CHILD ABUSE - Offenders Are Often as Young as Their Victims; SHOCKING STATISTICS SHOW THAT SEXUAL ASSAULTS ON CHILDREN ARE COMMITTED BY CULPRITS WHO ARE CHILDREN THEMSELVES

Coventry Evening Telegraph (England), May 22, 2001 | Go to article overview

CHILD ABUSE - Offenders Are Often as Young as Their Victims; SHOCKING STATISTICS SHOW THAT SEXUAL ASSAULTS ON CHILDREN ARE COMMITTED BY CULPRITS WHO ARE CHILDREN THEMSELVES


Byline: BARBARA GOULDEN

THE pioneering work being carried out by a Coventry charity is shaping the way we deal with sex offenders all over the country. BARBARA GOULDEN reports.

THE stereotype picture of a sex offender is a sad middle-aged bloke in a dirty raincoat hanging around parks and playgrounds.

But new research by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children shows the reality is in many ways even more disturbing.

Because the culprits are often other children. Often very, very young children.

Incredibly, the most likely age for a sex abuser in Britain today is 13. In Coventry there are 28 young people aged between 10 and 17 on the Sex Offenders' Register.

These figures may shock you but they do not shock Kevin Gibbs, manager of Boole House, the NSPCC's specialist unit in Whitefriars Street, Coventry.

He began working with a small number of teenage sex offenders back in 1992 when the whole concept of young people abusing others would have been met with disbelief.

Now Mr Gibbs accepts that instead of dealing with a tiny minority group, it is these children themselves who pose the greatest risk.

The numbers of young people he helps are not large. Many have themselves been abused.

But if left untreated, each individual's personal problem escalates as they grow older, corrupting the lives of dozens of other innocent youngsters who come into their orbit.

As the 38-year-old manager explained to delegates at a national conference in London recently, the fact that it is children who are the biggest perpetrators of sexual assault in this country. But this does not depress him at all.

He said: "In fact this new research gives me a reason for getting up in the morning!"

Mr Gibbs knows that the ground-breaking work he and fellow therapists have pioneered in Coventry over the past nine years has so far been 100 per cent successful.

If they can catch perpetrators young enough - and he now wants to open up his counselling sessions to eight year olds - the bulk of the whole hideous problem could be virtually eradicated within a generation.

The latest nationwide research among 2,870 youngsters under the age of 17, revealed that 120 had experienced sexual intercourse against their will.

From this the NSPCC has concluded that 90 per cent of all abuse goes unreported. Victims might confide in a friend, or relative. But hardly ever the police.

But it is the emphasis on where that abuse may come from that Mr Gibbs is most keen to stress.

Brothers, step-brothers and sisters, classmates and, above all, "date rape" - these are the flashpoints more parents of adolescents should be aware of.

He said: "Our work locally and nationally shows that the fear of danger from strangers is nothing like as significant as the popular perception might suggest.

"Sexually abusive acts are carried out predominantly by boyfriends or girlfriends, fellow students or people you have recently met.

"Within the family, the idea that it is most commonly a father, or step- father is also wrong. Step-brothers and sisters are three times more likely to offend."

The good news is that of the 371 boy and girl abusers his team has counselled since 1992, not one has gone on to offend as an adult.

A course of therapy can take anything from a few weeks to years. …

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