A man convicted for looking at child sex abuse images claimed he’s not attracted to children anymore after undergoing specialised therapy.
Jack – not his real name – has been receiving treatment since his release from prison and said he wished he had it earlier as he may not have offended.
His comments come as campaigning group, Justice, suggested those who view indecent images of children shouldn’t be prosecuted but instead undergo ‘life skills’ programmes.
Their proposal, published this week, suggested ‘education and rehabilitation’ for first-time sex offenders, while a pre-charge scheme could identify ways to prevent them from committing a crime.
Jack, in his 20s, had therapy with NHS trust Mersey Care’s programme which deals with offenders.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘Therapy changed my perception and understanding of my own abuse and the feelings that had stuck with me.
‘I no longer feel sexually attracted to children. The distress and shame has gone.’
But others who have concerns about their sexual behaviour now have the opportunity to get treatment before they act, after Mersey Care last year launched a pilot ‘Prevention Service’ with Merseyside Police.
The initiative – the only NHS scheme of its kind in the UK – works to avoid ‘creating victims’ by catching problematic thoughts early on.
Clinical psychologist leading the scheme, Dr Lisa Wright, said therapy focusses on understanding where the feelings come from, adding it has shown positive results.
She told Metro.co.uk: ‘If we are going to be serious about dealing with sexual abuse, we need to stop it before it has happened.
‘By just locking someone up we are stopping them from harming others in the short term but we are not dealing with the underlying causes of sexual abuse.’
Jack said he was only able to understand his attraction to young boys after he came to terms with being abused by a family friend, between the ages of seven to 10.
The abuse caused him to have ‘very mixed and confusing feelings about sex and relationships’, which stayed with him into his adult years, he said.
Jack, who chose to remain anonymous, said: ‘The abuser had been the only person that showed me any attention and he told me that he loved me.’
But he said he didn’t realise what he’d experienced was abuse until he started receiving specialised therapy with Mersey Care.
‘I kept hold of this positive view of him and blocked out any upsetting parts – it helped me to cope,’ he added. ‘But I had flashbacks. I felt anxious and ashamed.
‘Then, as I reached puberty, I noticed that I had sexual feelings towards boys that reminded me of myself at the age that I was abused.
‘It was really distressing but I couldn’t stop it.’
Jack admitted he felt ‘disgusted’ at himself and tried to ‘block out’ his urges with drugs and alcohol but the drink only exacerbated the issue and he began looking at sexual images of children online.
He said: ‘I used them as pornography, usually when I was drunk. I knew that it was illegal and I hated myself for doing it.’
Jack said he felt relieved when he eventually got caught for his actions and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
‘I was terrified I’d end up abusing a child,’ he added.
Dr Wright has treated many who said their sexual feelings towards children have weakened or don’t experience them anymore.
The psychologist, who has dealt with offending behaviour for 11 years, said the vast majority of those attracted to children have suffered childhood trauma, abuse or neglect and the therapy works to make sense of such ordeals.
She said: ‘Childhood experiences shape the development of the brain and influence the way we think and feel as adults. This also relates to our sexual development.
‘There’s a reason why people have these problematic feelings, no one is born feeling like they want to harm someone.
‘We can usually pin point where it started and sexual arousal patterns change when they understand their past traumas.’
Dr Wright stressed that the vast majority of people who experience childhood sexual abuse do not go on to offend but there is a higher rate of people who have been subjected to it, that do.
She said many have claimed there was a time when they had these sorts of problematic feelings but didn’t know where to go.
Those who need help can be referred to the service through a GP, counsellor or social worker, added Dr Wright.
Jack, who said there must be many others with similar urges, added: If they have the chance to come forward and take part in the prevention programme, it could stop them from harming a child.’
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