Michael Fuller: Offenders go unnoticed
I was saddened to read the report of the trial and conviction of the child sex abuser, Michael Fuller in last week s edition. Despite our greater awareness of the activities of these offenders, the development of child protection specialists within the po
I was saddened to read the report of the trial and conviction of the child sex abuser, Michael Fuller in last week's edition. Despite our greater awareness of the activities of these offenders, the development of child protection specialists within the police and social services and improvements to legislation, this appalling form of crime continues to occur in our communities.
During my professional career I was involved over many years with enquiries into the activities of five separate child sex offenders, two of them colleagues. Reflecting upon these disturbing experiences always leads me to the same questions - how do abusers manage to offend right in our midst, and how can we prevent this happening in the future?
Unfortunately there are no handbooks telling us how to recognise these potential offenders and they normally pass among us unnoticed. The establishment of an offenders' register has possibly helped prevent some from reoffending but does not deter those who are or have yet to offend.
Much of the observable behaviour of potential offenders is apparently quite normal and of course these devious, perverted people use this normality to deceive us and their intended victims. Also, it is a difficult subject to talk about and, as I am discovering right now, neither is it very easy to write about. As one academic study pointed out, there is a danger of stereotyping in attempting to describe child sex offenders, but even my limited experience has taught me that they have few similarities of any kind. However, I would like to share a few of my more general observations:
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* They may spend years building acceptance within a community and may be well qualified professionals.
* They may lie about their background and may have changed their name.
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* They are often loners, either rejecting friends or failing to gain any.
* When working with children they may be unreasonably exacting in their demands, eg, children will not be allowed to do anything without permission - they need to gain and maintain absolute control.
* They are inclined to be harsh in dealing with children's minor misdemeanours and offer very little in the way of praise or empathy. At best children will be wary of them and at worst very scared. Their victims are usually severely threatened not to tell.
* When in positions of responsibility for children they may cultivate favourites - these are at risk of becoming victims.
* They may either seek out situations or devise activities which include children undressing or undressed - they are often voyeurists.
* They may present as heroes within a community in which they run a successful children's club or team.
* They may approach vulnerable parents and offer to take children out - especially swimming.
* Once active they need to know they are safe and beyond suspicion so may be discovered frequently checking on the activities of colleagues or listening-in to conversations.
They constantly abuse the trust which is normally taken for granted between adults and they trade on our fears and our silence. Sadly their victims are often emotionally vulnerable young people who become scared and traumatised by their experiences and even when desperately unhappy are unable to talk to anyone about their difficulties.
As adults in caring professional roles and as parents we can only be vigilant. Should our suspicions be aroused then we must find the courage to approach someone we can trust - in the first instance distant from the situation - and try to talk it through. It is often helpful to gain someone else's view in forming an objective judgement about our observations. When we feel our suspicions are sufficiently well grounded then it is appropriate to report to someone in authority.
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