!!) I am also cautious with the NIV (indeed with ANY translation) as it makes some rather ‘convenient’ translations of some ambiguous phrases etc. to underpin its own theological point of view. Therefore I do cross reference with other translations and the original Greek – more so in the Gospels, as my Greek isn’t fluent enough nowadays to tackle the intricacies of some of the epistles!)

    I have just had a poke around the internet concerning VISOR and came to no clear conclusions. However this makes little difference. We still have to ask ourselves why it was the issue of paedophiles that particularly inflamed so many people and is the issue that seemed most repugnant. We didn’t hear David Cameron belching forth his condemnation of axe murders being taking off any registers.

    As noted in my previous post I am neither for or against the changes in registration practice, all I desire is that they are enacted fairly and equally and without appealing to popular sentiment.

    Regards:

    S.

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  17. Don't mention the Narnian, he wouldn't publish my last post (ostensibly because I wouldn't supply my exact name and precise location,even though there was a link to this blog)although he has subsequently published many comments with much scantier personal information!

    Anyhow...I agree we have a bit of a moral panic about paedophiles - and they are always "someone else" and "out there" - very rarely is the issue of abuse in the family confronted - except in extreme cases like Fritzl. I agree that politicians capitalise on this one, knowing it is a "winner" in term of guaranteed public outrage. I do think it is a bit strange to expect Cameron to inveigh against axe murders though - there are relatively few serial murderers compared to paedophiles.
    I think one of the key things we are forgetting is the covert and hidden nature of sex offences against children. You can carry out an awful lot of abuse and not be detected because of the age and nature of your victims and the "private" nature of the crime. I would argue we need extra measures because of the fact. I honestly can't see anyone reasonably disagreeing with this - nobody wants someone convicted of child rape helping out at the local church creche, or dating a single parent with the aim of getting access to her children. I think the sex offenders' register does and has helped prevent tragedies in such situations. I am not in favour of a "Megan's Law" - as in the US, by the way - as this might lead to people taking the law into their own hands.

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  18. It strikes me that the sex offenders register is almost a smoke screen for the real debate we're not having: why are so many sex offenders not found out and prosecuted in the first place? How come that so many children are still routinely abused and we seem to be unable to protect them? Despite Childline, despite a system that believes the child above all else, despite serious attempts to deal with the issue.
    What is going wrong there and how can we prevent failing so many children?

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  19. Sue

    Thanks for this. Just to 'lighten' up a little - though can we really lighten on this subject?

    On the subject of our Narnian friend, have you seen he has put a link on his site to a post he has put on Chelmsford Anglicans ‘"‘Gay marriage’ and homosexuality some medical comments" see: http://chelmsfordfca.blogspot.com/2011/02/gay-marriage-and-homosexuality-some.html ? It is the report which Dr Hans-Christian Raabe contributed to which links homosexuality with paedophilia. As an aspiring academic I read the piece and can understand why the government wishes to distance itself from matrix of half-truths, misrepresentation of data and an intention to play on age old prejudices.

    Two points made me laugh (if I didn’t, I’d cry). One is the opening section:

    “Despite the impression given by the media, the actual number of
    homosexuals is quite small. Essentially all surveys show the number of
    homosexuals to be only 1-3% of the population.”

    Me thought, if this really is the case (which it probably is) then why, the disproportionate effort of Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians, concerning the issue. Given Kinsey put the proportion much higher, the Narnian et el should take comfort that if we carry on at this rate, poufs will be a thing of the past in a few decades.

    And

    “There are increased rates of mental ill health among the homosexual
    population compared to the general population. Many studies [not referenced] show much higher rates of psychiatric illness, such as depression, suicide attempts and drug abuse among homosexuals then among the general population...”

    I thought, no wonder when they have to suffer this kind of censure, comment and drivel!

