Preventing child sexual abuse

Written by Juliet Grayson

There were 64,667 police recorded sexual offences against children and young people from April 2016 to March 2017.  The Children’s Commissioner, in a report Protecting children from harm: A critical assessment of child sexual abuse in the family network in England and priorities for action, states “This enquiry estimates that [only] 1 in 8 victims of child sexual abuse come to the attention of statutory authorities.”  Multiplying 64,667 by 8 gives us an estimate that over 500,000 children are sexually abused each year. It costs £65,000 to imprison one sexual offender for a year if you include police time and court costs.   Yet for a fraction of the cost of this, some people can be successfully deterred from offending.

StopSO stands for the Specialist Treatment Organisation for Perpetrators and Survivors of Sexual Offences.  It is the only UK wide organisation to offer a therapeutic service to those who fear they are going to commit a sexual offence, before they do so.  StopSO also offers therapy to people who have already offended.

StopSO has over 200 fully qualified and experienced ‘general’ therapists who have either already been given specialist training to work with this client group, or are in training.  Before they see clients StopSO provides therapists with a basic forensic Foundation Training (3 days).  StopSO also offers a Professional Certificate in Therapeutic Practice with Sex Offenders, which is a further 10 days.  Both these courses are Accredited by the College of Sex and Relationship Therapy.

StopSO fulfils three primary roles:

  1. It trains therapists in working with potential and actual sex offenders.
  2. It refers clients to therapists.
  3. It subsidises the cost of client therapy where clients are unable to pay, (when it has sufficient funds).

Thirty-eight per cent of StopSO’s clients are unknown to the authorities. This creates a huge opportunity to reduce the harm of sexual abuse to victims, their families and the families of the perpetrators. There is evidence that some sexually abused children themselves become sexual abusers, so perpetuating an horrific cycle of abuse that continues into future generations, (Jesperson et al, 2009). We need to act now, as other governments are doing in countries such as the Dunkelfeld Project in Germany, to stop sexual abuse through preventative therapy.

StopSO is the only UK wide organisation to work with sex offenders of all types, from those looking at illegal online images, voyeurs and exhibitionists, people who commit contact offences with children and adults.

StopSO has been asked for help by over 1500 people since 2012, 50% of which were during 2017. Most StopSO clients pay for their own therapy.  However 20% cannot afford the cost of counselling.   Often, when StopSO lacks funds, we have to turn away these clients, who are asking StopSO for help not to commit an offence.  So far StopSO has relied on personal donations and small grants from charitable trusts.  StopSO has received no money at all from the government. StopSO needs to expand, and take on more staff to meet the current and future demands.

Good quality academic research on the counselling of sexual offenders is only available for those who have already been convicted of an offence. The most recent meta study of this group by Schmucker et al, 2017, shows that counselling leads to an average 26.3% reduction in re-incarceration rates. If this success rate is used for StopSO’s client group, then it is plausible that in 2018, StopSO’s work could stop 231 men from offending. The cost of imprisoning these men for a year would be over £15 million.

Sometimes StopSO clients allow me to report their stories, provided I change their names. Let’s call one Chris. He was concerned about his sexual thoughts towards children. He was not sure where to go for help. Now in his twenties, he had been living with these thoughts for some ten years, since he was a teenager. He had never looked at illegal images of children. But he was starting to think about this more and more and wanted help to ensure that he didn’t act out. He went to see his GP. His GP was open with Chris that he had a duty to report him.

The GP did not know where to get help for Chris, but he Googled ‘sex offender help UK,’ and he found StopSO. Chris was referred for therapy, but he could not afford to pay for himself. Luckily, StopSO had been given a small grant to subsidise therapy for those who couldn’t afford to pay for themselves.

Meanwhile, the GP completed a safeguarding referral to the local authority. The local authority held a strategy meeting which was attended by the GP, social services, local safeguarding children’s board and the police. The strategy meeting took the decision that there were insufficient grounds for any further investigation or action to be carried out. This was because Chris didn’t have any contact with children and there was no evidence that any offence had been committed.

Chris told me, “I know of an individual, much younger than me, who sought help for his worrying thoughts about children. He also went to his GP, but it was a different local authority, and he ended up being formally investigated by the police because of it. He had an horrific experience. In the end they found that he was completely innocent. He had no illegal images on his computer or phone. He had no children in his immediate family or living near to him. The authorities eventually decided that he was telling the truth, and their investigations confirmed that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed, nor did it seem likely that a crime would be committed.”

Chris told me, “If I had known his story beforehand I would never have gone to see my GP at all. And, if I had known there was somewhere to get help, where I would have been treated confidentially, I would have sought support much, much sooner. I waited until I was suicidal to ask the GP for help. Finding StopSO was, for me, what made the difference at the end of the day. I got access to a therapist who knew what they were talking about, and it has enabled me to remain law-abiding. I never want to harm a child, despite my desires. I have strategies now to manage myself, and talking about it has made all the difference.”

Chris does no longer feels at risk of acting out inappropriately any more. He also knows he can come back to StopSO if he ever needs to.

About the author

Juliet Grayson is the Chair of StopSO: The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Perpetrators and Survivors of Sexual Offences

If you are having sexual thoughts about children, contact StopSO on or call  074743 299883 or email

StopSO’s patron is Simon Bailey, Norfolk’s Chief Constable and the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead on Child Protection.

If you want to donate to StopSO, you can do so here

The section about ‘Chris’ was published originally in the Huffington Post on 18th September 2016

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