Therapy, not stigma, for sex offenders

New calls for intervention programs for convicted pedophiles

Naming and shaming pedophiles through a sex offender register would likely have little effect on the problem and Cayman should concentrate on introducing intervention and treatment programs, says psychiatrist and Mental Health Commission Chairman Dr. Marc Lockhart. 

Both Dr. Lockhart and Prisons Director Neil Lavis have backed calls from a judge for the island to introduce intervention programs for convicted pedophiles.  

Mr. Lavis acknowledged there is currently no specific treatment option for people convicted of sex crimes. In other countries, including the U.K. and the U.S., a program of therapy supervised by a psychologist is routinely a part of the sentencing in such cases.  

He said he was putting together a business case to get prison staff trained to deliver similar programs here. 

Dr. Lockhart believes there is also a need for intervention and therapy for adults who have been victims of sex abuse in the past – a common thread in the background of convicted sex offenders, including a sports coach sentenced to five years in prison last week for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. 

Following that case, Justice Charles Quin raised concerns about the lack of provision in Cayman. 

He said, “The defendant himself had been the victim of sexual abuse and it is extremely regrettable that the Cayman Islands does not have an intervention program for sexual offenders and the victims of such offense, which would significantly assist in the work that must be done with offenders to deter them from recommitting these offenses.  

“It is a matter of some urgency that such programs are introduced in the Cayman Islands and available for the inmates at Northward Prison.” 

Dr. Lockhart said the judge is “100 percent correct.” He said most sex offenders would be back in the community once they served their time. 

“Unfortunately, they get minimal help in the prison setting and ultimately they are released and the problem is not dealt with. 

“Simply warehousing them doesn’t change anything. Socially we may feel better that they are locked away, but they are only in prison for a certain period of time.” 

He said measures like sex offender registers are often popular with the public but not necessarily effective. 

“A lot of research shows that is not really that helpful. It increases the stigma. They can’t get work, they can’t get jobs, and in a sense they have nothing to lose by re-offending again.” 

Dr. Lockhart said psychological support and counseling for sexual abuse cases has increased over the past few years. The Health Services Authority now has full-time psychologists dedicated to the field, and Behavioral Health Associates Cayman and the Wellness Centre have trauma and sexual abuse specialists. 

“There is a little bit more than there used to be. The major thrust at this point has been identifying and treating the victims that have suffered abuse most recently. Where more help is needed is with the perpetrators, who often tend to be people who had this done to them in childhood and are continuing the cycle.” 

He said a more proactive approach is needed to encourage people to shake off the shame associated with sex crimes and come forward in a confidential setting to seek help. He said victims of historic sex abuse sometimes become perpetrators. 

“People should know the services exist, the confidentiality exists for them to be able to come in and seek help before they are required to by law.” 

Mr. Lavis, who worked in a sex offenders’ prison in the U.K. earlier in his career, said rehabilitation programs had been shown to reduce the risk of re-offending. He said such programs could be delivered by prison officers, and he is looking to get training for his staff. 

“We recognize there is a need and we are responding to that. There is no course at the moment, and we recognize there is a need for it.”