Learning from an expert: Inside the minds of perpetrators of sexual crimes against children
By Jane Larsson, Executive Director, Council of International Schools

This year, international school leaders were presented with new information as they arrived to recruit and interview candidates at our London Educator Recruitment Fair. We decided we had a responsibility to share what we’ve learned as part of our work on the International Task Force on Child Protection. And so, we invited one of the world’s top Forensic Psychologists, Dr Joe Sullivan*, to educate us on the behavioural characteristics and patterns of people who commit sexual crimes against children. It was a difficult session to sit through as Dr Sullivan illustrated his key points through actual case studies of perpetrators about the reasons they abused children and how they went about it.

For most of us, such sessions elicit strong reactions…for a variety of reasons. But difficult as it can be, we must face the facts and educate ourselves to protect against the grooming techniques of colleagues and yes, friends, who want us to believe that their intentions towards children are well placed, when in reality they are setting the stage for crimes against them.

Just how prevalent are these crimes and who is committing them? According to Dr Sullivan, one in three girls and one in four boys will be sexually abused by the time they turn eighteen. Even more troubling for school educators is the fact that 70% of these crimes are perpetrated by older children against younger children. What are the implications of this statistic for education in our schools?

Dr Sullivan stayed on in London after his workshop in the event that any school leaders who attended wanted to ask him questions. The following day, he had a line of people waiting to speak with him privately, each to share a story, a suspicion, a worry. 

This month, we introduced Dr Sullivan to more international educators at the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) conference in Atlanta, where he addressed 350 attendees from around the world. Again, he was approached by many school leaders who wanted to gain his advice about suspicious behaviour in their schools, to gain some sense of confidence that they are doing the right thing, to determine whether their suspicions should be investigated, to learn how best to manage allegations of abuse, to avoid harming a colleague’s career and reputation. We realize how important it is to provide you with sound expertise to navigate such difficult situations that can arise in your schools, and we are committed to doing so, with Dr Sullivan’s help.

What’s next? CIS will commit resources to ensure that Dr Sullivan is available for consultations with our school communities to help you manage allegations and determine whether or not a professional investigation may be in order. As part of the work of the International Task Force on Child Protection, new Accreditation and Inspection Standards for child protection have now been agreed and will be implemented globally - in our new International Accreditation Protocol, and in those of every U.S. accreditation and British inspection agency.

To support you and your school community in preparation for the implementation of these standards, we will hold child protection workshops regionally so that you may learn directly from experts who specialise in child protection policy development and implementation, school audits, social, emotional and sexual education, crisis and allegation management, investigations, and the long term impact of abuse on educational outcomes. We will keep you informed as we set the dates and locations of these workshops and will offer them at cost to ensure the broadest access possible.

*For the past 20 years, Dr. Sullivan has worked with police officers, social workers, probation officers, faith groups, and educationalists to provide insights into the motivations, thoughts, and behaviors of child sex offenders. He is regularly commissioned to undertake assessments for the Social Service Departments, Probation Services, Churches, and Education departments and has been called as an expert witness to give evidence to criminal, civil, and family courts. Dr. Sullivan has worked extensively in law enforcement since 1996, assisting UK and European police forces with investigations into the sexually motivated abduction, murder, and assault of children. Since 2006, Dr. Sullivan has also been the Forensic Psychologist in the Behaviour Analysis Unit in the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).