When the hospital makes you sick, where do you find a cure?

Warning: This is a discussion of the treatment of sexual abuse. Although there are no graphic descriptions, you may still find it upsetting.

If you normally read The Sun, or watch Jeremy Kyle you should read these first:



Otherwise, start here.

Is it time we asked ourselves afresh how to deal with abuse? Should we be using more of a mixed approach – not just prison but psychiatry or other therapies? We used to put ‘madmen’ in prison until we realised they were acting ‘without control’ and needed help. Now we try and cure them. Do we need to start curing abusers?

I personally don’t care too much about the welfare of the abuser. Or do I? Surely an abuser put in prison who comes out with nothing and no-one is more dangerous than before? So I seem to be forced into having to care for the abuser, because if I treat them badly, I just make them more dangerous.

Perhaps I could put them in prison forever? That would fix things. But it turns out that 93% of offences are committed by people who have never been convicted of a crime before. Lifelong prison would not help here at all.

What can we do about these people? How can we create a society in which people don’t commit abuse? How do we stop the ‘desire to abuse’?

These thoughts come from a story of a young man who was abused but who did not want his family split up. After reporting the abuse he was given no choice, his family were split up. Having lost the wage earner they then lost their house. Even when he asked for contact it was denied. The family wanted to work through things but they were not allowed to. In the end the father killed himself in prison and the mother became addicted to sleeping pills and anti-depressants. The victim still believes reporting the abuse was the wrong thing to do, and blames himself for his fathers death and his mothers chronic depression.

All of this was in the news at some point. Next time you read about a ‘vile monster’ in the newspaper, try and imagine being the child who loves that ‘monster’. Our somewhat sick obsession with sensationalism has a high price for some.

In no world should this horror be the result of disclosing abuse.

It is clearly time for us to be able to discuss this like adults. We will never prevent child abuse while we respond so hysterically to it and just throw rocks. Just as a paramedic must learn to be calm in the face of terrible injuries, we must learn to be calm and careful in tackling this issue.

What we are doing isn’t working, so doing more of it is obviously not going to help. Having counselled a number of people who have suffered abuse I have been led to the following ideas.

We must stop sending twisted sexual messages. In our media we cry ‘respect women’, while we flaunt women to sell goods; we cry ‘protect children from sexual predators’, then in our shops we sell padded bra’s for kids; and in our lives we often seem obsessed with sex but still can’t talk reasonably about healthy sex with our children or each other. These conflicting attitudes are confusing and hypocritical.

It seems as though stopping abuse is not just a police issue, but requires all of us to change somehow. Children must be armed against abuse through careful education. It doesn’t require that we show them pornography or graphically describe genitals and traumatise them for life. They only need to know that if anyone does something they are uncomfortable with it is never okay, and they can always tell mum, dad or a teacher. Too many say that they were confused, didn’t know it was wrong or were too ashamed. It is awful to think of a child suffering and feeling unable to speak. Children must KNOW that there is someone to talk to.

Part of making them comfortable to talk is keeping the power with them. The child should have a reasonable say in what happens next, not be swept away on a tide of missionary zeal. Abuse is traumatic and our response must be utterly gentle. Abuse takes power away from a child and we must give it back. If relationships can be saved this should at least be an option.

More than anything communities must stop treating abusers like monsters, not for the sake of the abusers but for the sake of our children. If we don’t have a safe place for people afraid they might abuse to get help – they won’t seek help – they’ll just abuse. If victims feel telling the police will make things worse, they won’t tell them.


Anyone seeking help regarding abuse can START HERE


8 thoughts on “When the hospital makes you sick, where do you find a cure?

Add yours

  1. Two questions:
    First, what is the cost associated with the intense counseling required to ‘cure’ an abuser? Is it more or less than life in prison? (I understand the word ‘cure’ is probably not appropriate, but it captures the essence of my meaning.)
    And second, how could a convicted abuser, after going through the intense counseling, ever go back home? In the example you gave, the boy involved certainly could not have expected life to go back to normal if his father returned home? Who would ever forget what he had done?

