Notifying local communities about sex offenders could hamper efforts to address harmful sexual behaviour by children, soon-to-be-published findings from the UK’s second largest study of the subject will suggest.
Professor Simon Hackett of Durham University’s School of Applied Social Services said findings from the long-term study show people who are forced out of their local community due to their actions are more likely to commit further sexual offences, or other crimes, and end up achieving poor outcomes.
Community Care is holding a conference on harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people on 7 February
The study found 18% of the 117 young people interviewed, all of whom had displayed harmful sexual behaviour, had experienced a negative reaction from their community, while 11 were physically attacked or faced vigilante action.
In 8% of cases the young person’s family also faced a negative reaction, including siblings who were the actual victims of the abuse.
The problem with community notification – often referred to as Sarah’s Law – as it pertains to children, Hackett said, is that some of these children are victims who are “traumatised by their own abuse and they respond to that, however inappropriately, by acting out sexually or hurting other people”.
“The findings raise the question of whether we, as a society, want to include this group of very vulnerable children in a public policy measure that is effectively designed for adult paedophiles.
“Because what we know is that these young people need stability and an opportunity to carry on their education to be successful in their own development,” Hackett said.
He added: “I think the understandable negative feeling about the presence of sex offenders in the midst of communities is likely to make things worse for quite a lot of these young people.”
Social work reference manual: Children and young people who sexually abuse