Chris Wittwer, self-styled Paedophile Shamer
Child abuse is and always will be one of the worst crimes imaginable. It causes universal outrage and the very thought that abuse could be going on in your town, your street, or that convicted sex offenders are living among us, is enough to spur some people in to action.
On top of employment background checks, it can be reasonably argued that parents should be made aware of predators in their area who pose a potential risk to their children. As of 2010 there is now an official mechanism under UK law that allows parents, guardians and close relatives of children to formally ask their local police force for information on child sex offenders. This was in response to the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in 2000, by convicted sex offender Roy Whiting.
Like a lot of society’s problems, how we deal with child abusers is not a perfected science. In an ideal world they would be cured of their interest in children and the continued threat would be completely removed. Until then the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (CSODS) seems mostly to be about putting people’s minds at ease rather than having any measurable impact on protecting children. In practise the so called ‘Sarah’s law’ probably would not have protected Sarah. Whiting abducted her several miles away from where he lived, while she was out playing by herself near her grandparents home. As a convicted child sex offender he was in fact questioned within 24 hours of her going missing.
Unless known child abusers have their movements permanently restricted, perhaps the only way to truly protect children is by not letting them out of sight. Would having every convicted child sex offender in the world on a database make a difference during a crime of opportunity?
It has also been argued that the CSOD scheme could give rise to vigilantism – a scenario where people use the information disclosed to pro-actively target child sex offenders, even when no further crime has been committed. The police response to having only granted one in six applications is a fear of vigilantism. But if applications aren’t being granted, is the scheme fit for purpose?
If there’s a void, those who create their own name and shame websites and Facebook groups are trying to fill it. They don’t employ the same restrictions as the government, which raises a few questions.
What Is C.H.R.I.S?
The UK & Ireland Database (formerly Children Have Rights In Society – CHRIS), is a website operated by convicted football hooligan Chris Wittwer. On the face of it he is not the best poster child for vigilantism, but he is a survivor of abuse himself and one can see the motivation.
The site includes the core website that boasts millions of web hits, and the Facebook page UK database for sex offences against children, which has over 100,000 likes. The man himself has had a modest amount of mainstream media exposure including inflammatory coverage by the Sun’s talk radio show, where infamous sex offender Nigel Oldfield was allowed on the air to debate. Wittwer also liaises with reporters on related stories.
At the time of writing (2013) the database claims to have named and shamed over 17,000 paedophiles/child abusers in the UK and Ireland, who can all be searched on the website. Several statistical claims are also made.
A paragraph from the homepage reads…
The 43 police forces in England and Wales recorded 23,097 child sex offences in 2011 and is equivalent to 444 attacks a week — or one child abused every 20 minutes, and the abuse is getting worse with paedophile rings being set up in almost every county in the UK.
While there have been 23,097 recorded child sex offences in the UK between 2010 and 2011 according to a Freedom of Information request by the NSPCC , fewer than 10% resulted in a conviction and this statistic also includes 16 and 17 year olds, which is beyond the scope of paedophilia and child abuse. The statistics have been thoroughly analysed by MinistryofTruth.me.uk and are misleading in several areas.
This lack of defined criteria is also found in the database itself. For example the 1997 case of Conservative councillor Michael Howden who was convicted of raping and molesting two 17 year old girls, while a sickening crime, was not child abuse or paedophilia as they were not children.
Likewise the 2009 story of Hull City councillor Steven Bayes and his 17 year old boyfriend, strictly speaking has nothing to do with child abuse or paedophilia. Not only was the young man his consenting partner, but was not a child. Northern Irish law has now been amended to reflect 16 as the age of homosexual consent.
Stockport councillor Neil Derbyshire who was convicted in 2002 for sexually assaulting a 16 year old boy cannot psychologically or legally be recognized as a paedophile or child abuser either, based on this crime.
Yes some of these cases are obviously disturbing, but using them to bolster the risk to children is misleading, as are the statistics used. If this was a government operated database they would certainly be called on to clarify the purpose of overstating the figures or naming and shaming people like those listed above. The CSOD scheme for example aims to only divulge information when the sex offender is deemed a current threat to children.
If one is to take on such a position in society as exposing paedophiles and child abusers, accuracy and clarity is important.
Vigilantism In Action
One of the reasons why the government do not publish a public list of child abusers and their locations is because of the potential for vigilante justice. Concerned parents can contact the police for information under certain criteria, but Joe Blogs cannot just go online and find a list of addresses or locales. CHRIS does not follow the same logic. The website allows you to select a county and then it lists short snippets of information about the convict (often taken from newspaper articles at the time of the arrest and trial). These often include street names.
