It was revealed recently that over the last two years, Hampshire Police have been issuing those suspected of child sex abuse with leaflets to remind them that it is illegal to have sex with anyone under the age of 16.
On the face of it, it’s quite an absurd concept. However, though it might seem unfathomable that people need reminding that you can’t touch kids, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Strange as it may sound, the scheme does have good intentions. The Constabulary see it as an important ‘foot in the door’ and use the notice to prevent sexual predators from committing crimes as opposed to chasing them down when it’s too late. Far too often, we criticise the police for not doing exactly that and you have to applaud the Hampshire Constabulary for taking a more preventative approach, especially as an NSPCC report has claimed 5 percent of children in the UK have been sexually assaulted.
However, to believe that these leaflets could have a genuine deterring effect is naive. Of the 54 people who were handed the notices in the last two years, nine have gone on to be charged with a sexual offence. Those who choose to sexually abuse a child aren’t going to be discouraged by a leaflet – my mental profile of a sex offender doesn’t include the term “stickler for the rules”.
If anything, being aware that the police have their ears pricked may only make potential offenders more devious and more careful.
Also, not everyone that receives the leaflet is guilty. There is a risk that the notice unfairly criminalises those who receive it. The act of labelling someone a threat with this notice undermines the presumption of innocence. The leaflet will appear on an enhanced DBS check for the recipients, and the odds are low of a future employer doing enough research to find out the truth.
Some people might call it lazy policing, some might criticise budget cuts – maybe some help from May’s magic money tree would give officers more time to tackle issues as serious as this in a better manner. Either way, this isn’t the best way to deal with the problem. Not only is it impersonal, it unfairly criminalises the innocent and, when it comes to the serious offenders, it simply does not work.