'I am a paedophile': Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?

Eddie has always struggled with a sexual fascination for children but he can't be rehabilitated because he has never acted upon his impulses. Steve Humphries , the director of a new documentary, explains why it's crucial to talk to paedophiles before they have offended.

If you met Eddie, you would have no idea of the dark secret he has struggled with for much of his adult life. A softly spoken 39-year-old man, he is the kind of ordinary Joe you rub shoulders with at the supermarket. But Eddie wrestles with a secret so dark that he battles with self-loathing and deep shame every day. He is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children as young as four. Despite this, he is adamant that he has never acted on his desires.

I arranged to meet Eddie during the course of making a documentary for Channel 4 exploring radical new approaches to tackling paedophilia. A police check confirmed that he had no criminal convictions. He had a fairly normal childhood: he was popular at school and was captain of the school rugby team. It all appeared very ordinary. So would meeting him reveal anything else? I began by asking Eddie how he first came to recognise that he was a paedophile. “Basically, it was when I was in my twenties. It was a difficult time. I’d had some girlfriends before who I’d loved, but it was then that I thought, ‘I am paedophile’.

I would prefer not to have these feelings and attractions, but I have them, and that’s difficult. I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four, five or six. A lot of people automatically assume that because I think or felt that way, I am going to potentially abuse a child, but I don’t feel I’m capable of that kind of thing. I certainly don’t want to do that kind of thing. Perhaps it’s not so difficult for me because I’m not exclusively attracted to children. I do find myself attracted to women of all ages.”

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While it was deeply uncomfortable to hear Eddie talk so openly about his sexual attraction to young girls, I was surprised to find out that he’s also attracted to women. In fact, this sort of non-exclusive sexual attraction is  typical of many paedophiles. That’s why so many are married with children and pass unnoticed in our communities.

Few crimes are more horrific than the sexual abuse of children, yet all the elaborate policies and legislation put in place to protect our children over the past century have failed. I care deeply about the issue of child protection. I was one of the first to break the story of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in 1998 when I made the documentary Sex in a Cold Climate, about the secret horrors of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, which inspired the feature film The Magdalene Sisters and contributed to the recent apology by the Catholic Church.

With a new child sex-abuse scandal seemingly breaking every week, and recent estimates of the numbers of paedophiles in Britain ranging between around 50,000 and a staggering quarter of a million, it seemed to me that we have to start considering bold new solutions – one of which involves talking to paedophiles before they offend. This is an idea propagated by Dr Sarah Goode.

Dr Goode, a former senior lecturer in medical sociology, specialises in paedophilia and has written two books on the subject. She believes that she lost her job because her ideas were so controversial. She is convinced that the best way to keep children safe is to understand paedophiles themselves – so she took an extraordinary step. Having found online community forums where paedophiles congregate, she began contacting them directly. “What I found baffling to start with was that, within the paedophile community, there is this group of men – we don’t know how many, we don’t know what proportion they are – but these are men committed to a law-abiding lifestyle. We didn’t know that before. That’s a completely hidden population.”

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Dark secret: Eddie, pictured above, is sexually attracted to children. He has spoken out as part of a new documentary (Testimony Films)

It was through Dr Goode that I had made contact with Eddie, and asked him to take part in my documentary. Given our current hatred towards all paedophiles, I was surprised when he agreed and I wondered why he had taken the extraordinary step of coming out on camera.

“People will probably say, ‘Why isn’t this guy locked up? We should kill this guy, we should go and give him a good shoeing’. Well, honest to God, I will not run away from you. If you want to do that then come and do it to me, because all you are doing is just keeping the status quo. Going around abusing children is not acceptable. Viewing images of child pornography is not acceptable. But people are just waiting for you to offend before they help you. They’re  saying, ‘Do what you want but if we catch you we’re going to bang you up.’ Instead of saying, perhaps, ‘Listen, we can help you’. But if you don’t have the option to come forward and say, ‘Look, I’ve got a problem, I need help,’ then what are we changing? We’re changing nothing.”

Meeting Eddie and Dr Goode made me wonder what made someone a paedophile. One of the most common theories is the cycle of abuse – where those abused as children grow up to be abusers themselves. There is evidence that, in some cases, this I true. But Eddie wasn’t abused. And as Dr Goode asks: why is it that most sex-abuse victims are girls, yet most adult sexual abusers are men?