There’s no telling how much of the information is outdated. Most sex offenders understandably move on from the area they were convicted and many cases listed on the CHRIS site go back years. So what happens when outdated information is used for retaliation?
WideShut has learned the story of one lady who claims to have been left traumatized after the CHRIS website displayed information about a paedophile on her street. While this man did indeed live with the lady and their daughter, he never returned to the family home following his conviction and was promptly divorced. Despite this they say some time later the property and a vehicle were attacked and vandalized by misinformed vigilantes. While we’ll never know if this was directly related to the CHRIS profile (it could have been local chatter), it highlights how misinformation can lead to more crime.
The lady in question has since moved on herself, leaving a completely unrelated resident at risk if the exact address has been exposed.
This type of vigilantism is actually quite rare, however online sting operations seem to be growing in popularity. This is when ‘hunters’ pose as underage girls (though sometimes boys) and use social media and dating sites to go fishing for potential groomers. Anyone that shows interest (especially wanting to meet) after being informed of the potential victim’s age, is pursued and exposed. Unfortunately sometimes there are grey areas and it can go terribly wrong as explored by the Guardian. Do targets always truly believe the person they are chatting with is underage? Are innocent people sometimes completely set-up? It’s not like there is any oversight, and even when it does go wrong there hasn’t been any repercussions.
Wittwer himself does not take part in public stings of this nature.
As is often the case with online communities, squabbles and infighting can end up published for all to see. Shouldn’t somebody like Chris Wittwer keep his website clean and professional considering the subject matter at hand? WideShut is in possession of web-cache links and forwarded messages that show in 2011 he was posting names and photos of people he claimed to be disrupting the CHRIS campaign.
Regardless of whether some of the accused may have had fallings out with Mr. Wittwer, were critical of the website and/or may have even actively been trying to disrupt it, one can’t ignore the immorality of publishing information about people who are not known paedophiles on a website that exposes paedophiles. At the very least he suggested they were paedophile supporters.
“Over the past 3 years I’ve been attacked by paedophiles on various forums, on facebook and even on the street,” claims Witter. “Yet over the past 6 months, a new campaign run by someone called (redacted) has been set up…”
The person he listed as being behind the anti-CHRIS campaign is not a convicted paedophile.
In one message Wittwer appears to threaten somebody with being named as part of the ‘hate campaign’ if they didn’t divulge the personal information of somebody else. “All I will do is show your picture as I have done with the others,” says Wittwer. “The courts won’t touch me because I have not accused you of anything except being against the campaign!”
Is this how the police would respond to criticism or trolling of their database scheme?
Chris Wittwer the Football Hooligan
The website for the local Exeter Newspaper reported in June 2011 about how CCTV captured the moment a group of football hooligans launched into a violent fight with rival supporters .
“The images were used to help convict seven Exeter City followers who were involved in a city centre brawl.”
The newspaper goes on to name Mr. Wittwer for his role in the mindless violence…
“In one CCTV image, football hooligan Christopher Wittwer is seen to throw a punch towards a rival fan. The 35-year-old, of Oakmead, Aylesbeare, who set up a controversial anti-paedophile website last summer, was jailed for 10 months after admitting affray.”
Does It Work?
Of course people make mistakes. Being involved in a brawl doesn’t necessarily mean Wittwer is any less equipped for the job, but what that job is and whether he is good at it, is open to interpretation.
One has to consider what naming and shaming actually is in practical terms. The Jimmy Savile scandal has certainly taught us that we cannot always rely on the police, government or media organisations to protect our children. Yet if private individuals are to replace state systems with their own, don’t they need to meet a higher practical standard?
How does the database protect children when it is based on often outdated news snippets? There’s no way of knowing if a paedophile is still in the area or a different one has moved in. There doesn’t appear to be any ongoing tracking of these sex offenders. In fact that would be virtually impossible on a mass scale. Whether the CSOD scheme is fit for purpose or not, the CHRIS database has arguably not been able to replace it with anything better.
So what other function does it serve? Wittwer tells me that a large portion of his followers are former victims of abuse. Seeing their abuser shamed on the internet likely brings a certain amount of satisfaction. It’s called naming and shaming for a reason, as it shames the target for life.
It’s not all about the database either. Wittwer is a campaigner that helps empower victims and spread awareness of child abuse issues. Who can find fault in that?