How can 400 sex offenders go missing?

The police keep tabs on most sex offenders. Shutterstock pins map

Sex offending is clearly a problem in British society, and it comes in many forms. It is rarely out of the headlines, particularly in the wake of the Jimmy Savile and Rotheram child sex ring scandal. And while the nation is bombarded with daily news about the crimes committed in the past and still being committed in the present day, it has emerged that just under 400 sex offenders are missing. That is, their whereabouts are unknown and they are wanted by the police.

The news has prompted outcry but some perspective is needed here. In a country with thousands of sex offenders living in communities on licence, it takes a lot of hard work to keep tabs on them all.

After prison

When sex offenders are released from prison, they are usually subject to various licence conditions. They have to register any change of address and attend probation or police appointments. If they don’t show up, they may be arrested and recalled to prison for breaching their licence.

But in these 400 or so cases, the police and probation services haven’t been able to trace the sex offenders, which is when they are considered missing.

Forensic risk assessment is complex. It is simply not possible for services to follow sex offenders around all day long. The authorities have a difficult job deciding which of the people they are monitoring are more at risk of offending than others.

There are a range of different factors that contribute to sexual offending, and probation and police services do their best with the resources and information available to them to monitor those who need tighter supervision.

On the radar

As the law currently stands, sex offenders are released from prison and are supported in their resettlement by probation and other agencies. There are thousands of sex offenders living in the UK and while the public may not find this palatable, many of those sex offenders do live pro-social lives after their release when they have the right support and environment.

It’s also important to remember that these missing sex offenders are 400 of many thousands, the vast majority of whom are being monitored and are not missing. One single sexual or violent offender being untraceable is not acceptable and naturally worrying, but services such as police and probation work very hard with finite resources to manage many thousands of dangerous men and women in the UK.

The probation service in England and Wales has undergone significant organisational restructuring in the last few years. Despite this, it continues to manage many sex offenders effectively and help prevent future victims.

This is despite the fact that we still haven’t developed a real understanding of what risk factors are relevant to assessing the threat posed by a sex offender. Nobody can predict who will, or won’t reoffend or go missing. These services have had to invest their own resources into trying to solve this problem.

And by doing this they are helping keep the number of sex offences down. When you consider the thousands of people they have to work with, 400 seems like less of a large number. We should be relieved that only 400 sex offenders are missing and this is because of the dedication of the staff who work in this complex area.