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Derryn Hinch Outed Child Sex Offenders, And Here Is The Impact Naming And Shaming Can Have

It's not quite what you think.

14/09/2016 7:05 AM AEST | Updated 14/09/2016 7:16 AM AEST
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Justice Party Senator Derryn Hinch named and shamed five child sex offenders in his maiden Senate speech on Monday.

On Monday night, Senator Derryn Hinch used parliamentary privilege to name and shame a handful of convicted child sex offenders.

Restricting himself to naming men who were currently serving jail time, Hinch criticised what he claimed were inadequate criminal sentences and said he'd use his time in Parliament to push for a public register of convicted sex offenders.

The former broadcaster has been convicted three times for revealing names and details of sex offenders. But what exactly is the harm in doing so?

The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Clinical and Forensic Psychologist Dr Katie Seidler, who specialises in rehabilitating sex offenders, about the impact naming and shaming has on both the victims, the offenders and the community.

The Victims

When an offender's name is brought into the spotlight it has the potential to "re-traumatise" victims.

"Some people might be able to connect victims with the perpetrators, and that has the potential to out those victims," Seidler told HuffPost Australia.

"It's just taking control out of the [victim's] hands -- something that's happened to them -- which isn't helpful in terms of their own rehabilitation."

Seidler said the introduction of a public sex offender register can potentially discourage people from reporting someone they know who has sexually abused, if they feel they will be socially persecuted by association.

"It can actually make families less likely to disclose [sexual abuse] for the ramifications for the whole family being identified as being associated with a sex offender, who by all intents and purposes may have positive relationships with other members of their family," Seidler said.

When 70 percent of sex offenders are known to their victim, this situation isn't uncommon.

The Perpetrators

When named and shamed, rehabilitated child sex offenders and paedophiles have been killed in the United States.

"They may be also concerned about becoming a victim of crime which could drive them to suicide," Seidler said.

"I suppose some people would question, 'So what?' But the reality is, on a bigger scale it can actually drive people further underground and more closely connected to networks of sex offenders.

"This is potentially undoing a bunch of rehabilitation strategies which might work to reduce risk in the community."

How Rehabilitation Works

Child sex offenders and paedophiles aren't the same, Dr Seidler said, and differ in the sense that paedophiles have a "preferential sexual interest in children".

"Child sex offenders have age appropriate preferential sexual interests, but for other reasons they perjure children to meet their sexual needs in specific circumstances.

"On a general level, if I was to reduce it to a simple explanation, it usually comes down to people's impaired ability to meeting their needs in appropriate ways. And that can be a function of attachment dysfunction in childhood, poor self esteem, limited skills in managing relationships or developing connections with others or insecurity."

Therefore, the rehabilitation process is different. Pedophiles can be rehabilitated by learning strategies to handle their sexual desires while rehabilitation therapists identify the factors that have contributed to a child sex offender offending.

"They can be rehabilitated because I suppose like any other behavioral problem, notwithstanding society's distaste for it, it's a matter of understanding why a person makes the choices they do in behaviour and how they build the skills to make different choices," Seidler said.

Impact of a Register

Dr Seidler said research of western countries with public sex offender registers reveals there is no reduction in sexual abuse rates, however public perception of safety improves.

"There is an improvement of perception of public safety, so people feel safer, but actually the rates of sexual abuse don't change and it potentially drives people further underground and away from accessing services that might help them change," Dr Seidler said.

With the potential to discourage victims from reporting, ostracise rehabilitated offenders and drive offenders closer together, Seidler said resources would be better used funding more treatment services for both victims and perpetrators.

"A better criminal justice service that means investigations can capture more of the people that they need to and those people are held accountable at law for their actions," Seidler said.

Public education is essential to help Australians understand what to do if they're concerned and how to pick up on warning signs, according to the psychologist.

"The reality is that the vast majority of sex offenders are known to their victims. So we're not talking about some stranger on the street, we're talking about an uncle or a babysitter or cousin or a grandfather," Seidler said.

"If we're ever going to be able to reduce the rates of sexual abuse with children, we need to be working with both sides of the spectrum.

"Ostracising them is not helpful, like it's not helpful to ostracise Muslims in Australia if we're trying to combat terrorism."

If this article has raised personal concern, contact 1800 RESPECT.

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