Following his presentation to the Home Office of two dossiers about sexual crimes against children, Geoffrey Dickens raised concerns about ‘child brothels’ being run on an Islington Council Estate. In 1986, he spoke of tenants providing him with tape recordings of children screaming during ‘sex sessions’ and mentioned 40 child victims some as young as 6. He also identified three premises and reported matters to Scotland Yard and Douglas Hurd the Home Secretary. These allegations were denied at the time by the Director of Social Services. Yet, in the very area where Dickens was highlighting his concerns, the decomposed body of a girl of 17 was found in a cupboard in a block of council flats. She was said to have been strangled during oral sex after being at a ‘sex party’. This was in 1988 when, as a social work manager in the area, I was hearing rumours of children in the care system being murdered. I remembered the girl’s name being whispered and made a note but have only recently acquired the press cuttings about her going missing and then being found murdered. I do not know if Vivian Loki was in the Islington care system because no-one is interested in finding out. I have reported this case repeatedly to various authorities since the early 90s.

Another whisper, also scribbled in my hand written notes at the time, was of a thirteen year old boy Anthony McGrane (I had recorded his name as McGrath and his age as 9 years – perhaps this was another child – I do not know). Anthony was found dead in a garage. This time the press cuttings said that he had been a resident in Conewood Street Assessment Centre. If this was true then this was the same children’s home where residential workers had told me that Jason Swift had lived shortly before he was murdered by Sidney Cooke and his gang. At the time of the Islington Inquiries in the 90s, Jason’s residence in an Islington home was also denied by the senior Islington manager. Anthony died of multiple stab wounds. My notes stated a different garage location from the one in the newspapers. Perhaps my information was flawed. Police at the time said that his death may have been linked to 16 other child killings. In both these cases men were convicted of manslaughter and each served 6 years imprisonment.

In the early 90s, when I exposed the extensive abuse of Islington children in the care system, I began to hear accounts of other child murders. Managers, who must have known of these previous cases, accused me of being obsessional and hysterical and tried to stop my investigations. I have recently learnt that orders came from a senior police officer to close the investigations down. I do not know if anyone has a current interest in knowing who that officer was and of course by now he may not even be alive. The social work manager who told me to forget my work with police at that time needs to be called to account with many others who continued to work within the profession and were never asked to explain their absolute disregard for the safety of children. At the time of the Islington Inquiries some staff left the country returning in later years to resume their careers.

In the absence of police investigation, I have continued to raise my concerns through the twenty-plus years but there has never been a national overview of the connections that went way beyond Islington borders. I have no doubt that children were marketed for sexual exploitation to children’s homes all over the country and I have long argued for a national police and social work investigation team. However, instead of improving child protection systems they have been steadily eroded. Joint police and social work child protection teams have long been closed down and in 2013, revised statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, completely eliminated the definition of organised abuse and the means of investigating it. I was horrified. Who exactly was responsible for this policy change?

This is why I want a National Inquiry into organised child abuse. I have struggled to get such cases investigated for many years and got nowhere. I want to know the reason for that. I want to know who was responsible for shredding my files on 61 child victims which were unavailable to the Inquiries. I want to know why so many of the Islington staff who supported the abusers and colluded in the cover ups went on to senior social work posts. I do not know who the 32 social services staff were that, following the Inquiry, were not allowed to work with children but I have certainly located two members of staff who tried to protect children, found their names on the list and were unable to continue their careers. I want to know how such an injustice could happen to good people and no-one be brought to task over it. Only recently I obtained a report of an Inquiry to which I had presented evidence. Nothing of my 4 hour contribution featured in it. The authors of that Inquiry need to be called to account.

Those MPs who have not signed up to the need for a National Inquiry are under scrutiny. Margaret Hodge, former labour lead in Islington who did not believe my reports of abuse networks has not so far stated her position. In her defence, she often said that she was misled by her senior officers. I want to know if, when she realised she had been misinformed, she reported these so called professionals to the relevant regulatory bodies and to police. I want answers. I have waited a long time. Now, through social media, adult survivors are coming forward adding to my knowledge of what happened in the Islington care homes. They also want answers . Most of them have waited far longer than me.

Dr Liz Davies

Reader in Child Protection
London Metropolitan University

Sarah Nelson, University of Edinburgh

A recent TV debate – on whether internet offenders who view images of child sex abuse are also likely to commit contact assaults – highlights claims which bemuse and concern many of us working with child sexual abuse (CSA).

Prof Richard Wortley, a criminologist and psychologist from University College London , said research suggested only a small minority went on to abuse children physically. But Jim Gamble, former chief executive of the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP), angrily pressed his conviction that a majority were dangerous to children in the “offline” world, and must be actively pursued. He called for “consistent and persistent investigations”.

