Why Victims Regard Anti Grooming Training a Life Skill

Why Victims Regard Anti Grooming Training a Life Skill

Opinion piece in response to article written by Donna-Lee Biddle, a Waikato social issues journalist for the Stuff NZ.


The role of the media in reporting on matters involving child sex abuse has long been seen in a positive light by some, in that it helps to bring matters to public attention thereby helping to deter future offending. Others feel that it works against the offender when the time comes to reintegrate. It can be a difficult subject to balance; and not all countries are the same.

The US are going to name all paedophiles as such in their passports and have an open registry, Indonesian offenders are to face chemical castration or execution. Australia is going to introduce another registry where all offenders will be named and shamed. In the UK recently a woman was charged with breaking the data conditions relating a Sarah’s Law disclosure from the Sex Offenders Register, her case was dropped!

Helping sex offenders is controversial, and although not all Psychologists can agree on the best way to help them, there is no doubt in my mind it can prevent more abuse. The forensic clinicians working with offenders ultimately seek to minimise the risk of reoffending and aim to keep the community safe. It is not a job most of us would want to do, me included. However, as an internationally recognised expert in the monitoring and management of sex offenders in the community, something which I have received awards for, this story raises some very real concerns.

I am a New Zealander, and if all identifying features were removed from this article, I think I could have guessed it was a case from NZ. Apart from a small sentence at the end from Child Matters CEO, where was the victim’s voice? Without doubt the story brings the dangers to the public’s attention, but I can’t help feel that the story was all about the offender and did not grasp the real risks that were contained within it.

Great store was set by both Middlebrook and Dr Tamatea that Middlebrook and the community will be safe as strategies were in place for whilst at the club. But the fact is his offending did not take place at a club. More about this later, but the club was an environment which was part of Middlebrook’s grooming process to gain access to the child. So, parents, guardians, and whanua present is a very good thing, but it cannot be ignored that the previous offending took place away from a club. It is my opinion and that of other forensic psychologists I know, that offenders who commit their crimes ‘hands on’ will always have the urge to offend, it is just a matter of whether it is controlled or not. ‘Hands on’ is also at the top of the risk table when making assessments. So, to place the offender back into the same environment, one which was part of the grooming process almost beggars belief.

If Middlebrook had been a school teacher, a doctor, nurse or police officer, would any of them been put back to work, back into the same environment after their sentence? As I have been involved in cases involving all those professions, I can say no, that would not be the case. Which sort of brings me to my biggest concern, has the sexual grooming process been fully understood? As the author of a New Zealand specific early identification sexual grooming training package the content of which all comes from peer reviewed papers from the sector, I feel I must speak up.

For those who know, sorry to bore you, but for those who don’t, there are three main parts to the sexual grooming process. One, direct grooming of the child. Two, grooming of the environment. And three, grooming of a significant other. Two and three are undertaken to achieve number one. Clinicians use industry proven risk models to help them assess if a person is of risk, and if so, how high. The information comes from direct questioning between the psychologist and the offender. The problem with this method is that the information comes from a very skilled and accomplished groomer, as all child sex offenders are. Despite the clinician’s best intentions, they are sometimes outwitted, leading to disastrous outcomes. Many in this field will tell you that professionals are the worst at telling if they are being groomed because there is an inherent belief it should not be possible. In all probability parents, guardians or whanua are more at risk to not knowing or understanding the signs of grooming.

Whether Middlebrook has groomed significant others, such as his clinician, the club, the committee, and the parents only time will tell. The problem is, by then it will be too late, and the risk is further compounded by the fact that none of them are trained in anti-grooming skills to know if they have been or are being groomed. As for the environment, Middlebrook has achieved that, he is back where he started, and for me that is an unacceptable and avoidable risk.

Grooming plays a part in all sexual offences and domestic violence, the latter we are unfortunately world leaders in. Anti-grooming training is early intervention. Early intervention saves lives, saves victims, and saves billions of tax dollars further down the line. It is a ‘no brainer’. It is a life skill we are failing to recognise as such.

To the journo’s credit the story itself, is essentially one about offender rehabilitation, and is a minefield. Maybe the purpose was to raise the issue, deter and allow debate, but the story uncovers real risks and I can’t help feeling that it fails to identify them as such. The victims’ voices are placed last when it should be front and centre. If we really want to show we are a country with a government who really cares about its victims, all its victims, all of the time, then I hope that the current justice review is really doing just that and not pretending to do so whilst it unlocks the gates to the prison.