A CONVICTED rapist today told how he transformed his life after taking part in the Sex Offender Groupwork Programme.
Following the death of his father when he was just 15, Mark found himself unable to build healthy relationships with women.
“I saw them as nothing but snakes and I carried that through to every relationship I had with women,” said Mark, now 51.
“I was aware that this was not a normal way to feel about women but I didn’t care.”
In 1986, when Mark was 31, he was convicted of rape and sentenced to five years in jail.
“I learnt nothing in prison, I just pumped iron in the gym and came out feeling exactly the same.”
Convictions followed for indecent exposure and outraging public decency and, in 2011, Mark was ordered to take part in the programme.
“When I walked in there on my first day, I didn’t feel like a sex offender; I didn’t think I was a sex offender. Somehow it felt wrong sitting in a room surrounded by all these people who had committed sex crimes.
“By the time I walked out after that first session, it felt like a tonne weight had been lifted off my shoulders. For the first time I was able to open up and speak about how I was feeling.”
During the course of the next 16 months, Mark’s confidence was slowly built up.
He said: “I was learning that the main reason I was acting this way was because of my need to be in control. When I was out of control, domestic abuse would just take over. Through the programme, I did a lot of work to tackle this issues and it’s really helped.
“I realised I always expected too much from women and when I didn’t get what I wanted, I would lose control.”
Mark believes that had the programme been available to him following his first conviction, his life might have taken a very different course.
Still on probation, Mark might have finished the course but he remains in constant contact with Northumbria Probation Service.
Now, with greater confidence than ever before, he is slowly starting to try and build better relationships with women.
“I have started a friendship with a woman and I can honestly say, for the first time, sex has not crossed my mind.
“We are friends and we talk to each other. It feels good to have that kind of control over things, over my feelings.”
Dangerous sex offenders work to change their own lives
THIRTEEN Sunderland sex offenders deemed a serious risk to the Wearside public are taking part in a programme to change their lives.
The men are undergoing treatment on the Northumbria Sex Offender Groupwork Programme which aims to teach them self-control in a bid to reduce the risk of them re-offending.
The scheme aims to address the sexual preoccupation which has led to offences from rape and child sex abuse to indecent exposure.
Whether it be someone who spends too much time alone, to someone struggling to build intimate relationships, the men are encouraged to discuss their problems under the guidance of trained probation staff.
Forced to address their own behaviour and the consequences of their actions, they are then taught to practice new ways of thinking.
Sue Gow, a probation officer with Northumbria Probation Service, helps to oversee the programme.
She said: “We are not about labelling people.
“We treat them as people who have committed sexual offences rather than sex offenders.
“We want people to learn how to manage their feelings, emotions and relationships with other people.
“It may be that someone has a preoccupation with sex, that they spend a lot of time thinking about sex.
“We would want people to realise that is a problem, and then teach them how to manage it.
“It may be that someone spends a lot of time watching pornography; some might spend too much time alone and not get out, or get the chance to build relationships.
“We want people to understand this is not helpful behaviour.
“We work to reduce the amount of time people spend masturbating or watching pornography, instead concentrating on establishing relationships with other people.
“We also do a lot of work in areas like anger management, victim empathy and building the confidence to talk about their problems.
“Not everyone who commits sexual offences is motivated by sex; it could be issues of revenge, control, not feeling confident with women but feeling more comfortable with children.”
The programme ultimately aims to teach the men new skills and ways of coping with situations and feelings.
Sheila Brunger, programme manager, said the course supports up to 56 men on a weekly basis.
She added: “As well as the core groupwork programme, we also run the internet offenders group which has been specifically designed for offenders convicted of specific internet offences.”
Ms Gow is quick to point out that the course is by no means an easy option and the men are all told they must be motivated to change.
Rules that the group agrees to follow
THERE are currently 261 registered sex offenders in Sunderland.
Of these, only a small proportion would be eligible to take part in the Northumbria Sex Offender Groupwork Programme.
A further 71 are classed as violent offenders under the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappa), the programme which brings together law enforcers to manage those at risk to others.
Across the North East, 1,538 of both class of criminals were being managed by Mappa, an increase from 1,385 the previous year.
Rules that they must abide by include notifying police of their name, address and other details, and being monitored by police who take on the role of risk management officers.
Other means of keeping track of them include sexual offences prevention orders, which can include further requirements imposed by a court when they are sentenced or later if concerns are raised by police.
How does the programme work?
THERE are four parts to the Northumbria Sex Offender Groupwork Programme.
l The core groupwork programme: This challenges attitudes and behaviour and helps people cope with situations and feelings
l The Better Lives Programme: This is for those who have completed the core groupwork scheme
l The Longterm Group: This is for those who need continued support and contact
l The Internet Offenders’ Group: Designed specifically for certain types of internet offences.