The debate followed the arrest of 660 suspected paedophiles in the UK after a six-month police operation targeted people accessing child abuse images online. The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the 660 included teachers, medical staff, former police, a social worker and scout leader. Tellingly, only 39 of the 650 were registered sex offenders. The rest had been under the radar.

Many of the offenders accessed the so-called “dark net”. Its content doesn’t appear on normal search engines. They often use virtual currencies to avoid detection, showing effort and commitment: offenders don’t stumble on those images after pressing the wrong button.

Prof Wortley is no apologist for sex crime, and of course agrees that internet offenders sustain a vast international child abuse industry – even by just looking. But numerous academic researchers, therapists working with offenders, and practitioners believe as he does, that only a small percentage also commit contact abuse against children. Jim Gamble, and those of us who agree with Jim, are the ones put on the defensive – always asked to prove our argument.

Current evidence exploring links between possession of online abuse images and offline sex offending against children is mixed and conflicting. Some studies suggest viewing indecent images of children is often a prelude to contact offences and an important risk factor. CEOP’s thematic assessment, (A Picture of Abuse, 2012) for instance found possession of online abuse images and online grooming were risk factors for contact sexual abuse of children. Other research refutes such a link, or finds small numbers of dual offenders. The second category appears to receive far more publicity and belief among practitioners.

I think it is no accident that wide professional acceptance of reduced seriousness in internet offending has coincided with the disturbing, confusing discovery that so many of these offenders proved to be respectable, middle class professional men with no criminal records. They have been “people like us”: deputy heads of schools, IT specialists, health administrators, medics, accountants and more. This explosion of upright, hidden citizens was unexpected: not on our risk assessments , not on our tick-lists of typical sex offenders. There is a strong temptation to feel: “they cannot surely be so bad”. But this allows dangerous people freedom. Also, as numbers have so spiralled, there are far too many for the system to deal with. It is simply overwhelmed. So some way must be found to minimise the dangerousness of many. But doing that is not the way to answer a genuine social problem.

Consider some frequent assumptions, and then our assumptions, and ask which seem more promising hypotheses – given what we already know about sex offenders against children. Of course this process (of asking what is likely ) is not infallible. But it’s useful to include it, just to keep our feet on the ground!

Take the assumption so often heard about timelines. An assumption without actual evidence, except via the repeated excuses of offenders who get caught. From frequent phrases like ”go on to view stronger images” or “go on to abuse physically” it’s widely assumed that these men (internet offenders are overwhelmingly men) start by viewing adult images, or simply by pressing the wrong button while they surf. They are then drawn in by curiosity to view child abuse images instead. Then to nastier child abuse images; then they might eventually “go on” to abuse a child.

Does this timeline sound convincing to you? Or back to front, somehow? It’s insulting to many men, for a start – that while watching adult porn, or accidentally clicking on child abuse websites as they try to consult Trip Advisor, they suddenly discover some deepseated urge- unrealised all their lives- to view shocking images of children, toddlers and babies being sexually abused, tortured or made victims of bestiality. Then they discover this unrealised urge to masturbate repeatedly- let’s not mince words or conceal- night after night to these increasingly foul acts. All without the urge to try it out on a real child.

Isn’t it much more likely that those who access abuse images of children on the internet are already sexually attracted to children, already seek sexual gratification from watching sexual abuse, and have actively sought out these images, often at some effort? That most therefore do represent active risk to children? That the middle class professional ones who have now been caught out are all those fathers and teachers and doctors, all those sports coaches, foster parents, residential care managers and TV celebrities that survivors of CSA have tried to tell us for decades were their own abusers? Who tried to tell us time and again that their abusers used pornography, and made them act it out? The first adult survivor I ever knowingly met was upper class, and the first victim who came to her support group had been abused by a “foster father of the year”.

I think the disturbing new statistics may simply reflect more closely the actual numbers of abusers who have always existed, but who previously had far less opportunity or technology to view abuse images. Spiralling numbers may simply be reducing the huge disparity between numbers of offenders identified in the criminal justice system till recently, and the high prevalence of child sexual abuse revealed retrospectively by adult survivors. These numbers and the social class range are very disturbing to many people, but survivors and their supporters had to face the truth long ago. It is time policymakers addressed the scale of prevention and protection which they therefore need to prioritise.

The claim that men who get sexual gratification and excitement from repeatedly viewing sexual assaults on young children are not likely to want to abuse children offline is at root just a hope, with little convincing evidence. I am sure those who repeat this optimistic assessment would not let any of these people babysit their own children. Evidence from studies which suggest low risk is not convincing to me for two reasons. First, it relies heavily on follow-up of known and recorded sexual offences. But most sexual offences are carried out in secret, and will never be known, or if seen will not be reported. Why after all did nearly all the recent 660 stay under the radar all their lives?

