Call for plan to deal with female sex offenders

CALLS for a shake-up of the current strategy used to deal with the rehabilitation of ­female sex offenders in Scotland have been raised by ­experts and leading charities.
Eppie Sprung-Dawson was placed on the Sex Offenders Register. Picture: HemediaEppie Sprung-Dawson was placed on the Sex Offenders Register. Picture: Hemedia
Eppie Sprung-Dawson was placed on the Sex Offenders Register. Picture: Hemedia

At present the rehabilitation of the small number of convicted female sex offenders is dealt with on an individual ­basis by the Scottish Prison Service ahead of reintegration into society.

There are 24 females on the Sex Offenders Register in Scotland as of August 2014, compared to more than 3,000 men.

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The Scottish Government stated that the relatively low number of offenders means it has not been and ­continues not to be practical to develop a national group ­programme.

However child sex abuse charities claim that a programme to standardise the treatment offered to women would help to identify the ­factors which increase risk and help identify individual women at high risk of offending.

Experts have also stated the full scale of offending by women is likely being ­under reported as it is still a taboo subject.

In 2012 children’s charity the NSPCC reported a 132 per cent rise in calls about ­female sexual abuse to its ­helpline in the five previous years.

Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland, said: “While the number of ­females entering the criminal justice system for sexual ­offences against children is small in comparison with those for males, we know that the number of adults, regardless of gender, prosecuted for child sexual abuse does not ­reflect the true number of ­children who are suffering ­sexual abuse.”

Shadow justice spokesman Graeme Pearson MSP believes that regardless of numbers a national strategy is needed.

He said: “I don’t buy the ­argument that there are insufficient numbers to allow for the formation of a national strategy. What would the ­optimum number be for Mr Macaskill to do something about this problem which third sector groups say is rising and under-represented?”

The issue of female sex ­offenders has hit the headlines in recent months following the placing of teacher Bernadette Smith, 35, of Denny, Stirlingshire, on the Sex Offenders’ Register in November 2013 ­after she admitted sexual ­activity with 16-year old Bannockburn High School pupil, Gary Ralston. In another case, Eppie Sprung Dawson, 26, who taught at a school in Dumfries, was placed on the Sex Offenders Register in June 2013 after being found in her car having sex with a teenage boy. Martin Henry, from child sex abuse charity, Stop It Now, claims the issue of female sex offenders is “clearly under recognised in society” but says specific issues need to be more “explicitly built” into existing sex offending and protection methods.

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He said: “I am not convinced there is a compelling case for a standalone national strategy at this time. Bespoke assessment frameworks and tools for cases involving female sex offending have actually been developed and are available and these have already been presented to practitioners in some parts of Scotland. What is still lacking is these being adopted and implemented uniformly across the country.”

In a written answer to the Scottish Parliament, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “As the number of imprisoned female sex offenders is small the Scottish Prison ­Service manages them individually, and devises appropriate supervision, support and rehabilitative activity tailored to their individual needs and ­circumstances.”