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Sex offender treatment in demand for kids, March 6, 2008

A Christchurch agency that treats sexual offenders is now dealing with children as young as five

STOP Trust manager Don Mortensen said the age of pre-adolescents they were treating had got lower in the past few years, and they now were seeing some children in their first year of primary school.

"We're now working with children down to the age of five and six," he said.

"We don't call what they do sexual offending, it's sexually inappropriate, but some is quite disturbing."

While it is described as sexually inappropriate behaviour, some of it would be serious enough to warrant charges if the offender was older.

"It can be very serious. One boy was abused at school by a girl for a whole year - at that age girls are bigger."

"She would strip him at school and assault him."

Schools are able to access funding for assistance through the Interim Response Fund which was set up a year ago for emergencies such as sexually inappropriate behaviour, violence or risk of self-harm.

Twenty-five Christchurch primary schools applied for funding in the last year.

Adolescent services clinical team leader Maureen Lorimer said it was the demand from schools that prompted STOP to set up the children's programme three years ago.

"There was a lot of concern by principals about how to manage the safety within a school and by parents," she said.

Initially, the child displaying the behaviour is accompanied by a support person, or tracker, to ensure the safety of others.

Lorimer said there was a tendency for the school and parents of other children to panic and want the child's removal, but that was counter-productive in the long-run.

"Otherwise, the child and family get ostracised and then they place the child in another school and the behaviour carries on."

"It's critical that the parents and school work together to manage change ... The spotlight might be intense at the start, but it's really important they remain in connection with their peer group and can still academically achieve and have a chance to use the new skills they're learning (from treatment programmes)."

Mortensen said there was no one reason why more young children were acting inappropriately, but they knew more at a young age than in the past.

"Children are being exposed to explicit adult material."

"So it's right across the board children are much more sexually aware from a young age."

The STOP Trust has run adolescent programmes for 15 years but it is only recently that the age of children demonstrating inappropriate behaviour has plummeted.

"At any one time we'd be involved with at least half a dozen children, typically seven to eleven, but we're getting the odd younger one referred through to us," Mortensen said.


To help children to stop their sexually inappropriate/harmful behaviour.
To be clear on what is appropriate behaviour.
To help children understand and take responsibility for their sexually inappropriate/harmful behaviour.
Understand the thoughts and feelings they had prior to sexually harming another child.
Understand the impact of their sexually harmful behaviour and how they may have affected others.
Make safe choices for the future.
Recommend treatment options if they have been sexually harmed themselves.

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