In the opening speech at INEQE’s conference, Glimpse: Inside the mind of a child sex abuser, Judith Gillespie, the Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), spoke of her burning desire to deal with predatory sex offending with solutions that are carefully thought through and lasting.
The conference brought together a number of leading international experts on child protection, including Dr Michael Bourke the Chief Psychologist for the United States Marshals Service, Dr Joe Sullivan, a Forensic Psychologist specialising in behaviour analysis and offender profiling, Mark Williams-Thomas an investigative reporter and criminologist, Peter Spindler, former Head of Specialist Crime Investigations for the Metropolitan Police who was the national lead for the Jimmy Savile enquiry and Ineqe’s CEO and leading child protection expert Jim Gamble.
Addressing the packed conference hall at Queens University Belfast, Judith said:
It is my pleasure and privilege to welcome you to this important conference Glimpse: Inside the Mind of a Child Sex Abuser.
This is an area of police work which is very close to my heart, and it is my view that once you have been involved in this type of work, even if you move on to something else, your experience influences you and indeed grips you for the rest of your police career. I have a burning drive to deal with predatory sex offenders with solutions that are carefully thought through, and lasting. I think we all have this desire – that is probably what brought you to this conference in the first place and I welcome your interest.
But I want to start by telling you a personal story. As a young Probationary Constable just out of the Training Centre a matter of days, I was called to the scene of an alleged child sex abuse crime. The Sergeant asked me to deal with it as the only female officer in the section, and of course as I was a woman, “I would know how to deal with these things”. I have often reflected in my later service on the standard of investigation I conducted in that case. I had no training, no real understanding and no support to deal with the most vulnerable of victims, the most predatory of offenders, and the most sensitive and insidious of crimes.
In my later service when I was appointed as a Detective Chief Inspector with responsibility for the then Child Abuse and Rape Enquiry units, I made it my business to ensure that something like this should not or could not happen again. This required a truly holistic approach to the challenge, involving the first responders at the scene, the training of the specialist investigators – police, social services and NSPCC, the Forensic Medical Officers, the facilities, the therapeutic support and counselling services, the risk management approach to the offender, the response of the criminal justice system, and the longer term child protection arrangements. My experience of involvement in the investigation of child abuse goes back to the mid 1990s when the Joint Protocol for the Investigation of Child Abuse by police and social workers was undergoing its first review, Area Child Protection Communities were forming, video evidence from vulnerable victims was starting to be accepted in the Courts and the Sex Offenders’ Register was becoming established for the first time on 1 September 1997.
When I look back at our understanding of the issues then, I realise just how far we have come in Northern Ireland in investigating these most complex and serious crimes. Last week saw the official opening of the Rowan Centre – the Sexual Assault Referral Centre which nestles discreetly in the grounds of Antrim Area Hospital – a joint state of the art bespoke facility between the Department of Health and PSNI for victims of sexual assault. This facility has been designed wit the needs of the victim at its centre, and whilst pursuing a criminal justice outcome may not be every victim’s wish at the time, the facilities are there should they choose to do so at a later date. I have no doubt that many child sex abusers are well aware of the difficulties of pursuing a criminal justice outcome for child victims. I reflect on my experience when video evidence was first introduced for vulnerable victims. I recall where a child was giving remote video evidence from a side room with a fixed camera in a Crown Court sexual abuse case, and because the camera could not pick up where she was pointing to in giving her compelling evidence of sexual assault, the Judge asked her to stand on the chair closer to the camera and point to the part of her body where she alleged she had been touched. The vulnerable victim in this case had to make up for the inadequacies of the technology, rather than visa versa.
I believe we really have come a long way from then. The Public Prosecution Service have introduced specially trained and accredited prosecutors. PSNI has established Public Protection Teams, joining up Domestic Abuse, Missing Persons and Child Abuse Investigation Teams and in some cases embedding voluntary organisations, such as Women’s Aid and Victim Support in our response to these crimes. Specialist partnership training with social workers is now the norm, partnership arrangements for the management of sex offenders are well embedded, and essential support to officers working in this often-harrowing area is provided. These are examples of how the PSNI and other Justice and Health agencies have adjusted their shape to meet the unique needs and complexities of the issue, rather than expecting the problem to fit into a neat, existing structure. This is much more than designing a system. This is about the system constantly adjusting and flexing to deal with the complexity of individual cases.
Complacency is our biggest challenge. Complacency in all agencies, not just those who work closely with child sex abuse. The lessons from the Jimmy Savile investigation must be taken forward across all levels of society. I welcome the profile given to this case and it is my hope that this will encourage more victims to come forward and to be believed by agencies who understand the relationship between the powerful predator and the vulnerable victim.
Despite this clear progress, it is still very obvious that there is much we still don’t know and don’t fully understand about child sex abuse, and child sex abusers. This is one of the most complex crime areas of all because it is all about people – and people do not fit into neat boxes. It is about people who are victimised and often at their most vulnerable. It is about the people who commit these crimes, it is about the people who work together to safeguard the vulnerable, and it is about how people in the wider community deal with these crimes in their midst. There are few crimes which play more on the emotions of society than child sex abuse. But it is only by trying to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of these issues that we can truly start to develop thoughtful, sensitive, holistic strategies to deal with it. These must not be strategies which are developed in the heat of a crisis. It is important to step back, consult, consider and plan. Knee jerk reactions seldom contain long-term solutions and often serve to do more harm in the long run.
I want to welcome the fact that organisations are reflecting on the learning from offending behaviour, and we are developing a better understanding of the motivation and factors that influence predators. I am also hugely encouraged by the diversity of people in this room today, ranging from statutory agencies including my colleague ACC Mark Hamilton from PSNI, to voluntary sector, to academics and investigative journalists. The beauty of Northern Ireland is that we are big enough to make a strategic difference, but small and local enough to build with individual people relationships of support and trust that matter so much in this complex area.
I want to make an important point in closing however. Like every other sector organisation, PSNI is under financial pressure. This financial pressure quite rightly requires us to focus our efforts where they are likely to make the biggest difference, to protect the most vulnerable and to deal with the most serious harm. Night after night however, police resources are required to police tensions caused by unresolved parade and protest issues. With finite resources, this requires senior police to divert precious and highly skilled police resources from dealing with child sex offending for example, and there are many others, instead to stand in public order kit to keep opposing community factions apart. This is not sustainable, and children will be harmed as a result of police resources not being diverted. I call upon all those of influence to use that influence to resolve these on-going community issues. The PSNI deal with the symptoms of a much deeper-seated community problem for which policing alone will never be the answer.
I commend this conference to you today. It is an opportunity to learn, to network – which of course includes the word ‘work’, and as Lord Laming in his update report following the Baby Peter Review put it, the opportunity to be professionally curious and to deliver constructive challenge. Sometimes you may feel like you are pushing the proverbial rock up a hill – and whilst there is still much to do and to understand, I hope I’ve reminded you of how far we’ve come, and encouraged you to keep going. Margaret Mead said “never, ever doubt the power of a small group of committed individuals to change the world – for often it’s the only thing that has”. You’re a group of highly committed individuals and whilst you may not change the whole world, but for some of the most vulnerable children, you just might.