A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
Last week I found myself in the unusual position of watching the local news. I normally avoid this at all costs, un-inspired as I am by the sight of 75 year old Betty swimming 15 lengths butterfly in the local pool or other such stories which alas, cantankerous young git that I am, I fail to appreciate. However, Look North featured a fascinating piece last week on the charity Circles UK and offered a rather impartial overview of a charity that I suspect doesn’t always get a fair hearing.
Circles UK describes itself in the following terms: ‘Circles of Support and Accountability are an innovative and successful community contribution to reducing sex offending, working in close partnership with criminal justice agencies.
Circles UK is the national body supporting the development, quality, coordination and effectiveness of local Circles.’
The organisation is a group of Volunteers from a local community which forms a Circle around an offender. In Circles, the sex offender is referred to as the ‘Core Member’. Each Circle consists of four to six Volunteers and a Core Member.
It aims to provide a supportive social network that also requires the Core Member to take responsibility (be ‘accountable’) for his/her ongoing risk management. The Circle can also provide support and practical guidance in such things as developing their social skills, finding suitable accommodation or helping the Core Member to find appropriate hobbies and interests.
Volunteers are fully informed of the Core Member’s past pattern of offending, and whilst helping them to settle into the community the Volunteers also to assist them to recognise patterns of thought and behaviour that could lead to their re-offending. Within it, the Core Member can grow in self-esteem and develop healthy adult relationships, maximising his or her chances of successfully re-integrating into the community in a safe and fulfilling way.
The Core Member is involved from the beginning, is included in all decision making and, like all other members of the Circle, signs a contract committing him or herself to the Circle and its aims. Each Circle is unique, because it is individually designed around the needs of the Core Member.
The group also organised a conference back in October and brilliantly have posted the PowerPoint slides from the presentations here. One set of slides from the NSPCC includes a host of stats that are worth re-stating, and act as a reminder as to why we need charities like Circles UK.
Financially supporting, or volunteering for a group like Circles UK carries with it a social stigma – why do you want to volunteer to help a group like them? You must, the flawed reasoning goes, be a paedophile/sex offender if you want to help sex offenders.
In truth, what we do socially and legally with paedophiles is one of the great socio-legal challenges of our time. For those offenders post custody or who are never given a custodial sentence, we need these groups to provide support and limit the chances of re-offending behaviour.