The tip of the iceberg

Editor Jon Sutton reviews Channel 4's 'The Paedophile Next Door'.

‘Paedophiles, it seems, are everywhere in Britain today… Predatory paedophiles operating at every level of society… the well-known cases are just the tip of the iceberg.’ After this rather alarmist opening from historian and documentary film maker Steve Humphries, I waited for the ‘this is the popular view, but the reality is more complex’, but it never came.

According to Humphries, ‘the evidence suggests they are all around us’. In fact, retired policeman DC Jonathan Taylor tells him ‘we haven’t even got in the boat to go and see the tip of the iceberg.’ More authoritative evidence wouldn’t have gone amiss, but nevertheless I can agree with Humphries that ‘to keep our children safe, we need to understand much more about paedophiles’.

Humphries meets Dr Sarah Goode, a former lecturer in medical sociology, who feels she lost her job due to her controversial views on ‘a completely hidden population’ of so-called ‘virtuous paedophiles’: men who are committed to living a law abiding lifestyle. The film maker is initially sceptical, but he comes to accept that we should encourage as many potential paedophiles as possible to seek help before they become offenders.

Pushing this perspective persuasively is Eddie – actually his real name I think, with Humphries describing him as ‘brave or reckless’. Eddie describes his rough ‘age of attraction’ as ‘four, five, six’. He doesn’t want to act on his impulses, he can’t imagine he would have that within him, but he is concerned that ‘people are waiting for you to offend before they help you’.

Forensic Psychologist Professor Corine de Ruiter appears briefly in order to compare paedophilia to having diabetes: ‘it doesn’t go away, you have to deal with it’. Dr Goode argues that ‘somebody who realises that they are a paedophile has to make a choice about how they are going to live their lives. At the moment, the only message that they’re hearing from us in society is “you’re a paedophile, you’re an evil monster, we hate you”… that’s not a deterrent, that doesn’t keep children safe.’

I would have liked the film to do more to explore the implications of these views for encouraging people to come forward for support and treatment, and what that would actually involve. But instead of looking forward, Humphries tended to hark back to the 70s and 80s, in search of the climate and power structures which have apparently allowed paedophiles to lurk around every corner.

There was a lot to cram into one hour here: the documentary could easily have stretched to two parts, and Eddie probably deserved an hour all to himself. As it was, the compressed offering left me frustrated. Dr Sarah Goode was described as a ‘lone voice in Britain in her attempt to change our attitude towards paedophilia’. I seriously doubt that, and I longed to hear more from professionals and practitioners on the front line about what interventions are currently in use. I thought Circles, described in passing as ‘a community scheme that claims a 70 per cent success rate in preventing reoffending’, deserved more detailed consideration, as did Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, a German effort to provide clinical and support services to those who are sexually interested in children.

A film like this is bound to be disturbing, uncomfortable. It should be. But almost as disturbing as the survivor testimony and interview with Eddie was the lack of detail on how Humphries’ conclusions could be put into action.

- Watch the programme now. Reviewed by Dr Jon Sutton, who is Managing Editor of The Psychologist

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