Sex offenders

Taken from the Home Office's guide 'Keeping Children Safe from Sex Offenders'

Who are child sex offenders and how do they operate?

When the term ‘child sex offender’ is used in this leaflet, it is referring to people who commit sex offences against children. People from a wide range of backgrounds and ages are known to commit sex offences. Most known child sex offenders are men, though some are women and around one third are young people themselves. Strangers carry out around 20 per cent of child sex offences and these are the cases often focused on in the media. However, the vast majority (at least 7 per cent) of child sex offenders are known to their victims – they are often a member of the family, a friend of the victim or a friend of the victim’s family.

Offenders seek out young people who desire friendship, either through direct contact or online. They often use a number of ‘grooming’ techniques, including building trust with the child through lying or befriending a member of the child’s family. Child sex offenders may also use threats and guilt to manipulate a child.

Whether the offender is known to the child’s family or not, in all cases this crime is devastating for victims and their families. It is important that people harming children in this way are brought to justice and prevented from harming other children in the future. A significant number of sex offences against children go unreported to the police because victims or their families feel they are unable to talk about what has happened. Sex offenders can only be prosecuted, convicted and managed by the police, probation services and other agencies if their offences are reported.

Therefore you also have a huge role to play in child protection – by listening to children and reporting any concerns you have.

What specific information about child sex offenders do I have rights to?

Effective management of child sex offenders in the community sometimes requires the police, the probation and prison services to share information with members of the public about specific offenders and their risk. This way of sharing information works through a national system of ‘controlled disclosure’. Leading child welfare organisations, such as the NSPCC and Barnardo’s, support this way of sharing information.

Controlled disclosure means that, on a case-by-case basis, the police, probation and prison services make decisions to disclose such information as is relevant and necessary to protect children. Information on individual child sex offenders who may pose a serious risk of harm will be provided to people who have professional responsibility for the safety of children, or to people who have influence over the offender. Many meetings will take place to discuss each offender and the circumstances in which disclosure of detailed information would help to protect a child.

Key responsible people in your community, such as headteachers, leisure centre managers, employers and landlords, are often given details about child sex offenders in their area. Therefore these people are able to play an important part in keeping your local environment and community safe for children to live, learn and play in.

The Government is also currently looking at the best way of setting up a system to allow some parents and carers to check on a named individual, in specific circumstances.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre has developed a ‘most wanted’ website, which publishes details about certain non-compliant offenders that everyone can access.

If the police, probation and prison services are concerned about a direct risk to you or your child, either through their own investigations or because of a report you have made, they can decide to share any information with you that is necessary to keep you and your family safe. This can include identifying specific offenders and providing personal details, such as their home address or place of employment. This would be done through a face-to-face meeting.

The aim of giving these details is always to provide greater protection to children. The person receiving the information has a responsibility to ensure that it is used in this way. It should not be used to harass offenders. An offender who anticipates a community backlash through loss of anonymity is likely to ‘go underground’, away from the authorities. Offenders like this will then be a greater risk to children because the authorities are unable to monitor and supervise them.

For the same reason, automatically sharing offender details in Britain with anyone who asks about a particular individual, regardless of the risk they pose, will not help protect children. This is more likely to result in offenders ‘disappearing’ from the authorities monitoring them.

Therefore, unless you or your family are at direct risk from a child sex offender, the police will not give you specific details about a child sex offender.

I have serious concerns about the behaviour of a particular individual. What should I do?

If you have any doubts or concerns about an individual, remember the following:

•It is important that child abuse is stopped - this is the first priority, no matter who the abuser is.
•Don’t confront the suspected abuser yourself – you may put yourself or the child in danger.
•You may want to talk through your concerns with someone you trust, but in order to protect the child you must get professional help too. Contact the police, Children's Social Care, a health visitor, school nurse or other health professional (such as your GP) or the NSPCC or Stop it Now!It is important that child abuse is stopped – this is the first priority, no matter who the abuser is.