Tale of a teenage abuser

Case notes 

Practitioner: Dr Andrew Durham. 

Field: Young people with inappropriate sexualised behaviour. 

Location: Warwickshire. 

Client: Alan Dugdale is white and is aged 14. His parents were divorced four years ago and his father, John, now lives with his partner Jill, a black African, and her two sons, Paul (aged five) and Stuart (seven), both of whom are of mixed ethnicity; their father is white. Alan’s mother, Rachel, has a long-term heroin addiction and is critically ill. 

Case history: Alan has lived with various family members over the past five years. Unable to cope with his mother’s addiction he sees her only infrequently. While staying with his father Alan was caught attempting to touch the genitals of his female cousin Louise (aged 4) during a family visit. Following this incident it was discovered that Alan had been abusing Paul and Stuart undetected and regularly over a three-month period ending about six months ago. Alan received a final warning for sexually abusing the boys. He then moved in with his father’s sister, Alice, who is single and at that time was living alone. However, this relationship is now strained and Alan has begun to develop difficulties at school.  

Dilemma: Alan admits that abusing the boys gave him a high level of affection and pleasure. He is refusing to show remorse. 

Risk factor: Keeping Alan within mainstream school and in the community while work is done with him could lead to more abuse taking place. 

Outcome: Alan continues to have social work intervention.   

The names of the young person and his extended family network have been changed

Most people if asked to profile a perpetrator of child sex abuse might think immediately of a middle-aged male. Very few might consider a female adult. Even fewer would probably think of the abuser being another child.

Yet young people do sexually abuse. However, many children and young people with sexual behavioural difficulties are themselves vulnerable and have quite complex needs. Therefore, intervention must challenge the inappropriate sexual behaviour but also provide a high level of support and guidance.

It was this approach that was applied in the case of 14-year-old Alan Dugdale, who was cautioned for sexually abusing the two young sons of his father’s new partner, who is black – something Alan resented.

Alan had spent the previous five years living with various family members. This reinforced a belief that his parents didn’t spend the time with him that he wanted. “His father used to own several amusement arcades and a casino, and for several years was wealthy,” says Andrew Durham, consultant practitioner, Sexualised Inappropriate Behaviours Service (Sibs) in Warwickshire. “For various reasons, his business collapsed and he was declared bankrupt. He has recovered from this loss and now runs a travel agency, which takes up a great deal of his time.”

After the abuse came to light, Alan moved in with his aunt Alice, who has always been fond of him, but has recently found him to be very difficult to live with. “She would say that Alan can’t be told anything and always believes he is right. In tandem with this, Alan has had significant problems at school, and received a series of short-term exclusions. He is of above average intelligence and performs well at sports. Until recently, he was in the top grade for all his major subjects,” says Durham.

After initial reluctance, Alan co-operated well with social work intervention. “He has been able to recognise his pattern of behaviour, and has admitted to having frequent masturbatory fantasies about Paul and Stuart. Alan admits that he got sexual pleasure from the abuse, and that this caused him to want to do it again,” says Durham.

Although Alan believes strongly that he is not gay, and has had mild sexual experiences with female peers, he says there has always been a problem at school with his peers calling him “gay Al”, which he says has come from a TV series. The name seems to have stuck and causes Alan to become involved in fights. “Alan is frightened that members of his family, including his father, believe that he is either gay or perverted. Alan said that when he was 11, he went through a stage of watching pornographic films, something he still has an interest in,” says Durham.

In some ways this has allowed him to feel that he is a “normal heterosexual male”. Durham explains: “The work with Alan has helped him to analyse these issues and has challenged his understanding and received beliefs about masculinity, sexuality and racism, and has helped him to recognise how anger and the desire for power, control and revenge contributed to his sexual offending.”

Alan believes that if his family had paid more attention to him, then none of this would have happened. “He has described an anger retaliation cycle in relation to the abuse of Paul and Stuart. Initially he was angry with his father and Jill and wanted to do something to get back at them. For several months, he felt a high level of control and power over them, as he knew what he had been doing and they didn’t.

“He says that whenever Paul or Stuart gave any indication of resistance or unhappiness, then he stopped. He was able to abuse them by setting up a series of games, which involved removing clothes, masturbating each other, some times oral genital contact and on three occasions he attempted to penetrate Paul and Stuart, but that he was unable to do this, and so instead simulated intercourse. Alan says that in nearly all of the incidents he ejaculated,” says Durham.

Alan continues to receive social work intervention, and there is a great deal of family conflict, much of which is based on his refusal to show remorse. “Privately, Alan does express remorse, but he believes that showing this would be too much of a concession, as his family never gives him the time and attention he feels he deserves,” says Durham.

Arguments for risk 

  • Crucially Alan has voluntarily co-operated with the direct therapeutic work with Sibsand there are clear indicators that progress is being made. The early evidence shows that Alan is accepting responsibility for his actions and is showing a willingness tochange. 
  • The intensity of the intervention, both in terms of supervision and monitoring and the on-going therapeutic work is such that it effectively manages the risk. 
  • It was important to get the co-operation of the family in supporting both Alan and the work being undertaken, leading to opportunities for improved family relationships.  
  • Being able to work with Alan in the community allows the intervention to remain relevant to his daily life, and allows an understanding of his ability to manage risk.   
  • Through Sibs and social work support there was a full team of professional and family support around Alan.    

Arguments against risk

  • Given that Alan has declined to openly show remorse could indicate strongly that he feels he has done little wrong and as such there is a very real possibility that he may slip back into retaliatory behaviour. 
  • By keeping Alan in the community rather than in either secure accommodation or another protective residential care placement, he retains access to further victims. 
  • With Alan being an everyday part of the community this also places enormous stresses on Sibs and social services in maintaining adequate supervision that is fulfilling both supportive and protective roles. 
  • When assessing the inappropriate sexual behaviour of a young person, it is important not to lose sight of the family and social context in which the behaviour has taken place. There are difficulties in managing some of Alan’s antisocial behaviour at home and at school, and this must have potential to place further strain on family relationships.

Independent comment  

Children and young people perpetrate between a quarter and one-third of all sexual abuse in the UK, writes Simon Hackett. Yet Alan is fortunate to be able to access help of the kind offered by Sibs. There are no services offering such specialist interventions in many parts of the UK, and there is a lack of policy, inter-agency and government co-ordination.  

Alan’s developmental history has many typical factors that identify harmful sexual behaviour in young people. These include experience of abuse and neglect, family breakdown and discontinuity of care, attachment disorder, school problems, social isolation and a sense of being different from peers. The holistic approach by Sibs helps Alan to address his offence behaviours alongside his broader family and life experiences.  

It is rare that such young people are so impulsive in their sexual behaviour that they cannot be managed safely within a school environment. As Alan has abused three children aged between four and seven, he may not present specific risk to his peers. Careful monitoring, supervision and family support should allow him to function safely in the community. 

This, rather than mere containment, should help Alan increase his self-esteem and social competence and develop appropriate peer networks and friendships. These goals, and safe management of risk situations, should form the basis of the professional response in this case.  

Simon Hackett is author of Facing the Future: A Guide for Parents of Young People Who Have Sexually Abused, RHP2001.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.