Can we detect young sexual predators?

Police arrested trainee teacher Luke Sadowski, aged 19, on his way
to what he believed was a hotel meeting with a nine-year-old girl.
In his bag were a Beanie Baby soft toy, a condom and a replica hand

In a police sting on the internet, he had agreed a price of
£250 to spend three nights with the girl. At home in a safe he
had a knife, hand cuffs, a razor and a newspaper cutting relating
to Milly Dowler, the 13 year old who was abducted and murdered.

The judge rightly protested that the offence of incitement to
procure a girl under 21 only permits a two-year jail sentence and
no inclusion on the sex offenders’ register. Sadowski was given 18
months each for inciting another person to procure and carrying an
imitation gun with the sentences to run consecutively.

On television that evening, Sadowski looked a young and socially
inept person whose words revealed a distorted inner life. “I will
not damage the girl,” he had told an undercover policeman in an

Because he has already spent 10 months on remand, in less than
three years Sadowski will be released. If he is very fortunate, he
will have received sustained and appropriate treatment while inside
– although such programmes are thin on the ground.

His youth raises a series of questions. Had he offended before? At
what age did he begin to harbour fantasies that show so little
empathy for another human being? This government is determined to
track potential young offenders – but identifying and intervening
in the lives of possible juvenile molesters generates even more
difficult dilemmas, not least in that the label of “molester” can
ruin a life.

In the US, the attempt to help children who sexually abuse others
began more than 20 years ago. One recent US study estimated that 20
per cent of reported rapes and 30 to 50 per cent of child molesting
had been committed by youths under the age of 18. Some offenders
were not even 12 years old.

An optimistic note is that in a digest of 22 studies of the
treatment of young sex offenders, the relapse rate after
appropriate treatment was less than 10 per cent in two-thirds of
the studies.

Sadowski had been bullied, he took his parents’ separation badly
and he was a loner. It’s a description that applies to any number
of children and teenagers. The challenge is how do we detect and
redirect those who are intent on becoming sexual predators – before
they claim their first victim?

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