Most mental health professionals have worked with someone who has experienced sexual abuse as a child, but not many have worked with someone who is experiencing sexual desires for children that they wish not to act on. We talk to Juliet Grayson, Director of StopSo, about how to reduce sexual abuse by providing therapy for potential sex offenders
StopSo is a charity who work with people who have committed sexual offences but they are most keen to work with people who haven’t yet committed any crime.
More than a third of people (38%) who ask StopSo for help haven’t come to the attention of social services or the police.
"Most people feel that no one should be giving support to perpetrators and to paedophiles"
Their mission is controversial, as Juliet Grayson, psychotherapist and Director of StopSo, says: “Most people feel that no one should be giving support to perpetrators and to paedophiles, but the reality is that if we don’t give them therapy to help them not to act out then more children and adults become the victim of a sexual offence. So it’s not that we have sympathy for the perpetrators it’s that we are trying to prevent people from being sexually abused.
“The most effective way of stopping people from becoming victims is to work with the potential perpetrators.”
The charity are keen to spread awareness that it costs £65,000 to put one person in prison, but less than £2,000 for preventative counselling that they say works.
They believe that therapy should be provided free-of-charge to all perpetrators asking for help who cannot afford to pay for themselves, as a cost-effective way of reducing sexual offending in the UK.
They are currently turning away 20% of people who approach them for therapy due to lack of funds.
How ready is society to take a more preventative view on sexual abuse? And are counsellors and mental health professionals ready to change up the way they work accordingly?
Encouraging people to come forward for treatment
Perhaps society is beginning to understand that prevention is better than cure, but what about when it comes to child sexual abuse?
Juliet thinks society needs help to change how it sees potential child sex offenders so that more people are willing to come forward for treatment. “If someone is attracted to children then it’s very difficult for them to admit that at the moment and ask for help because they are vilified by society,” she says.
“I was talking to a female paedophile recently who has never acted on her desires and she’s never told anybody. She self-harms and feels unacceptable. If she was an alcoholic – society wouldn’t be judging her, society would be helping her.”
Juliet thinks that society needs to gradually shift its perception to recognise people who are sexually attracted to children need help to not offend.
Does therapy work?
Perhaps the media doesn’t help encourage people to trust that therapy for someone attracted to children can work. Juliet says that papers often spread the message that once a sex offender, always a sex offender and that there is no cure.
"When I help them to work and heal that trauma then often their offending behaviour completely stops”
The reoffending rate for any sex offenders to commit a further sexual offence, within four years, is 5.5% which is very low compared to other crimes although this is still distressing and unnerving for all parents.
Juliet says, “As a psychotherapist when I start working with someone who has committed an offence what I find is that they often have trauma in their own history. When I help them to work and heal that trauma then often their offending behaviour completely stops.”
And she says that therapy can help prevent someone from offending at all.
Asking the question
How can therapists help people come forward for help?
The charity has an online questionnaire that asks its clients at what age they first knew they had a problem with their sexual thinking or behaviour.
Some 51% said they knew by the time they were 15 16 years old and 72% knew by the time they were 25.
Juliet hopes that more therapists might ask their clients about their thinking in order to provide a safe, environment for them to discuss their feelings and prevent sexual abuse from happening. “I was talking to a child psychiatrist recently and she said she had never asked the teenagers that she worked with whether they had challenging thoughts, it hadn’t occurred to her,” says Juliet. “When she read that 51% of the sex offenders who were asked, had known by the time they were16 year old, she said she wishes she had asked more.”
Juliet thinks that therapists could ask a direct question in a non-judgemental way so that a client knows that they would be offered help if they answered honestly.
“I think it’s very difficult for therapists to ask the question,” she says. “I’ve been quite staggered since I’ve started doing this work with StopSo that my clients are aware of – how many more people have common come forward with thoughts that they want to look at once they know that you I will not judge. It’s much more common than we think.”
She adds that services can receive specialist training to help therapists identify and respond appropriately and supervisors can also skill up too so that they know the law. StopSO provides supervision and training for therapists, even if they are not a member.
Knowing what to report
It can be shocking to learn that your client is attracted to children. And that’s understandable but Juliet says that therapists need to have a proportionate reaction to what they are hearing.
“Many therapists have a disproportionate reaction and overreact and feel that they need to report things,” she says.
“If a client comes in and says they have troubling thoughts, they don’t live with children, they don’t have access to children and they don’t seem inclined to act on their troubling thoughts about children. So they have a sexual attraction to children but feel confident that they’re not going to act on it - therapists have no legal duty to report that. But many therapists do report these thoughts to the police and that puts people off coming forward for help.
“We need our therapists to report the stuff that needs reporting but it’s better to give someone help not to act out than to report them unnecessarily and put them and their family through the trauma of that process which takes over a year, to then find that they had remained law abiding.
“We have to recognise that because someone has thoughts about something, having thoughts is not illegal.”
Prevention better than cure
Juliet Grayson says that times are changing. “People are beginning to understand that prevention is better than cure.”
She recognises that it is a hard shift but adds, “We need to help people to see that, for every sex offender who we help we are preventing at least one person and often more people from being abused.”