Secondly, evidence that internet offenders have resisted contact abuse could only be convincing if their previous, present or future victim targets were a) identified by the authorities and b) able to speak up and tell the truth about whether they had been offended against or not. But most children cannot tell, or are not believed when they do. Going again by what we know of sex offenders, they often offend compulsively and indeed the collection of vast quantities of abuse images suggests compulsive behaviour. So we need to ask how realistic it is that they would so drastically change their behaviour that, for instance as in the Seto & Eke study (2005) “ those (internet) offenders with no prior criminal record …had a contact sexual offense only 1.3% of the time…(and) only one of the offenders with only child pornography offenses committed a later contact sexual offense in the follow-up period.”

I concede that one group of people- mainly men, some women- may be viewing abuse images of children without abusing in the “real world”. This is a group of sexually abused young people and adults, who have retained their empathy to others, but who through confused post-traumatic reaction are drawn to replay repeatedly acts perpetrated against themselves, without gaining resolution of that trauma. Often they will feel extremely guilty, their self-esteem further shattered. It’s important that skilled help is available to them and that they feel able to ask for it, for they help sustain the international trade in child abuse, and their trauma remains unresolved. But their own pain is not a reason to excuse internet offenders as a whole, nor to downplay the wider risks to children.

I believe we should join campaigners like Jim Gamble in calling- as CEOP did in their 2012 study A Picture of Abuse– for proactive investigation of “possession offending” and for more specialist police investigative units, which are actually properly staffed and equipped. And at the forefront of all the investigations, they urge, “ should be the notion that any case may result in the identification of a victim of contact sexual abuse”.

There are two things you can guarantee when sexual abuse of children surfaces as an issue. The first is that certain media commentators start talking about mob hysteria and witchhunts (Iain Martin – Telegraph, Matthew Parris – Times, Charles Moore – Telegraph, David Aaronovitch – Times). The second is they smear the messenger.

Prosecuting celebrity offenders was a witchhunt they told us. Until Stuart Hall, Max Clifford and Rolf Harris were exposed in all their unloveliness. Now they are turning their denial laser on suggestions there may have been a paedophile cover up in Westminster. All based – they suggest – on the unreliable testimony of one oddball MP Geoffrey Dickens.

Picking off whistleblowers is an old tactic and easy to do. As American child abuse expert Roland Summit said “It takes an eccentric, potentially alienated personality style to override the shared reassurances of more comfortably socialized peers”…… the eccentric, unsocialized outsider ….. pursues the nagging suspicion that the authorities could be wrong.”

When I wrote in the early 1990s to an ex-University colleague, an ultra-respectable MP, asking for help with exposing child abuse injustices I had a sniffy response indicating he would not touch such matters and directing me to Geoffrey Dickens. Dickens was the go-to guy for child sexual abuse because everyone else regarded it as toxic and non-career friendly. How right (and cowardly) they were. His house was broken into, he was threatened and smeared, his suspicions discounted, buried, deleted. He had the guts to stick to his guns despite the personal cost

The difference now thirty years on is that it isn’t just Dickens’ voice we hear. We have former child protection officers, former policemen, customs officials, all of whom were told to forget what they had found. We have Norman Tebbit and other politicos admitting there was a cover up. We know about Cyril Smith who was outed in 1979 and zero happened as a result. And others like Morrison and Hayman; and daily more creep into the headlines. We know the Welsh Care Home Inquiry did not itemise names because criminal prosecutions might follow. That was in 2000. No prosecutions transpired.

So why do commentators rattle on about witchhunts? Reasons will vary between:

1. They need to stand out as different in a media saturated internet so taking the contrarian line makes them more visible.

2. They have not done their research so cling firmly to the old more comfortable narrative – child sexual abuse is largely a fiction brewed up by misguided doctors, social workers, feminists. See Charles Moore (Telegraph: Thatcher’s biographer) on Cleveland as being an example of false diagnosis of abuse. 70 to 75% accurate is the true picture.

3. They are being prodded by or are part of the old ‘chumocracy’ who think it best to let sleeping dogs lie.

Andrew Rawnsley has a much more measured piece in today’s Guardian commenting on VIP paedophiles in Westminster “ we can’t put it all down to over-fevered imaginations”. Rawnsley puts his finger on one reason the whole present scenario is so unnerving is that it chips away yet another foundation stone of public trust. For some it is a step too far. They would rather prop up the rotten house of cards than face the truth lest the entire edifice tumbles down.

