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UK police moot paedo hard disk amnesty

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UK police are mulling over launching an interesting
initiative in which paedophiles can avoid a court appearence if they offer themselves and their hard drives up for counselling and erasure/destruction, respectively.

According to the BBC, the scheme will target proto-paedophiles in possession of "low-grade paedophilia". Upon surrender to the authorities, the offenders are subject to psychiatric testing to ensure they are no threat to children and, assuming this is the case, cautioned and released. They are, however, placed on the sex offenders' register.

The plan's architect, Donald Findlater of child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, believes that "the easy availability of material on the internet has caused a substantial increase in sexual offences against children", and that "exposure to child pornography increases the likelihood of people becoming riskier around children".

Maybe so, but will this proposal encourage people to seek help before they become a real danger to children? It's no gun amnesty, that's for certain: you don't just hand over your Russian assault rifle and walk out of the police station, no questions asked. Therein may lie a serious impediment to success. Findlater himself admits that paedophiles "face prosecution and demonisation by the media, if they break cover".

Indeed, an individual's presence on the sex offenders' register, whether they've been prosecuted or not, is likely to provoke a violent public reaction as soon as it is discovered. Such rough justice is popular, but it is hardly an ideal atmosphere in which to persuade people to in effect sign up voluntarily for the sex offenders' register.

Nevertheless, related pilot schemes can boast some positive results. A helpline run by the Home Office-funded "Stop It Now! project attracted hundreds of calls, among them a man who - after viewing paedophile pictures online - found himself sexually attracted to his kids' friends. Another indulged in a bit of self-therapy by trashing his computer and chucking it into the sea in disgust at his own proclivities.

But there's a big difference between calling a helpline and walking into the nearest nick and saying:
"I'm a paedophile and here is the evidence".

How the police would process such a volunteer? The Home Office grades paedo porn from 1-5, from naked teens at one end of the scale, to abused infants at the other. But John Carr at NCH Action for Children points out that "there is no clear correlation between the seriousness of material on someone's hard drive and the likelihood that they are abusing children".

In the end, though, the fate of the proposed amnesty may hinge on a simple matter of police resources. According to one police estimate more than 250,000 British men have used credit cards to get at child net porn.
if an amnesty convinces even a small fraction to come forward, it will be worthwhile.

The BBC notes that police already hold details of 7,200 "Internet sex offenders" gathered as part of an 1999 investigation into a US-based paedophile "gateway". Most remain at liberty and uncharged. ®

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