Sexual violence and the fear of sexual abuse can have a profound and devastating effect on not only individuals but entire communities. Public outrage often leads to more punitive measures towards combatting sexual violence wherein keeping convicted sex offenders in prison for longer may seem appealing but in reality, this doesn’t contribute towards reducing the risk of reoffending. There are many factors associated with reoffending such as social and emotional isolation, unemployment or not having something meaningful to do in life. While it is a bitter pill to swallow for the public when it comes to rehabilitating sex offenders, the hardest fact that we must face is that the vast majority of sex offenders will one day be released and we need to provide support for their reintegration in order to avoid reoffending and reduce future victimization.
Effective rehabilitation of offenders is also an important human rights issue and should be acknowledged and incorporated into treatments and programmes.
Research has shown that rehabilitation of sex offenders is more effective in the community than prisons and programs like Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) have been quite effective. In Minnesota, the risk of reoffending and rearrests had reduced by 88% for those who were a part of the CoSA programme. However, there are several challenges and barriers to rehabilitating and reintegrating sex offenders which have further magnified in the current global pandemic. Below is a first-hand account from Bob (pseudonym) who is sharing his experience and the impact of COVID-19 on reintegration of men who commit sex offences back into society:
In everyday, normal, non-Covid, life, a person who commits a sexual offence against a child or young person (whether this is an internet or contact offence) rarely receives any support or awareness of deeper issues before conviction. Putting aside, for a moment, the many reasons why anyone commits any crime (even those more serious and socially taboo), this experience can destroy one’s world in an instant; the loss of work, family, friends, identity, reputation, freedom (and much more) can lead to harrowing custodial ordeals or equally traumatic, ongoing, social judgement.
This, while at the same time as taking responsibility, understanding victimisation, psychological processing and rehabilitation to understand behaviours, coping strategies and the dangers of re-offending (in tandem with safeguarding the wider public) can also lead to isolation, less support, less confidence, huge challenges finding work or opportunity, a sense of self, community and re-designing one’s place in society.
This can lead to mental health issues, re-offending, self-harm and other self-destructive behaviours, as well as suicide – a further strain on services already struggling to deal with increases of this crime, an added trauma for family or friends struggling to support these offenders, as well as every single person left impacted by these events. Now, apply any Covid restrictions to this person. Perhaps they have recently been convicted, perhaps their friends and family no longer feel able to support them, perhaps, in spite of this, they had finally managed to get a job (therefore, a sense of purpose, identity, a key source of social rehabilitation and, of course, income).
Perhaps, they’ve now been furloughed or sacked. Perhaps they are even more isolated than most at this time (without even the use of technology to have some sense of deeper connection, due to the restrictions of their conviction). They are no longer seeing Probation, attending group therapy or engaging face-to-face with the Public Protection Unit of the Police. They are bored, disheartened, alone, with only the internet for company, and (more pertinently) unsustainable for themselves or for the benefit of others and society. Furthermore, say a person who hasn’t even been convicted of anything yet but is worried about their sexual thinking? How does the risk of new offending increase under these restrictions?
This area of crime is a hidden public health crisis, one that the Police admit they cannot arrest their way out of. Outlined above are just a few examples of the everyday barriers that sexual offenders face to basic sustainable necessities. Some will always argue this is fair, considering the severity and taboo of this crime. But, if we expect to limit recidivism, rebuilding and redesigning every offender’s sense of self, sense of purpose and sense of identity, in more supportively navigating those barriers to sustainable work, genuine social rehabilitation and valuable re-contribution to society, we have to stop hiding away, stubbornly refusing to debate, while the crisis only deepens.
With this in mind, as part of the Festival of Social Science (FoSS), we have organized a roundtable on the need for continued rehabilitation and reintegration of men who have committed sexual offences in the community. This event aims to bring together the voices of experts from Criminology, Psychology, Probation, Charities Sector and Service Users like Bob themselves, in order to create a dialogue around the need for continued and sustainable rehabilitation. Come and be part of the solution – Saturday 14 November 2020 at 12:00pm. Register for the event: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/125522913413
This blog was written by: Dr Madhumita Pandey and Bob