THE GUARDIAN : Wednesday 3rd February 1993
A man accused of child abuse turned to a
private clinic for assessment and proof of his innocence. Once there,
he was told to admit to crimes he says he did not commit.
FIRST, CONFESS SEXUAL ABUSE‘
By Margaret Jervis
WHEN Mike heard about the Gracewell Clinic for assessing and, if
necessary, treating men accused of sex offences, it seemed it might be a
lifeline. For two years he had suf- fered because his wife, the social
services, and the police believed he was a child molester who had
sexually abused the three-year-old step- daughter he had cared for since
just after her birth. His angry protestations of innocence had been
No charges were brought, but Mike (not his real name) agreed to leave.
the family home so that the children would not be taken into care. He
was denied all contact with them. But his wife wanted mm to “own up” and
get treatment. She herself was in a survivors' group: at the time of
the allegations she revealed that she had been abused as a child. But
Mike refused to take this course.
It all began when a purported remark by a neighbour that his
step-daughter had alluded to an abuse made Mike's wife suspicious.
Eventually her allegations were backed by a medical report and the
finger was pointed at Mike, even though his wife's family had a history
of abuse and his own had none. Mike believed they were compelling
explanations which would exonerate him, but no one would listen.
Then he heard about the private Gracewell Clinic in Birmingham, set up
in 1988 by Ray Wyre, a former probation oficer. As a residential
alternative to custody, Gracewell offers a beguiling formula for
resolving the dilemma of suspected abuse. theory is that accused men
have incentive to admit to abuse it would mean prison. But this denial
to themselyes and others prevents them from being treated successfully.
Confession in confidence breaks the pattern of self-deception that feeds
their addiction and justifies their behaviour.
Gracewell has been at the centre of some controversy, but many
interviews with anonymous residents, publishéd in both lay and
professional press attest that this approach is effective. Lifetime
abusers confess remorsefully to their crimes with the clinic's help hope
to check their impulses. This human approach has gained much kudos and
been endorsed by leading child protection campaigners ad professionals
including Baroness Faithfull. Dr Arnon Bentovim of Great Ormond Street
Hospital, Esther Rantzen and Diana Lamplugh.
Mike says: "I thought if they can assess and treat offenders then they
could assess me and give a sensible opinion. Gracewell said they
couldn't say what I'd done in the past but they would be able to assesss
what my chances were of abusing in the future"
He expected to be tested when he went to Gracewell for assessment. And
yet, he says, "When I got there |I was given a pie e of paper headed 'My
Crimes are....'. I said I hadn't committed any, they just said
put down what you are supposed to have done. From then on they made
every thing positive, I wasn't allowed to talk negative. I had group
sessions with other people saying what I'd done. The therapists kept
saying to the others, ‘Do you remember when you ﬁrst came here, you
denied it?’ There was no way out .”
Mike says that when he ﬁnally objected, he was told he could possibly be
home after 12 weeks treatment, “if I accepted responsibility and
admitted I was a child abuser."
He refused and left. His wife was bitterly disappointed: Gracewell was
holding out the prospect of a speedy reunion, while he buried his head
in the sand. So he phoned the clinic and admitted the abuse. He
was told to tell the social services department, but when he did this,
he was re-arrested and charged with indecent assault. Mike retracted his
admission and the charges were dropped once the pressure he had been
under to confess became apparent.
Mike sank into suiicidal depression. Through a radio phone-in he came
into contact with a consultant psychiatrist from a private hospital, who
had long expereince i treating addictive disorders, including sexual
deviance. In the course of a year she unravelled Mike's social, family
and sexual history and found him to be suffering from post-traumatic
According to the psychiatrist's report which the Guardian has seen,
there was an element of self-deception. Mike had papered over the
strains on his marriage when, before the allegations of abuse were made
his business had failed and they had lost their house - events possibly
crucial to his wife's loss of faith in him. But the psychiatrist found
no evidence that Mike might abuse children, even when he was questioned
under the effects of the drug pentobarbitone, the 'truth' drug which can
release inhibited desires. A lie detector test performed at his own
behest also proved negative.
