As former Nine reporter Ben McCormack is sentenced to a three-year good behaviour bond over child porn charges, the question re-emerges over how we should treat such offenders.

Controversially, some experts in the field say there is a difference between child sex offenders and paedophiles (although the two can overlap) and those in the latter group are born with a sexual attraction to children.

They say a paedophile does not necessarily become an offender, and an offender is not necessarily a paedophile — sometimes their crime is about power and violence rather than attraction, news.com.au reports.

"I don't think paedophiles can be rehabilitated," Dr Xanthe Mallett, senior lecturer in forensic criminology at the University of Newcastle, told news.com.au. "Paedophiles are attracted to children; it's innate.

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"It's like saying you can treat people for heterosexuality. However, I think you can hope to deal with it. A lot of people who are true paedophiles would never harm a child. You can help people not act on it or access material. They need support networks, places they can discuss it without being judged. Keeping it covert exacerbates the problem."

So is the former A Current Affair journalist sentenced at Sydney's Downing Centre District Court today a "true paedophile" or just an offender?

Dr Mallett said that, from his chatroom conversations, it "seems he genuinely finds kids attractive". But she stressed that by discussing his fantasies online, he had chosen to become an offender and committed a crime.

McCormack called himself a "proud pedo" but avoided jail because his "wish list" of sex with young boys was just "fantasy". Judge Paul Conlon today told the court he believed McCormack had shown "genuine contrition" and accepted personal responsibility.

Forensic criminologist Dr Xanthe Mallett believes paedophilia is innate, but said people choose whether to act on it or access material and become child sex offenders. Photo / Supplied
Forensic criminologist Dr Xanthe Mallett believes paedophilia is innate, but said people choose whether to act on it or access material and become child sex offenders. Photo / Supplied

Dr Mallett says internet forums like the one where the 43-year-old said he wanted "to make love" to an underage boy are incredibly destructive. "We've seen such an explosion in the internet and now individuals with the same inclinations are able to talk and encourage other individuals to harm kids," she said.

"They're just going to be feeding off each other. Those chatrooms are really harmful. In chatrooms, images are circulated and that's not a victimless crime. It's a very dangerous thing to emerge."

She said she had been "taken aback" when she previously wrote an article on the subject and offenders had used the comments to attempt to connect with each other.

The academic is not alone in her theories. A psychologist caused outrage last year when he claimed paedophilia was a sexual orientation. In 2015, a self-confessed paedophile from Tennessee wrote an article about how he was sexually attracted to young girls but would never act on it. Todd Nickerson was a member of the "Virtuous Paedophiles" forum — an online community of paedophiles who have vowed never to act on their urges.

He wrote he did not think he was born a paedophile but attributed it to being molested as a child.

But Dr Mallet believes this is rare, and it is harmful to say people become abusers because they were abused as children, because many survivors make a choice not to perpetuate the cycle.

She said while most people are revolted by paedophiles and do not want to be anywhere near them, giving them a private space to talk about their feelings could actually decrease offending.

She said the justice system has to consider whether people pose a risk on a case-by-case basis. "It's about protecting the community," she said, "whether he would have gone on to harm a child."

In documents tendered to the court, forensic psychiatrist Jeremy O'Dea noted that McCormack was the victim of sexual abuse as a child but said he could not draw a direct causal link between that experience and his "paedophilic orientation".

McCormack told the psychiatrist his "awareness of his sexual attraction to prepubescent male children" was "triggered" after meeting two children aged around nine and 11 years old while covering a story about their father.

The former journalist was admitted to hospital in April after a suicide attempt and indicated another plan to take his own life in May.

As he sentenced McCormack, Judge Conlon said a motivating factor was his previous good character as a journalist — and that he sought help to control his deviant sexual urges long before his arrest.

A psychologist who interviewed McCormack revealed he found the idea of sex with young boys "distressing" and didn't believe he posed a risk to children. His risk of reoffending was estimated to be low.

The Crown dismissed the admissions he had made as convenient and self-serving and said that they were made post-arrest, but the judge said they "would seem indicative of a person prepared to confront the truth necessary if one is seeking rehabilitation".

A Corrective Services NSW spokesperson told news.com.au it was "among the best correctional systems in the world in its efforts to reduce reoffending" and currently undertaking the biggest expansion of therapeutic program delivery in the state's history.

"Last year, the NSW Government allocated $237 million over four years to reduce reoffending, including funds to increase the availability of therapeutic programs," said the spokesperson.

"Corrective Services NSW believes it is crucial to treat sex offenders while they are in custody and before they are released to the community to reduce their risk of reoffending. The treatment of sex offenders in custody is a core focus of CSNSW and includes programs that encourage offenders to acknowledge their sex-offending behaviour and prepare them for more intensive treatment.

"CSNSW runs a number of intensive residential treatment programs that are several months in duration, as well as ongoing maintenance programs both in custody and in the community, which reinforce the effects of this therapy. All sex offender treatment programs are delivered by highly-trained psychologists.

"The key to treatment is to understand what drives each individual offender's sexual behaviours and give them the knowledge and skills to allow them to lead law-abiding lives and avoid similar situations in the future.

"A well-regarded NSW program for high-risk sex offenders is the Custody Based Intensive Treatment, which involves up to four sessions per week of group-based therapy for a period of nine to 12 months. The program, known as CUBIT, targets issues such as sexual behaviour, drug- and alcohol-related offending, anti-social attitudes, coping mechanisms and relationship problems.

"CUBIT is built on evidence-based principles of what works to reduce reoffending. A recent evaluation showed that 88 per cent of participants who had completed CUBIT had not committed another proven sex-offence within five years of release. This is approaching world's best practice.

"Almost all sex offenders who commence treatment go on to complete the programs. The completion rates are well over 90 per cent each year."