    What I find truly ironic about such ‘studies’ is that the discourse that is initiated is that of the supremacy of empirical and positivist knowledge. Lots of contributors with lots of letters behind their name and the title itself states ‘‘Gay marriage’ and homosexuality some medical comments”. Medicine, you see – you can’t argue with science! The irony is of course if the same academic discourse were turned towards Christianity – particularly its scriptures - then the Narnian himself, would have little to crow about.

    After reading the document, which seemed so far removed from my own experience of homosexuality – in that I was celibate for many years and have been a committed, monogamous relationship for many years – as have many of my gay friends. The belief that there is a ‘one-size’ fits all ‘gay-lifestyle’ is indeed repugnant to the senses and a gross oversimplification of complex fact. Is there a heterosexual lifestyle? There is certainly one that costs me tax to pay for the policing of our towns because of weekend binge drinking, or the cost of a social services that has to deal with the failings of heterosexuals when they breed. As for the paedophilia discussion, yes, I think there are probably more homosexual paedophiles that heterosexual. However the vast majority of paedophile crimes are committed by men, whose overt sexuality – with adults – is heterosexual: many are married and fathers. Also care is needed when describing homosexual paedophilia – in that homosexual is an adjective as well as a noun and homosexual paedophilia can be what daddy does to his little boy, though daddy, in the wider world would not be labelled homosexual.

    Whatever, it is a vile paper and hats off to the government for distancing itself from Dr Hans-Christian Raabe and shame on the Narnian for publishing it on a blog that claims to be the voice of Chelmford Diocese Christians. One of the (Evangelical) bishops of the diocese is a personal friend and I shall certainly pass on my concerns!


    (The text authentification has offered me 'comer' - weird or prurient or what!!!?)

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  20. I think it might be better if I email about some points in this given this is a public forum!

    I don't personally like the terms homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual applied to abusers, I can't see it is relevant. I have no idea if the majority of abusers target boys - I have to say that the support group I joined was exclusively women - but that was some twenty years ago. It might interest you to know that, while it used to be thought that almost all abusers were male, over recent years a third of people reporting childhood abuse are saying their abuser was female. Also it is becoming increasingly clear that children also abuse - although these children are almost invariably being abused themselves - and that does raise some issues. (Sorry, we were going to "lighten up weren't we!!!)

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  21. Sue

    Thanks for this. Yes, I did think about raising the 'female' abuser issue, which I am familar with - but thought enough is enough! When I was training as a social worker in the early 90s, the Fred and Rosemary West case was being tried. We gave a good deal of thought to the construction of motherhood and how it was seen as particularly vile that a mother would abuse her child. Indeed increadible, though it now seems far more common than was imagined then.

    In 2008 Stephen Fry presented his program on America, where he visited all 50 states. One interesting conversion was with Peter Gomes, a black, gay, baptist, Republican, Havard man (there can't be many of them!!). He noted that one of the advantages of Fundamentalism (and right wing politics) is its reliance on simple answers to social problems. Of course, few social problems or issues have simple answers. But so many like to take refuge in the idea women don't sexually abuse and poufs are society's bogey men. I think part of the reason is that it lets the majority off the hook.

    But there are no simple answers - certainly simplistic appeals to piety have never worked, as history shows again and again!

    Eh bien... I must get on with making our evening meal. Of course living a homosexual lifestyle, this means chopping and mincing some coke and other assorted drugs, spraying on my leather gear, before hitting the clubs at 10pm, bottle of poppers tied around my neck and my waders chaffing terribly! Perhaps we'll round the evening off around 3am by being fist-f**ked somewhere around the back Charing Cross Station. Oh its all go for us poufs - I'd better get the rubber ring ready for my drive to work tomorrow...!

    Regards:

    S.

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  22. Careful - your confession will end up on Anglican Mainstreams as "evidence" :)

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  23. we need to get rid of the sex offender registries and allow people to apply to get off them early if they have changed. contact at me at diehard25fl@yahoo.com to join the list of people interested in getting their fundamental rights back and putting an end to this madness of over-punishing people for marginal crimes. thanks. dg.

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