Mike regards the assessment report provided by Gracewell as un-
substantiated character assassination and Gracewell rejected his
consultant psychiatrist's conclusions. Gracewell maintained that
Mike needed specific treatment for being sex offender which would not be
addressed by other forms of psychiatric treatment. But Mike’s psychia-
trist says: “In my experience, it is necessary to assess and treat the ~
whole person and not just one possible aspect of their behaviour."
There are disturbing possible parallels between Gracewell's methods and
"disclosure” interviews with children where therapists adopt an
authoritarian stance, tailoring statements to comply with an apparently
dogmatic belief system. At Gracewell, suspects are believed when they
admit the abuse and seem to be disbelieved when they deny it.
According to Gracewell’s own Guidelines For Referring Agencies: “The
clinic is able to provide comprehensive assessment on adult and juvenile
offenders although the latter would be seen on a non-residential basis.
Assessment reports can be made available to courts for criminal
proceedings, care proceedings at Juvenile Courts and wardship hearings.
Risk assessment reports can also be prepared for social work agencies."
In confessional interviews, Gracewell offenders
readily adopt the language and beliefs of the therapists, using
buzz-words such as "targeting", “grooming”, and “distorted thinking" But
if it is assumed that some Gracewell residents lie initially about the
abuse, how do we know they are not lying later about their new insights,
or the number of offences? Should we believé them when they say they
have “conceived and groomed ” children for the purpose of abuse?
Doesn't this come dangerously close to the confessions of children said
to be “satanically abused”? Ray Wyre admits there is a large
measure of make-believe in the outpourings of offenders under therapy.
“You’re not dealing with facts in this work. You’re dealing with
metaphor and paradox. It's very complex.
But Mike says that outside the therapy process, he found real offenders
to be anything but contrite. "They were laughing behind the
therapists'baks, just saying what they knew what they wanted to hear".
No doubt many of the 150 offenders who have been processed through
Gracewell are sincere in their remorse and their desire to change. But
there is occasionally a detectable whiff of gamesmanship that seems to
go over the heads of the therapists.
For instance, in a training video a man on parole explains the steps he
took to abuse young boys. A master of the ﬂow-chart, his detailed
descrip- tion perfectly ﬁts the Gracewell formula of targeting and
grooming, where a trusting relationship is established with the child
and family. We learn that thegarliest stage was
'There is a tendency to assume the therapist is being lied to. An open mind ..is often very difficult with sex offenders.'
his collecting pictures of boys in shorts. “How many?" Wyre asks. “About
22,000" is the straight-faced reply. Wyre claims this encounter
wastheﬁrsttimethismanhadbeen able to relate honestly to another adult — a
major goal of Gracewell therapy. But was he merely ridiculing Gracewell
and its therapists?
Most of the men who undergo up to a year’s treatment — as opposed to
assessment —— at Gracewell have , been abusers within the family. Two
thirds of them are referred by social services departments or the
probation service. Confession and treatment may be a condition oif
achieving a family reunion. Men on parole may be subject to a
similar condition. And while the unrelenting pressure of therapy
cannot be termed a soft option, the quality of life it offers is
dazzling when compared to prison.
If the social services department refuses to pay for treatment, families
may feel under pressure to pick up the bill. "We were told we should
get a second mortgage on our house,” says Jill, the wife of a man
separated from his family because he had admitted-to the “inappropriate
fondling" of a nephew, and was considered a potential risk to his
children unless he had treatment. Before agreeing, Jill visited
Gracewell and was repelled by the atmosphere and attitudes of the
therapists. “It seemed to have a single-minded approach to offending
with no regarded for the circumstance and needs of the clients. I found
in .unrelenting confrontation by the therapists extremely disturbing and
they were distinctly reluctant to give tangible evidence of the methods
used and effectiveness.”
