Why Leeds organisation Safer Lives works with people who viewed indecent images of children

An organisation set up by three former probation officers in Leeds is working with people who have viewed indecent images of children with the aim of reducing the risk of them reoffending.
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Safer Lives offers a range of confidential programmes and services for men with harmful sexual behaviours, the vast majority of whom have been arrested by the police for viewing indecent images but not yet been charged.

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Safer Lives clients on life after an arrest for viewing indecent images of child...

Andy Green, one of the three co-founders and directors, said: “We realised that maybe we could work with people when they’re in this investigation period when maybe they’re vulnerable to offending.

Safer Lives co-founders Rita Ashford, Andy Green and Jenny Greensmit. Picture by Simon HulmeSafer Lives co-founders Rita Ashford, Andy Green and Jenny Greensmit. Picture by Simon Hulme
Safer Lives co-founders Rita Ashford, Andy Green and Jenny Greensmit. Picture by Simon Hulme
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“When we started, we quickly began to understand they’re vulnerable to suicide and we also began to understand the collateral damage to the offences, not only that the man has but that the partner and family have.

“We thought Safer Lives was a good name in terms of not only staying away from offending, but safer for the family and the children in particular.”

Its five week programme for men who have viewed indecent images or carried out other online offences focuses on understanding and addressing the reasons behind it.

“People are very open with us about whether it’s a sexual interest or a pornography addiction that’s spiralled out of control,” said Andy. “A lot of men are very closed and I think what we do help them to do is talk about things that they’ve never talked about before.”

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Fellow co-founder Jenny Greensmith added: “Whether it’s about their own abuse, their own experiences or what they have seen, nobody is more ashamed and disgusted in themselves than they are.

“I think a lot of campaigns are ‘you’ll lose your job’ and ‘you’ll go to hell’. They know that but at the time they can get passed it because what they’re getting from it is stronger.”

While the approach taken is non-judgemental, a key element is making sure the men understand the harm caused to the children in the images every time someone views it.

Rita Ashworth, the third member of the team, said every offence damages society as a whole, including the victims, the offenders’ families and the professionals in the criminal justice system dealing with it.

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“We’re just trying to limit that damage as much as we can,” she said.

One of the services provided is for family members of offenders who often face judgement when a man’s offending becomes public, while another seeks to support men who may be worried about their online habits but have not yet been arrested.

Andy said: “We don’t want people looking at indecent images. If people are worried about their pornography use or other activities, we want them to come at that point.

“Once they’ve crossed that line, they won’t come back - but we want to give them that option for help."