But attitudes out in society at large have changed and ordinary people now have a voice. One reader’s comment below a witchhunt commentary piece said what a pity there had not been more hysteria before and we might have stopped Savile, Smith etc.

A society having to come to terms with unpleasant truths such as child sexual abuse does not follow a straightforward path. The pendulum swings wildly between the new knowledge and denial. Those who whistleblow threaten the status quo and need to be destroyed. Not only will they undermine great institutions, they also undermine the peace of mind of those individuals living in a delusional bubble where abuse does not exist.

Conspiracy theories and hysteria flourish where there is secrecy. The one sure-fire way to sort out fact from fiction is to drag the truth into the open. False allegations are a tiny problem in this area but they will also benefit from an atmosphere of transparency. Where genuine abuse has been denied and discounted, then the truly innocent stand much less chance of being believed.

Two final thoughts. Ross Cheit has written a meticulously researched book “The Witchhunt Narrative” looking at why this very effective smear, turning child abuse into a fiction, became such a driving social force in the 1980s and 1990s.

The other is my paper: “The Vital Lie”. Why Society Blanks Abuse.

Marjorie Orr

Accuracy About Abuse

American ‘child abuse expert’ Ralph Underwager gave evidence, oral and written, to the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry in 1987 and was described by the chairman, Lord Justice Butler-Sloss as a “valuable and important witness.” In his oral evidence he asserted the following as proven by research:-

- Abused children are not secretive: cannot feel shame or embarrassment before the age of 9 or 11
- The recidivism rate for abusers is 1% to 2%
- Anal assault was the most rare and infrequent form of abuse and then only occurs with perpetrators who are “rather crazy”
- Abused children are not threatened
- 5% of claims of abuse are probably well founded, as judged by the conviction rate
- There is no therapeutic benefit in an abused child expressing their feelings afterwards to a psychiatrist. He said he regarded his views as mainstream.

Recently Dr Underwager said in an Internet exchange that he had treated victims of sexual abuse since 1953 and in all that time had never met one who blamed themselves for the abuse by thinking they had invited the abuse or was a bad person.

Ralph Underwager and his wife, Hollida Wakefield believe that “ill founded, intrusive, and destructive state intervention in the lives of families and individuals under the cloak of saving children from abuse is a serious widespread problem.”

(Accuracy About Abuse – Info Sheet 8, September 1995. By Marjorie Orr)


Ralph Underwager

Ralph Underwager was exposed by an interview he gave to a European paedophile magazine called Paidika, in which he said child sexual abuse was “God’s Will”.

Here are some extracts from the interview, which can be found here:

Underwager: Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love….Paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness they can say, “I believe this is in fact part of God’s will

Paidika: Is choosing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individuals?

Underwager: Certainly it is responsible. What I have been struck by as I have come to know more about and understand people who choose paedophilia is that they let themselves be too much defined by other people. That is usually an essentially negative definition. Paedophiles spend a lot of time and energy defending their choice. I don’t think that a paedophile needs to do that. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love. I am also a theologian and as a theologian, I believe it is God’s will that there be closeness and intimacy, unity of the flesh, between people. A paedophile can say: “This closeness is possible for me within the choices that I’ve made.”
Paedophiles are too defensive. They go around saying, “You people out there are saying that what I choose is bad, that it’s no good. You’re putting me in prison, you’re doing all these terrible things to me. I have to define my love as being in some way or other illicit.” What I think is that paedophiles can make the assertion that the pursuit of intimacy and love is what they choose. With boldness, they can say, “I believe this is in fact part of God’s will.” They have the right to make these statements for themselves as personal choices. Now whether or not they can persuade other people they are right is another matter (laughs).


See also: Ralph Underwager and the Cleveland child abuse inquiry



Originally posted on What Can I Do About It?:

Liz Davies, Matthew Parris

Liz Davies, Matthew Parris

A fascinating discussion between Matthew Parris (columnist and former Conservative politician) and Liz Davies (front-line child protection social worker from London Metropolitan University) about the forthcoming national inquiry into child sexual abuse was broadcast yesterday on the Spectator blog (transcript below). It was fascinating partly because of Liz Davies’ recounting of how her investigations into child abuse and murders of children were stopped by unknown senior people, and partly because of Matthew Parris’ refusal to accept that what Liz Davies was saying might be true. Although as Matthew Parris had just published a Spectator article called ‘What kind of idiot tries to stand in the way of a national child abuse panic? I do’ and subtitled ‘I know the rumours. I think they’re mostly nonsense. I don’t expect a fair hearing’ (pay-walled) he perhaps found it impossible to allow himself to be convinced…

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