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Sexual abuse Expertise

by Mr Lyndon Herring
BSc(Hons) DipSW
Independent Consultant: Sexual Abuse & Domestic Violence
(More about Mr Herring)


Abusers may be children, adolescents or adults and of either gender. They may be convicted offenders or they may be suspected of perpetrating sexual abuse (alleged abusers). Experts are usually asked to assess the level of risk an abuser poses to named individuals or to the public in general. Cases include:

  • the likelihood of the abuser repeating the sexually abusive behaviour
  • the risk of harm to future victims
  • the nature and extent of any future abuse
  • the frequency and imminence of abuse.

Experts are often consulted to help manage the risks posed by abusers. They either:

  • make recommendations for treatment or
  • are qualified themselves to provide treatment services aimed at managing the abuser and reducing risk.
Work in the criminal justice system

Experts are often commissioned to prepare risk assessment reports in the following situations:

  • sentencing defendants
  • appeals against conviction, length of sentence or type of sentence, e.g. imprisonment for public protection
  • matters relating to imprisonment
  • parole applications, decisions or appeals
  • licence conditions (made by prison governors at the point of release back into the community).
Work in the civil/family justice system

Experts are usually commissioned to write risk assessment reports in the following situations:

  • when children at risk of sexual abuse within families are the subjects of care proceedings
  • when deciding the permanency of a child’s care, e.g. return to natural parents’ care, long-term foster care or placement for adoption
  • when deciding about residency (with whom the child should live) and contact arrangements between estranged parents or carers, e.g. whether any contact should be unsupervised, supervised by a relative of the child, or supervised by officials independent of the parents/carers.

Work in other areas

  • Experts may receive referrals from Children’s Social Care Departments (Social Services) in situations similar to the above but where formal, legal intervention has not been deemed to be necessary.
  • Local authority social workers may also commission experts in the field of sexual abuse to assess the abilities of non-abusing partners (usually adult females) to protect their children from potential sexual harm.
  • Experts are sometimes commissioned by other agencies to assess the risk posed by known or suspected sexual abusers, e.g. by local education authorities if teachers have had allegations made against them, by sporting governing bodies if a coach or referee has been accused of sexual impropriety, by churches if allegations have been levelled against clergy, etc.
  • Experts also receive referrals to devise and facilitate treatment or therapeutic programmes for convicted or alleged sexual abusers – to reduce risk or to manage risk more safely. Interventions are also commissioned to raise the awareness of partners of abusers, in order to enhance their ability to protect children. Experts may facilitate one-to-one therapy or group therapy (usually cognitive behavioural therapy).

Qualifications and Experience Required by Sexual Abuse Experts

Expertise gained through experience is just as valid as formal, academic qualifications. Most experts, however, will have honours degrees in the social sciences – usually psychology. Many experts in this field will be qualified Chartered Psychologists (forensic and/or clinical) and will also be members of the British Psychological Society.

However, there are many non-psychologists who, because of many years’ experience of working directly with sexual abusers and their partners, are just as competent to work as experts in this field. Some social workers and probation officers, for example, have specialised in working with sexual abusers for many years. These experts will hold qualifications such as the Diploma in Social Work or the Diploma in Probation Studies. Social workers will need to be registered with the GSCC (General Social Care Council). It will be preferable if these expert practitioners are also accredited (usually by the National Offender Management Service – part of the Ministry of Justice) sex offender therapists, group facilitators or treatment managers currently practising within the prison, probation or social services. Other legitimate experts may have been trained and qualified by the voluntary sector, e.g. NSPCC.

by Mr Lyndon Herring
BSc(Hons) DipSW
Independent Consultant: Sexual Abuse & Domestic Violence
(More about Mr Herring)


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