The latest scientific research suggests that paedophilia may be caused by a difference in the wiring of some people’s brains – and the process is likely to start in the womb. The causes of paedophilia are still debated, but the damaging effects are the same. According to Dr Goode: “For many children, sexual abuse is like a bomb going off deep underground. You can’t see anything necessarily on the surface but there’s been this huge psychic damage and the repercussions last for years.”

This was much in evidence in the stories of the survivors I interviewed. Sarah Forsyth, born in Gateshead in 1976, was abused by her father from the age of three. When the abuse was discovered when she was 11, she was sent to a care home. It should have been a place of safety, but it had been infiltrated by paedophiles. “It was another place where I was being abused. I’d hold back the tears. As much as they hurt us, I’d never let them see me cry. They used to hurt us, but you got used to it, didn’t you?”

After ending up a drug-addicted prostitute in Amsterdam’s red-light district, Sarah battled to put her life back on track and is now training to be a social worker, so that she can use her experience of abuse to help identify children at risk.

Ian McFadyen was a pupil at Caldicott prep school in Buckinghamshire in 1975. It was one of the best in the country, also attended at the time by Nick Clegg. But it had also been infiltrated by a paedophile ring. Ian was sexually abused by several teachers – most of all by George Hill, the deputy headmaster, a well-liked, charismatic figure and a friend of Ian’s parents. Mr Hill arranged to bath Ian once a week and his contact with him gradually became more sexual.

“He was this person who was a very gentle character, almost grandfatherly. He was someone who you warmed to and trusted… There was nurturing, there was conversation. There was tenderness, initially. And it was something that I wanted and was involved in. I had been beautifully groomed and felt wholly complicit in it. It progressed to the level where Mr Hill sodomised me – and I thought everyone would know because I could hardly walk. This occurred over several years. I had gone to Caldicott a happy little boy who was honourable and somebody of worth. And they take that from you.”

It is a painful truth that trusted adults such as Mr Hill are – next to family members – the most likely to groom and sexually abuse our children, often with long-lasting and devastating consequences. Ian began to go off the rails.

“The first time I took heroin I was 12. The first time I got my stomach pumped for alcohol poisoning, I was 13. At 13, 14, I was jumping on trains and offering myself to men, groups of men. I had no regard for anyone else, I had no regard for myself, I didn’t care whether I lived or died.”

Ian is a resilient survivor. He got his life back on track, trained to be a counsellor and is now happily married. He believes that as difficult as it may be to discuss sexual abuse, he has come to the conclusion there is a real need to do so. “If we don’t talk about it, fewer children will be protected… It may be uncomfortable to talk about, but for somebody who has survived that, it is less comfortable than the act being perpetrated.”

To show how serious he is about the need  to be more open, incredibly, he agreed to a meeting with Eddie. “Some years ago, I would have probably attempted to kill you,” Ian admits to him in this charged but remarkably dignified exchange. Both survivor and paedophile agreed that the system is not working and radical solutions are needed – which include talking to paedophiles if we want to safeguard children.

It is an approach supported by the British charity Stop It Now, which encourages paedophiles to come out and seek help. It has a helpline and counselling service, that aims to prevent paedophiles acting on their sexual instincts.

But the most groundbreaking prevention scheme of all is in Germany. Called Prevention Project Dunkelfeld (Darkfield), it uses counselling methods that can include group therapy and exercises in victim empathy, some times complemented with courses of drugs to treat paedophiles who want help with their feelings of desire towards children, but who are not known to have broken the law. Dr Goode believes it is the way forward. “The whole thing is completely voluntary and confidential. Essentially, it’s men coming forward and saying, ‘Yes I have a problem with my sexual feelings towards children and I would like some help so I don’t break the law.’ The Dunkelfeld project is doing brilliantly well. It started in Berlin, it’s now extended to nine different cities in Germany.”

Eddie has recently been accepted on one of the other new paedophile treatment programmes now being developed in Europe, where he hopes to get the help that he needs to control his paedophile desires for the rest of his life.

Dr Goode has been a lone voice in Britain in her attempts to change our attitudes to paedophilia. But I agree with her that we must use every possible method to prevent child sex abuse – and that includes talking to paedophiles before they have offended. If we don’t, then in another 30 years time we will be hearing from the generation of victims that was abused today and asking ourselves why we didn’t do more to help them at the time.

‘The Paedophile Next Door’ will be broadcast at 9pm on Tuesday on Channel 4