Birmingham & Black Country

Family sex abusers 'opportunists'

Two teenage brothers have been convicted of sexually-assaulting their seven-year-old sister. The jury at Birmingham Crown Court was discharged after failing to reach verdicts on rape charges.

Experts say the problem of sexual abuse within a family remains a common one.

According to the NSPCC, some 4% of children aged under 16 are sexually abused by a carer or family member.

And by far the most common perpetrator is a brother or step-brother.

The reason, says criminologist and child protection expert Mark Williams-Thomas, is access and opportunity.

"Motivation is the least important factor," he said.

'Sheer scale'

"More people are affected by abuse within a family environment than any other crime. There's no better opportunity."

Mr Williams-Thomas was a detective and child protection officer with Surrey Police for 12 years.

During that time he worked on the Sarah Payne murder investigation as well as the inquiry which led to conviction of pop mogul Jonathan King for sex offences.

He said: "We talk about stranger offences, but what you don't talk about is the sheer scale of abuse taking place within the family.

"There are warning signs - but the problem is they are seen with hindsight.

"They [the offenders] may behave in a way which is over-sexualised.

"The environment around them tends to set the path they are on."

Psychiatrist Dr Eileen Vizard is the clinical director for the NSPCC National Clinical Assessment & Treatment Service in London.

"A good family do set boundaries," she said.

"They do not generally allow their children to come into the bedroom and watch them having sex.

"They do not leave pornography lying about."

Dr Vizard has produced research for the Home Office suggesting four possible early indicators for abuse:

  • A lack of sexual boundaries at home
  • Inadequate parental supervision
  • A lack of attachment to those around them
  • Having an early difficult temperament as a baby

When these are combined the risk of abusive behaviour early in childhood is greater, she says.

And she questions the often quoted truism of abuse victim turning abuser.

About 70% of sexual abusers have been abused themselves, says Dr Vizard.

She adds: "But that means about 30% haven't been sexually abused. It's not an adequate explanation on its own."

Both experts say the perpetrators should bear the responsibility for their crimes.

"We must remember that they are offenders before they are victims. We mustn't minimise their behaviour simply because of their age," said Mr Williams-Thomas.

And Dr Vizard says her first task, when dealing with abusers, is to address their "twisted thinking" used to justify sexually abusive behaviour.

"It's things like 'everybody else does it' or 'the victims wanted it'," she said.

"You can't get bogged down in their self-pity because you have to think first of all about the future victims they may create."

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