On my Visit to Gracewell, I experienced a similar resistance. Ray Wyre
avoided dwelling on the methods used and their theoretical base, quickly
passing them off as a mixture of therapeutic techniques. Most of the
therapists are social workers. No statistics or records are available
but I was allowed a brief glance at assessment and treatment manual
which began, as Mike had said, with the words “My crimes are . .
The disparate group of men I met certainly appeared to have changed
their attitude in the three weeks their assessment, displaying an
uncompromising acceptance of responsibility. They said Gracewell had
taught them to see the abuse from the victim’s point of View, but when
pressed seemed unsure whether point of view was really the victims or
Gracewell’s own interpretation.
In 1991, local residents saw a Channel 4 documentary on Gracewell and
were horrified to recognise “career paedophiles” as men wandering
freely in their midst. They collected a dossier of obfuscations,
irregularities, and contradictions surrounding the clinic which prompted
Birmingham social services department to conduct a review. Gracewell
has blocked the release of the full report, but a summary concluded with
a call for urgent “consideration of issues of organisation, management
style and image". But the therapy was felt to be beyond reproach,
exerting a "positive influence on caring services through the country”.
Gracewell is now undergoing a Home Ofﬁce evaluation as part of a study
of sex offender programmes many of which use “denial” techniques. The
psychologist Mary Baker a member of the evaluation team, says these are
"cognitive-behavioural" methods which help men take responsibility for
abuse through their confrontation and analysis of trheir attitudes and
beliefs."It is assumed that abusers are motivated through an initial
distortion in attitudes which justifies their actions."
Variants of these methods have been used successfully to treat addictive
disorders such as alcoholism and drug-dependency, and Mary Baker
is optimistic that sex offenders will also respond. But
others warn that they can have adverse effects. Dr Geoffrey Pollitt, a
retired psychiatrist who treated sex offenders since 1965, says " I have
met men from gracewell who say they went on to commit more serious
offences. I have witnessed this type of treatment and it doesn't
seem to get at the root of pepole's problems. I know one man who ran
away from the group because the revelations disgusted him so mjuch and
for those who are serious offenders ti can teach them new ways of
abusing. In my opinion it doesn't do any good and can cause a lot of
Dr Don Grubin of the Institute of Psychiatry is more guarded, but draws a
vital distinction between assessment as the equivalent of diagnosis,
and treatment. “I think these treatment approaches are appropriate in
some cases, but there is a tendency to confuse assessment with treatment
on the assumption that the therapists are being lied to. It is
important to keep an open mind and in practice this is often very
difﬁcult with sex offenders.”
Ray Wyre concedes that this divide is “the great
debate”, but won’t accept the notion of assessment as an investigative
process, He relies mostly on the prior judgments in referral reports,
buttressed by the evidence of lifestyle and attitudes, rather than on
objective psychological testing. “Assessment is basically information
getting, in that we are looking for word and thinking change, whereas in
long-term therapy we are looking for belief and feeling change,” Wyre,
says. Pressed repeatedly, he refused to accept the incongruity of change
as a goal for assessment.
The Home Oﬂice team is due to report next year. Meanwhile Gracewell, in
conjuction with the National Children’s Home, is planning a centre for
adolescent sex offenders.
Yet Gracewell’s methods raise important ethical
questions. Unconvicted men are presumed guilty, effectively coerced ——
because they want to see their families again — into confession and
highly manipulative treatment. There is no data on the long-term
beneﬁts, and judging “preventive” success is highly problematic. Like
alcohol abuse, sexual abuse can be addictive, but is not necessarily so.
And can the treatment of sex offending by group therapy really be the
proper focus for dealing with the totality of an offender’s problems?
Mike was able to recover from his nightmare once he was regarded as a
person without the presumption of guilt. “Gracewell said I want power
over children, I say they want power over me. They said I have distorted
thinking, but they distorted everything I said. Maybe for those who
have abused children, Gracewell is a wonderful thing, but what about for
those who haven’t? How can they tell when they exercise such total
(c) world copyright holders: The Sub-culture Alternatives Freedom Foundation (S.A.F.F.) Leeds, Yorkshire U.K.