Careless talk can harm the victims

As someone who formerly designed training programmes for work with
sex offenders, a story in my local newspaper left me disheartened.
It reported the court case of a 74-year-old man whose dog attracted
his neighbour, a girl under nine. The man spent time with the girl
and, after meeting her mother, she had weekend sleepovers at his
house. The girl brought a friend with her on those occasions. Both
later alleged abuse.

The man was acquitted of lewd and libidinous behaviour but was
unanimously found guilty of taking indecent pictures of both girls.
Registration and a three-year probation order were imposed. But
what concerned me was not the sentence but how it was arrived

During presentencing, the defence counsel said in mitigation that
his client had been “pestered” by the girls to take the photos. He
had even been “led up the garden path” by them. A psychiatric
report asserted that there had been no “manipulative cunning” on
his part, and that there had been no “sexual motivation” behind his

Perhaps if those who are involved in the process learned of the
harm such assertions, made after the defendant has been found
guilty, causes survivors of abuse, they might be more reticent in
excusing what is criminal behaviour. In the early 1990s, offender
services in Scotland became centrally funded. Dedicated offender
workers found themselves sitting next to sheriffs, psychiatrists,
parole board members and others at workshops. At last skills and
ideas began to permeate what had been parallel professions.
Sentencers came to believe that increasingly meaningful work would
be done with sex offenders.

Experts disagree about the nature of sexual offending and
successful modes of intervention. Some advocate containment as the
only achievable aim. Relapse prevention strategies and avoidance of
high-risk situations mean that the situation is far from hopeless.
But some argue that because the judicial system favours the
offender, any case that made it to court should be accepted as
verified on the grounds of statistical probability. Despite this,
awareness and knowledge has grown and been shared.

Returning to the story in my local paper, it would be disappointing
if so much accumulated wisdom from the early 1990s was lost.
Hopefully, the multi-ethos nature of all work in this area can once
again be filtered into one unified inter-disciplinary

Archie Beaton is a former worker in offender

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