Action to cut child abuse `ineffective'

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The Independent Online
HALF OF all social workers think paedophiles should be held in prison indefinitely until they are judged no longer a risk to children, according to new research.

Nearly four out of five also believe that government policies are failing to tackle the problems of sex offenders, according to a survey for Community Care magazine. They are even more critical of the Government than is the general public, of which two-thirds think current policies are not effective.

The survey of 200 social workers and senior social workers coincides with the first anniversary of the Sex Offenders Register. Since it was implemented in September 1997, the register requires sex offenders to notify the police of their address as well as any change of name and address.

The penalty for not doing so is six months' imprisonment.

Over the past year there has been increasing vigilantism as paedophiles - such as Robert Oliver, jailed for the killing of teenager Jason Swift - have been released into the community after serving their sentences.

Most social workers believe that the Government has diverted public attention to the "stranger danger" when there is a much greater threat to children from their own families.

"Child abuse within the family is the largest area currently being neglected in government policy," said Ray Wyre, a sexual crime consultant. "Although the Sex Offenders Register is a step in the right direction, there are serious shortcomings."

However, when a convicted paedophile moves into the area, half of the social workers questioned said that they would like to see the general public informed even though this has often led to mob violence in the past. More than half the public agrees with this.

Only one in seven social workers thinks the public should be told if a suspected paedophile without a conviction moves to the neighbourhood. Nearly three quarters thought the press do more harm than good by "outing" paedophiles.

There is a lack of support for the Sex Offenders Register with less than a quarter thinking that its objectives have made it easier to work with paedophiles. But on average they believe that offenders as young as 15 should be included.

A majority think a register should also be kept of those suspected of abuse, or those found guilty in civil actions.

"Whilst in principle the setting up of a register marks a positive step to deal with the issue of sex offenders, our research highlights the shortfalls of government policy," said Terry Philpot, editor of Community Care. "The Sex Offenders Register will only work if it is maintained and monitored efficiently, and is part of a larger resource made available to tackle the threat of sex offenders."

A second survey of 500 members of the public found that family members were most likely to be a threat to children, but a third still thought a stranger was the most dangerous person.

Most of the public thought that paedophiles should be punished for their crimes, but should also receive treatment.