    1. Two good questions. It costs about £45,000 a year to keep someone in prison. At a guess, a counsellor paid £45,000 a year could manage 15 clients, weekly. Community supervision could cost £10,000 a year each? that’s £195,000 all told a year, compared to £675,000 as things stand. Quite economical. Very sketchy guesses, but I think we underestimate both costs of prison, and costs of after prison (ex-cons can’t get work so often spend the rest of their lives on the dole – very expensive.)
      Second. If we saw abuse as caused by mental illness maybe ‘normal’ wouldn’t be so hard to return to. I don’t know. I only know that families and children, even children of abusers who abused them, don’t just stop loving their abusers. The public thinks its black and white, but families know it isn’t. It’s horrible to do, but try and imagine someone you love, your partner, father, son, wife – suddenly does something terrible. How would you feel about them? Every abuser is someones son, daughter, husband or wife.
      It’s complicated, there’s non-familial abuse and other situations. I can’t answer it, I’m just listening to people who hurt and trying to make sense of it.

  2. You made some very interesting points, true yet hard to grasp and accept (but every so called monster belongs to a family and is loved by some-one).

    I think perhaps the best “cure” is prevention and prevention can only happen by creating open communication lines, by stopping with the conflicting societal messages, no more bi-polar society. (where to begin and what would be effective is the question – but I have no answers)

    I think that there is a need for more compassion, and empathy in our society (I am certainly not saying I have mastered either of these) but with them comes the beginnings of healing and forgiveness (by forgiveness I am not saying acceptance or condoning, but rather being able to move forward).

    lots to think about… my mind will be running circles for awhile now…

    1. It is hard to grasp – but that you’re willing to try is the answer. Feeling the instinctual hate or anger, then allowing compassion and reason to temper your response – that’s all we need I think.
      I agree we need more compassion – we must love and care for the worst of ourselves, not just the best, in order to create beauty in life.
      Thank you for responding on a difficult subject.

  3. I’m pleased you dared to raise these issues. I offer one cogent anecdote to the fray.

    I was presented with a very thoroughly researched presentation at a (U.S.) state prison worker’s conference this past June 2012. It was, in fact, a research of researches, distilling the very best, effective, crime reduction techniques across an enormous array of offending behaviors. The project covered, I recall, some decade’s worth of studies across America.

    A pause caught the room of several hundred people. I mean silence. A powerfully indicting PowerPoint slide revealed–among its array of merrily colored bullets–that research unfailingly showed that child sexual offenders were the MOST likely to respond to treatment and not re-offend.

    The presenter said, “This really forces society to take another look at the throw-away-the-key sentiment if we want justice.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s quite close to his one-liner.) Then the presentation continued.

    But I’ll never forget that pause, my own internal consternation in the face of irrefutable evidence, and the professionals lack of any follow-up at all afterward. No one talked of it: not at lunch, not on the way home.

    Yet the very thought that decades of expense may be wasted…lives wasted…and here I am, quite a conservative law-and-order man. It shook me then and it bothers me to this day.

    1. Yes, A tough subject, but I’m fool enough to try!
      That’s a pretty extraordinary statistic. Maybe offenders hate what they’re doing too? I do believe that people can’t inflict pain if they understand the pain they’re inflicting, but maybe I’m naive. Maybe offenders just need to see, to be shown what they’re doing?
      I do know that people I talk to want to stay in touch with their abusers more often than not. Love is a powerful force it seems, capable of great forgiveness.
      Thank you for the comment and information.

  4. This is a pretty tough debate and I’m not sure where I feel the answers lie.
    I watched a documentary years ago about a prison (in Sussex I think) which had a programme to help sex offenders talk to other sex offenders. I remember one scene where a prisoner was describing his abuse as in a children’s home, where the older kids were forced to abuse him and the younger kids. He described the day he was decreed ‘old’ enough to perpetrate acts against the younger children. He was now supposedly an ‘abuser’ in the eyes of the law even though he was still a victim himself. This poor bloke was in torment as he retold this part of his life but he did bravely show that the issue of abuse is not black and white.

    1. Thank you Ginger for responding to what is a difficult subject. At the moment I think answers are hard to find, it’s easier to see what doesn’t work than what will.
      Savile and your example are clearly utterly different, but according to the law, and social attitudes, they’re the same. The poor man you describe would, as things stand, be convicted for what he did and then ostracised and hated by society because all they would see is ‘a paedophile’.
      As harmful and dreadful as abuse is, we must at least learn to discriminate between types of offence and situation and see that you can be human and an offender.

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