‘Many of them can change, they have 
to be given a chance’

Can paedophiles ‘get better’ and go on to live happy and healthy lives?

Most people would recoil in horror and say definitely not – but the woman in charge of rehabilitating these offenders disagrees.

Elisabeth von Rabenau, who heads up the sex offenders programme in Herts, Beds, Cambs and Peterborough, said: “I wouldn’t necessarily say in every single case but certainly a lot of them can and will if given the chance.”

But she said the key is teaching these men – and also a small number of women – to be aware of their own risks and possible triggers for re-offending.

Much like drug or alcohol addicts the potential for relapse never goes away but can be controlled.

“A lot of the men would say ‘I know I would never re-offend’

“Our approach would be to say it is much better if you think of it in terms of this is something I need to manage and monitor for myself on an ongoing basis,” said Elisabeth.

“So there is a good chance that people will not re-offend again but I think people need to remain alert to their own risks and their trigger situations.”

Her team – made up of three women and one man – run a series of programmes for sex offenders.

The Thames Valley Sex Offenders Programme, named after where it was first introduced, covers a range of sex offences involving adults and children but also exhibitionism, voyeurism and the grooming of victims.

This intense course starts with a foundation block of two full workings weeks from 9.30am to 5.30pm, followed by eight sessions on victim empathy, 20 on life skills and up to 24 sessions, each lasting two hours, on leading better lives.

There’s a dedicated programme for those caught dealing in internet child pornography – a crime that is rarely out of the headlines and that many believe is on the rise. However, police forces like Herts Constabulary say they’re just getting better at catching the culprits and Dacorum’s new Chief Insp Glen Channer previously headed up the unit responsible for tracking them down.

The course to ‘fix’ these offenders is made up of 35 sessions each lasting two hours and normally running during the evenings.

This is something that former Dacorum mayor Stephen Holmes may have to take part in after he was jailed for 10 months last year after admitting he had collected a huge stash of child porn on his computer.

The group work sessions involve offenders analysing their behaviour, the motivation behind it and taking responsibility for what they did.

“Recognising it wasn’t something that just happened, these images didn’t just pop up on the computer,” said Elisabeth, who started her career as a probation officer.

“Often there is some sexual motivation in there but often it is about meeting a whole range of other needs.

“That could be about dealing with stress or trying to find an area in your life where you have got some control. It is quite complex.

“When you talk about offending that relates to the internet a big part of that is making the victims real people.

“It is not a fantasy world. They are not just images – why might children look as though they are smiling? What might be going on behind the scenes?

“It is about getting across the idea that these are real children who have been abused.”

Lots of work is done around building the life skills that these offenders may be lacking.

“Elisabeth said: “If we are looking at internet offending it is not unusual to be dealing with people who maybe hold down responsible occupations.

“In a work situation they may appear quite skilled but maybe in their personal lives they may not have those same problem solving skills.”

Her team of probation officers, who aim to help 40 sex offenders from Herts through their programmes next year, deal with people from all walks of life.

Elisabeth said: “Men from the whole spectrum.

“We see people who may be unemployed, who have maybe struggled with life and relationships across the board, and we have had men who are successful running businesses, academics, in another programme we have got somebody who is a doctor.”

She added: “Very broadly speaking I would say there is a range that goes from people who are accessing certain types of images fairly deliberately from the outset and there is another type that is maybe viewing pornography, which may well start off as legal initially, and then it reaches the point when that is not enough. To use the addiction kind of analogy, it is not giving you the hit anymore.”

But does all this ‘rehabilitation’ actually work?

Figures show that over a two year follow up period of those who had not attended a treatment programme 8.1 per cent re-offended, while of those that had gone on a course 4.6 per cent re-offended.

“There is a clear positive impact of attending a treatment programme and that is confirmed by other national and international research,” said Elisabeth.

Stop It Now is a child sexual abuse prevention campaign that has a helpline for those worried about their own behaviour or thoughts or the actions of others. Call 0800 1000 900 or email help@stopitnow.org.uk