What can we do with unreformable child abusers?
Rite&Reason: Society needs restrictions on perpetual abusers once they get out of jail
“One of the more commonly noted characteristics of those who engage in child abuse and paedophilia is a lack of remorse.” File photograph: Getty Images
“And what of those who cannot or will not change? Surely society has a right to act post-sentence in such cases to ensure the ongoing protection of children?” File photograph: iStockPhoto
And he did, standing there motionless as Judge Martin Nolan delivered a fair and humane judgment including the sentence of 9½ years, two suspended, for Horan’s having “exploited children in the most horrible way”.
He had done so knowing it “was deeply wrong”. In his communications with other like-minded individuals, he made admissions: “He understood the nature of what he was doing. He understood the damage that he was doing and yet he didn’t stop doing what he was doing.”
And yet, observing the slight figure standing stiffly there as sentence was passed with his flattened hair swept to one side above dark-rimmed glasses, hands clasped at the front, there remained room for pity.
He found it 'easier to communicate on the internet with young girls of equal maturity'
He looked so much younger than his years. Sympathy for the Devil, some might say. But it wasn’t all down to that “butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth” appearance. As Judge Nolan put it too, this was “a pretty sad case”.
Horan had “led a very introverted and lonely life”. He found it “easier to communicate on the internet with young girls of equal maturity than trying to manage the interpersonal complexity of dealing with persons of his own age”.
“In the light of his diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, it is surmised that Mr Horan is attracted to those who do not have the capacity to significantly challenge his limited social, interpersonal communication skills,” the judge said.
There was outrage at stories of the damage Horan had done to young girls. But it was downright chilling to consider what might have happened in the future as a consequence of the highly dangerous combination of such immaturity and the fevered imagination of a young adult male.
Expert reports also indicated it was “probable that child pornography became Mr Horan’s autistic-fixated interest”, said Judge Nolan.
“Can he be reformed?” he asked. And that is the question.
It is central to all such cases.
“At some point in his life he is going to re-emerge from prison. He’s going to have to live in the community and obviously it would be beneficial to Mr Horan and to the community if certain interventions were made to change his predilections,” the judge said.
It is why Judge Nolan made it a condition of the two-year suspension that Horan undergo whatever “regimes or interventions are available to reform and change, if at all possible, Mr Horan”.
“If at all possible”, indeed.
One of the more commonly noted characteristics of those who engage in child abuse and paedophilia is a lack of remorse.
Matthew Horan pleaded guilty to all charges but more seasoned abusers such as former Dublin priest Tony Walsh fought the courts all the way. He is currently serving his second jail term for abusing children.
But what is there to prevent socially inadequate young men such as Horan from damaging other young lives as well as their own through unrestrained access to the internet?
And what is being done about the resistant or unreformable abuser once he is released from prison having served his time? Again, nothing. (And it is a “he” in the vast majority of cases.)
Child sex abuse is no more acceptable in society than murder. Indeed it has been described as 'soul murder'
Judge Nolan made it a condition of the two-year suspension from Horan’s sentence that he agree to undergo reform programmes while in prison. But shouldn’t these be mandatory in all such cases?
So the abuser can change, “if at all possible”.
And what of those who cannot or will not change? Surely society has a right to act post-sentence in such cases to ensure the ongoing protection of children?
Child sex abuse is no more acceptable in society than murder. Indeed it has been described as “soul murder” and, as with murder, society must take whatever measures are deemed necessary to prevent it.
That may mean ongoing restrictions on unreformable abusers and those who refuse reform, post-release. It may even mean incarceration or a form of it for the rest of their days. We need to discuss these things, soberly.
For now Matthew Horan is among the damned. Hopefully, and for his sake, it is not for life. But that is up to him.
Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent