The police detain at least one sex offender in Tallinn and Harju County every week; however, chief of the child protection service of the Northern Police Prefecture Reimo Raiver and senior prosecutor of the minor’s department of the Northern District Prosecutor’s Office Andra Sild know their numbers to be far greater.
The work of law enforcement organs in combating pedophilia has been criticized lately. It seems the police are not doing enough. Is that the case?
ANDRA SILD: No, it is not. Figures speak of something else entirely.
REIMO RAIVET: We sent nearly 130 criminal offenses to the northern prosecutor’s office last year. That figure was 93 in 2015 and 70 in 2014. We have sent more than 210 offenses to the prosecution this year already. You can draw your own conclusions.
Does this suggest the number of child molesters is growing?
SILD: No, I believe investigative organs are doing better work.
RAIVET: I would add higher awareness among people. That is the reason we want to tell these stories in the media. Yes, we have hired additional investigators; however, the fact remains it is a very hidden type of crime where it is always damned hard to find the victims, and it is a problem no journalistic experiment can solve.
What is the content of these 210 offenses?
RAIVET: Related crimes: inducement, taking photographs of minors, downloading of child pornography. All in Tallinn and Harju County.
All 210 cases are tied to minors?
RAIVET: Yes, sexual offenses against minors. Around 50 of them were children last year, nearly 70 this year.
SILD: Courts convicted close to 80 sexual offenders who had targeted children in 2016. Criminal cases sent to the prosecution this year number around 80. Courts have convicted 33-35 offenders by today. That is a good result. Add to that a few cases that were closed due to lack of public interest to prosecute.
What type of cases end like that?
SILD: Possession of very small quantities of images of child pornography.
What constitutes a very small quantity?
Fewer than ten photographs. Where we come from, that is a very small quantity. However, these are isolated cases. Fewer than five this year. Plus a few minors the cases of whom were sent to the juvenile committee.
So, if a person receives a photo of a naked child on their phone, they are accessory to a crime?
SILD: No. Receiving a picture is not a crime. Sending and owning of pictures is.
Describe a typical child molester? I assume they are a man…
Are there women?
SILD: Some. Four women have been convicted in the 14 years the prosecution has had specialist prosecutors for these types of crimes. That is not a lot.
How old is the average child molester?
SILD: Women are older, while it varies greatly when it comes to men. From 18 to 79. Most fall between the ages of 30 and 50.
Are most isolated cases, or does a single molester usually have more than one victim?
RAIVET: It depends on the circumstances. If it is a domestic matter, there is usually a single victim. Sometimes two. However, in cases where offenders target children not in their family there are more victims.
A recent television program revealed how teenagers attended sauna parties of middle-aged men. What is the police’s attitudes toward these kinds of events?
SILD: Going to the sauna is not punishable. However, the information should send alarm bells ringing. It is not exactly commonplace for 45-50-year-old men to invite 13-15-year-old boys to the sauna with them. However, it is not against the law.
The press has received praise for bringing that practice to light in a situation where the police are alleged to have done nothing.
SILD: When journalists learn of these kinds of things in their work, we strongly urge them to first share it with the police. Regarding ongoing criminal proceedings, we would be very grateful if you could in some cases hold these stories. We would use the press’ information to prove the crime.
If we do these things in reverse order, criminals get a head start, a chance to destroy evidence. It is still different regarding criminals who do not yet know proceedings are in progress regarding their activities.
Was that the case with the middle-aged sauna-goers?
SILD: It does not benefit the investigation if the press publishes information too soon…
SILD: May I finish?
Who suffers? The victim of the sexual offense. Perhaps the article will keep the police and the prosecution from collecting valuable information. Perhaps other victims are not found.
Talking about these things is important because people need to be aware of the dangers that threaten children. However, it must always be very carefully considered what, when, and how much to publish.
Haven’t journalists done that?
SILD: Usually they have, but not always. I’m grateful whenever a case like this is covered in hindsight. In detail if necessary – in all its horror. It is the best way of opening people’s eyes.
The press is contacted in a situation where other instances have not been able to shut down the cathouse. I’m not saying it is necessarily the right thing to do; however, I understand the people who brought it to the media’s attention.
RAIVET: As do I.
SILD: I also understand.
RAIVET: However, people tend to confuse the law with morality. While a 40-year-old man’s relationship with a boy or girl of 15 years is morally condemnable, it is legal if it is not violent since the age of consent is 14 in Estonia.
SILD: Also, as long as no one benefits financially.
RAIVET: And now we come to very important nuances the press often overlooks. Yes, 14-15-year-olds can go to the sauna with strange men; however, it is our task to determine whether it includes benefits. That takes time. I admit that we are not very cooperative during ongoing proceedings. Even when we’re asked whether we have something. We cannot share that information.
Has the press ruined any of your investigations?
RAIVET: … not deliberately.
SILD: There have been cases where early coverage has hindered out efforts.
RAIVET: There was a case where the press wrote about a person with a prior punishment, providing a lot of new information. Enough for us to detain the person. After days of work, we finally determined there is no way that person could have perpetrated the crime in question. However, media coverage had been confident and unidirectional.
Without naming any names – which case are you referring to?
RAIVET: A few years ago, there was a media manhunt for a previously convicted child molester. They were later convicted again of a crime we discovered; however, that time journalists claimed they had done things they physically couldn’t have done. Children can be manipulated, and the child came to believe that the man they had seen on television had hurt them. That person had no connection to that child.
Therefore – overly detailed and premature media coverage can disrupt our work.
Postimees took an unprecedented step in 2008 when it published the names, workplaces, and descriptions of offenses of all pedophiles convicted in the past two years.
SILD: Yes, I remember that.
Perhaps 90 percent of people would say that publishing that kind of a list is the right thing to do even today. As people who encounter child molesters every day, could the publication of such a list help prevent some crimes in your opinion?
RAIVET: It would have short-term effect.
However, I’m thinking about what effect it would have on victims of pedophiles. It would rip open their wounds. We have uncovered cases that go back a decade – they are still incredibly devastating for the victims. We sent a few cases to court this year that took place before 2008. Talking to the victims was very difficult despite the amount of time that had passed. They were despondent and hadn’t recovered at all.
Besides – more than one pedophile whose name and appearance have been revealed by journalists has found new victims later.
The pedophilia debate raged in the British media more than half a century ago. It was discussed on the BBC whether having sex with children was normal or not. The proponents were represented by a member of the nobility who claimed that offering children intimacy was a good deed. It is easy for us to take a stand in hindsight; however, back then, society could have adopted an entirely different attitude toward sex with children. To what extent do victims of pedophiles see themselves as such?
RAIVET: That is a very good and very poignant question. Children might not feel they are victims at the time of the crime. However, we grow older and come to understand these things later in life. We realize what happened was wrong and it affects us. Why cannot adults get over these things? Because it did not feel wrong when it happened. A small child cannot understand it. People come to be ashamed of it when they reach puberty, when they start to realize it shouldn’t have happened.
SILD: I had a case: a grandfather had molested his granddaughter from when she was five to when she turned 13. The girl was 15 when the case went to trial. We questioned her in court. She said she didn’t understand anything was wrong. She had believed this happened to all children. That it is something grandfathers do. She didn’t understand what was happening to her at all. There had been all different kinds of sex. Her grandfather had told her that it is normal, and she spent ten years thinking that. When her class was shown a movie about pedophiles in seventh grade she finally understood it was abnormal.
That case is from eight years ago. Children are much better aware today because the subject matter has been paid a lot of attention. I dare say 10-11-year-olds already understand it.
RAIVET: Children who are not yet ten cannot.
SILD: Still, there have been cases when a child turns to someone after initial contact with a pedophile.
You have found a substantial part of people with pedophilic tendencies over the years, and the list of pedophiles is probably a long one.
RAIVET: Yes, there are a lot of them. More than one thousand have been punished countrywide.
How is it possible these pedophiles find themselves near children again? I’m talking about pedophiles working at childcare institutions.
SILD: If a convicted offender has previously worked at a childcare institution, they will be banned from working at one again. If not, institutions that work with children can…
RAIVER: … are obligated…
SILD: … yes, now they are obligated to run a background check using the punishment register.
RAIVET: That is one thing that should be discussed more often. As far as I know, there are punishments for failure to run these checks.
Do you talk to pedophiles after they are released from prison to tell them they should stay away from children?
RAIVET: That depends on the person and what we have to gain or lose. We treat different cases individually. Yes, we have talked, and we will again. We also talk to people who have not been punished. While it is not a crime to be near children, we let people know we are on to them at some point.
If a person takes a sick interest in children, that is not something that can be cured with punishments. Where are we in terms of treating these people?
SILD: There are programs for pedophiles. Sex offenders are sent to Tartu prison where they have quite a few programs. They get help in deciphering the source of their problem.
RAIVET: However, the people who come to us show interest in treatment only once prison is a virtual certainty. Not sooner.
SILD: I have encountered two or three people who said they have sought help. So, yes, they number very few. Unfortunately, the program is free in prison, while one has to pay when they are released. Some stay in the program. However, those who do not have the money… They last for a year or 18 months before things get away from them again.
When a pedophile is apprehended, do they usually confess quickly or deny their guilt? I would think some would be greatly relieved to be caught.
SILD: Yes, we have seen that. Some people have been waiting for us, told us they knew we were coming.
RAIVET: You must consider whether the apology is sincere. Some probably are; however, they number few.
Usually people start defending themselves, talking in half-truths or outright lying. Usually the victims are attacked. That is the most common tactic.
RAIVET: That it’s the child’s fault. That the child climbed on them and seduced them. There was nothing they could do.
SILD: Yes – the child provoked it, and that in truth they are the victim.
RAIVET: Down to claims of being raped. There are those kinds of criminals. Around 80 percent of offenders try to blame the child.
SILD: There is another scenario – when parents are in the middle of a divorce. The mother takes the child to file a report of an offense, while the other side calls it revenge.
Cases where the mother sides with the molesting party are few?
RAIVET: We only have a single case where the mother was at fault. However, we see quite a few cases where the mother supports their partner more than the child.
SILD: We have seen mothers support their children in words, while people who speak to them at length get the feeling they are only supportive because they fear public shame. They are not speaking for the child, but for themselves.
RAIVET: Their behavior suggests they had opportunities to put an end to criminal activity at an earlier time because the child had said something or because they saw something. However, the mother denies it.
How could a pedophile claim they were raped by a child?
RAIVET: By saying the child came to them, took their clothes off, enticed them. This kind of confused rhetoric that they weren’t even interested, but the child came over and did it.
You mean 12-13-year-old teenagers?
SILD: No! Six-seven-year-olds.
RAIVET: Also, five.
SILD: It is clear the child is not acting out of sexual interest. Even if they touch someone’s genitalia by accident.
RAIVET: People are very surprised – the child wanted it and wasn’t hurt. What are they being punished for?
SILD: That is especially common in case of people who take advantage of children from the street. The criminal says how they did kind things: bought the child food, offered them a place to stay. That they care because the child has no one else. A pedophile probably believes they are rescuing the child. The “tiny matter” of taking advantage of them sexually is overlooked. That is left in the background.
RAIVET: As far as I am aware, the pedophiles’ main argument in those 1970s TV debates was that they really-really love children. That they are not forcing them to do anything, and that children want it. That they care when no one else does. We hear the same reasoning in Tallinn in 2017.
So, there is nothing illegal about a 14-15-year-old boy going to the sauna with older men?
RAIVET: If what you are describing is all, then yes, even if they have sexual relations – it is not a crime. It can be frowned upon; however, there is nothing illegal about the relationship.
As soon as someone benefits in some other way, a dependent relationship is forced the police will intervene.
These are extremely complicated cases as the children involved are old enough to understand it’s not okay. They are ashamed and don’t want to talk about it. We often have to prove other things beside sexual relations. That is why these proceedings take a long time. It is possible we will ruin the entire investigation by asking the children directly. Therefore, we are in a very difficult situation: we cannot ask the child directly, while it would be no use to ask the man.
The police have very clear lines we cannot cross. Citizens (including journalists) must also take care not to cross these lines in a state based on the rule of law. The court cannot take “evidence” that was obtained illegally into account. The police must do everything by the book in order to be able to bring criminals to justice. People with information concerning possible crimes need to notify the police instead of posing as a detective themselves.
And justice is administered by the court. I cannot accept the media referring to someone as a pedophile without a corresponding court decision.
SILD: These things are never black and white.
RAIVET: Not a day goes by when we do not receive at least one tip regarding child abuse. We check them all. I can assure you that we will get to the bottom of things when there is a hint of suspicion, especially as concerns minors. We apprehend at least one sexual predator in Tallinn and Harju County, even though we know their numbers are far greater.