West Sussex probation service head’s concern at sexual offending by younger people

Sexual assaults carried out by young people in Sussex have been called ‘a real concern’ by the head of the county’s National Probation Service.

Friday, 25th September 2020, 2:34 pm
One of West Sussex's probation service offices

Mark Burden flagged up the issue at a West Sussex County Council scrutiny meeting, where he gave a presentation on the work being carried out to reduce violence among 18-25-year-olds.

Mr Burden had a very firm idea about where part of the problem lay.

He said: “The changes in sexual offending by younger people is one of real concern to me, both in the nature and extent of sexual offending that’s taking place.

“I would be very surprised if social media and the wide availability of hardcore pornography on the internet has not been a contributing factor in this change.”

The probation service deals with people who are considered to present a high risk of re-offending or of causing serious harm to others.

At the moment, there are 220 such cases on the books involving 18-25-year-olds in Sussex, 88 in the west.

Some five per cent were convicted of drug offences – mainly supplying, 5.9 per cent were convicted of public order offences, 16.4 per cent of robbery, and 43.6 per cent of a violent crime.

Sexual offences on either adults or children had been committed by 17.7 per cent of the cohort – and Mr Burden was clear that they only made up part of the picture.

He said: “If we think that around one per cent of sexual offences actually translate into a conviction, we’re starting to look at some pretty serious numbers there of how much sexual crime is taking place in Sussex, committed by young people on young people.”

The issue of social media and technology was also a cause for concern when it came to the exploitation of youngsters by county lines drug gangs.

It’s a constantly changing arena and Mr Burden acknowledged that his team had had problems keeping up.

He said: “From a probation service perspective, we’re a little bit blind-sided, not quite up to speed, with how offenders are applying technology in their criminal activity and exploiting the contact social media offers with potentially vulnerable young people as well.”

These issues aside, plenty of work is being carried out to protect youngsters and help young offenders back onto the right track.

Mr Burden has set up a Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit for Sussex, which will provide intervention and support for young people.

This will include sports, fitness and performing arts projects as well as helping them to develop business ideas and offering peer-to-peer support.

One such example of peer mentoring is being provided by the St Giles Trust, a charity which helps people affected by things such as poverty, crime, addition and poor mental health.

Mr Burden said the service had been delayed because of the pandemic but he was excited to see how it would gain momentum over the coming year.

He explained that the peers were men who had often had an ‘unenviable history’ but whose crimes had been committed long ago.

Some of them were even working with the probation service to help schools and colleges identify children who may be at risk of exploitation or being dragged into a life of crime.

Clearly proud of the work being carried out, Mr Burden added: “These are men who are well down the road on their rehabilitation journey and want to give something back – something positive – to the community and to help young people, who they might recognise in themselves, to provide a mentoring role and a coaching role.”