Watching ITV News at Ten on Tuesday evening (http://www.itv.com/news/2018-04-03/uks-top-child-protection-officer-says-online-sex-offenders-can-be-rehabilitated-instead-of-jailed/) I was stunned, angered and deeply frustrated listening to the interview with Chief Constable Simon Bailey, child protection lead at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, saying that sex offenders who view indecent images of children online should be rehabilitated instead of jailed.
I’m all for rehabilitation in most walks of life, but like Jim Gamble (former Head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) my view is that for online sex offenders the best place for them is prison because there has to be a consequence to their actions. To broadcast nationally that offenders will be able to avoid jail in the future will surely only empower them to feel safe about continuing commit crime against children.
What I don’t understand, however, and this is also a huge cause of frustration for me, is why the discussion is not around the importance of education and making sure that schools are equipped to tackle the issues which ultimately lead to child exploitation. Rehabilitation wouldn’t be needed if education was a greater priority. We must educate children to reduce the number of offences committed in the future.
We are proud of what we are doing in this area, both in terms of specific modules (below) and also as an undercurrent through the whole programme:
- Feelings and emotions – children have the opportunity to recognise and name a range of emotions and develop an understanding of their physical effects, distinguishing between those that feel pleasant and those that feel unpleasant or uncomfortable. This also supports teachers in exploring mindfulness.
- Growing and changing – pupils look at healthy and unhealthy relationships. They are provided with information on how to seek help if they feel worried or scared about a particular relationship they have with someone. They cover important topics such as appropriate touch and puberty.
- Computer safety – helping children to understand the golden rules to stay safe online, how their online activity can affect others and how to identify other positive and negative aspects of using technology. Pupils explore the potential outcomes of online bullying, sharing images and making friends online with people they don’t know.
The topics we cover regarding child exploitation meet the requirements of the PSHE Association’s programme of study in terms of what is expected at Key Stages 1 and 2, but we need to see the bigger picture. That is a concerted effort driven by the government in schools to give children the knowledge and skills to know when something is wrong and to speak out. Get to young people early to stop abnormal behaviour patterns – schools are the only place to reverse these patterns, and they need support.
However, a child exploitation education prevention strategy is missing in this country. The Department for Education’s recent ‘Changes to the teaching of Sex & Relationship Education and PSHE’ consultation, which we responded to, did not specifically seek views on this. Perhaps we should aspire to have such a strategy. This would give our argument around prevention, not cure, even greater focus.