QotD: “My dad’s a sex offender. Can people like him change?”

Becky Southworth was 13 when her dad was arrested for sex offences against children. He spent 10 years in prison for his crimes – and part of his sentence was for crimes against Becky.

“If you’ve ever been affected by anything like sexual abuse, you know you don’t ever fully recover. And you would never want anybody to feel the way that you have.

“It wasn’t until my dad had done 10 years of his sentence that I realised he’d have to be released some day and I might see him again.”

Becky was told her dad completed a sex offenders’ treatment programme while in prison – the same one that was scrapped in 2017 because there were findings that said it actually led to more reoffending.

“When I found that out I had to ask, ‘should this person be released?'” she says.

“It’s terrifying. I don’t know if he’ll do it again.”

Becky’s dad is now out of prison but she doesn’t have a relationship with him. She says she didn’t feel as though she could speak to him but, in her documentary Can Sex Offenders Change?, she speaks to others who have committed similar crimes about why they did it and the treatment they’ve been through.

This comes as reports of child abuse images online have increased by almost 50% during lockdown, according to the Internet Watch Foundation.

In the documentary, Becky, 26, speaks to Andrew*, who is on the Sex Offender Register for 10 years for downloading indecent images of children.

He was convicted with almost 80,000 indecent images of children on his computer.

Like a lot of people who’ve been convicted of looking at sexual images of children he’s not been to prison.

Andrew agreed to meet Becky in a car in an isolated location where he could see who was approaching. He told her about a time recently when he accidentally walked past a children’s paddling pool party where some of the children were naked.

“I make sure that I don’t put myself in difficult situations,” he says. “But sometimes they find you.”

Andrew, who says he experienced some form of sexual abuse as a child, told Becky that pedophilia was “normal” to him.

“I lived every day with it and as such it was my normal life,” he says.

Becky admits it was a “surreal” experience to interview and get to know Andrew while making the documentary.

“I was very aware that the person in front of me had done this horrific thing.

“And the very first time I met Andrew, I just felt sick and wanted to get out of the car. My gut instinct was to hate him. It took so much for me to stay and listen.”

In the documentary, Becky reacts to Andrew’s explanation about his own childhood sexual abuse: “This idea that the abused becomes the abuser, I just can’t comprehend that. I can’t comprehend knowing the pain that I felt, why would you then want someone else to feel that way?

“I just can’t accept that as an excuse.”

It is five years since Andrew was caught with images of children being sexually abused and he’s been having therapy for 18 months.

He attends two sessions of psychotherapy per week with an organisation called StopSO.

His therapist, Michele, offers specialist trauma-based psychotherapy. He treats both perpetrators and victims of abuse.

“There are events in the life of everyone where something can trigger and you find yourself re-enacting what probably has been done to you,” the therapist says. “But through the work that we do, we try to do our best [to make sure] that doesn’t happen.

“Up to now, as far as I know, no clients have reoffended.”

In the documentary, Michele also discusses the link between porn addiction and viewing illegal child sexual abuse images.

“There are people that start with normal porn and then through becoming porn-addicted, because most of the time there is also porn addiction in place, they want to know more, they want to see more and then they find themselves in this situation.

“And so they start to develop other interests.”

Later, Becky met 22-year-old Kyle*. He was 19 when he was arrested for possession of indecent images of children. He was 13 when he started to look at images of children being sexually abused.

“I worked out that because I was so isolated I was feeling very depressed,” he says. “I was using imagery and harmful sexual thoughts to make myself feel good at the time.

“It was a build up. The original stuff I was looking at wasn’t effective any more. So I then moved onto the next step, to something slightly worse and worse until it reached that point because that was what was giving me the adrenaline rush.

“I knew it was wrong but when you’re in that moment you don’t think rationally.”

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