IF anyone should have no time and no sympathy for someone who harbours vile thoughts of abusing a child for sexual kicks, then it’s me.
My life was destroyed after being abused as a schoolboy by my teachers. I ended up taking drugs. My career, relationship and emotional state all disintegrated. I became homeless and adrift.
So coming face to face with someone who represents everything that is to blame for my shattered life – a self-confessed paedophile – could have tipped me over the edge.
Some people might find it strange, then, that I’m now calling for greater understanding and support for those whose darkest fantasies involve society’s most vulnerable.
I’d like to see money and effort poured into helping them in their fight against the demons that drive them to want to abuse. That probably sounds unusual coming from someone who was abused by a paedophile ring of teachers while I was a schoolboy at Nick Clegg’s old school, Caldicott Preparatory School in Buckinghamshire. I now firmly believe we need a radical change in the way we deal with the problem.
At first I felt I couldn’t bring myself to take part in the Channel 4 programme, The Paedophile Next Door, which explores radical solutions and theories aimed at supporting people with dangerous predilections towards society’s young innocents.
The producers invited me to meet a self-confessed paedophile – though one who had not offended – to discuss what drives his unsavoury feelings towards children as young as five. Had it been suggested to me when I was at my lowest ebb, I might well have been driven to physical assault. Then I realised that as abnormal as it seemed, this guy was doing something ground-breaking – he was admitting what he was thinking and trying to get help before he did something he didn’t want to do.
The trouble is, offenders who end up behind bars can be left without proper help and instead can go on to forge links with other paedophiles which simply compounds the problem once they are released.
To help break the chain, I believe we need a radical rethink of the UK’s approach to child sex offenders with the emphasis on opening up an early route for potential offenders to discuss their thoughts and feelings openly without fear of possible prosecution or being ostracised.
We have to accept that there is a large group of people out there who are attracted to children and who communicate with each other using the internet.
They may not want to offend, but they are in a group which supports each other. They can be infiltrated by sex offenders who argue that it’s OK to feel this way, that it’s natural and the looking at images is not really harming a child.
The programme by award-winning documentary maker Steve Humphries suggests a more sympathetic response so they can be encouraged to seek help before they are tempted to offend.
I believe that chasing paedophiles underground doesn’t work. If someone comes out saying they can’t help how they feel and they need help, then that has to be better than waiting for something awful to happen.
But the offences are so abhorrent that they are hard to debate. The usual reaction is “hang them high, castrate them, send them to an island somewhere”. The reality is that today’s laws don’t work.
Offering support to paedophiles doesn’t suggest an acceptance of what they do. If you have a paedophile in your community with the potential to offend and they get support and don’t do it, then it must be better than them going on to harm a child.
At the end of the day, I want children to be safe.
The Paedophile Next Door is on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm