Delivering circles of support and accountability to protect communities from sexual harm and sexual reoffending


Breaking The Cycle Explained

Breaking the Cycle is a group-work programme designed to inform, empower and support the non-offending partner or ‘significant other’ of a man who has been accused or convicted sexual abuse. Jackie Citron, Circles South West Service Manager for Young People and Families, explains the process and reflects on the most recent course undertaken.

We know that many men who have sexually offended return to live with their families or establish a new relationship where children are living. Partners of these men play a key role both in terms of protecting children and in the offender’s relapse prevention.

We understand, too, the trauma experienced by the whole family when sexual abuse is perpetrated. The abuse itself and Child Protection enquiries that follow are often confusing and upsetting and can result in harmful isolation when a non-offending partner feels the anger, denial, guilt and stigma associated with their (ex) partner’s offending. Whilst not the primary victim of Child Sexual Abuse, the family and non-offending partners are secondary victims for whom, regrettably, there are limited opportunities to access support and information in these circumstances.

Breaking the Cycle is based on the principles of cognitive therapy and offers a place for non-offending partners to:

INFORM – Learn about sexual offending
EMPOWER – Help non-offending partners contextualise their partner’s offending behaviour
SUPPORT – To decrease the isolation and stigma felt by the non-offending partner and facilitate support networks in order to strengthen the individual’s ability to protect their children.

Following a referral and assessment the programme is delivered in a group or one to one and is made up of the following 10 sessions:

At the end of the programme a report is written for the commissioning organisation to assess participants’ response to the intervention and this can help to inform their capacity to protect their child/children from the risk of sexual harm and assess areas of future need.

Circles South West is licenced (by sister charity Circles South East) to deliver Breaking the Cycle across Wiltshire, Avon, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Gloucestershire. It can be delivered as a group work programme and on an individual basis. It has been previously commissioned by Wiltshire and Swindon Police and Crime Commissioner, Gloucestershire County Council and Swindon Borough Council, with referrals from Local Authority Children’s Services.

Thanks to the generous support of the Sir James Reckitt Charitable Trust we have recently completed a Bristol programme. Referrals were received from Children’s Services and the group commenced in Bristol at the start of May.

The women who attended this group came from three different local authorities, two travelling significant distances to attend the group each week. Each of the women were at different stages of their journey including two whose partners had been convicted of sexual offences (one recently, one historically). These women were able to offer advice and support to those whose partners (and ex partners) were at the initial stages of the criminal justice process and had not yet been convicted.

The women were a real privilege to work with, each being fully engaged in the programme and willing to share their personal stories and experiences. They were highly supportive of one another despite differing circumstances and different relationships with their partners and ex-partners. Over the course of the programme, the women developed their knowledge about sexual offending, the signs of sexual abuse and their understanding of sexual risk. The women each have a programme workbook in which they have completed exercises and made notes throughout that they can refer back to if needed.

Each week they grew notably in confidence and strength, reporting increased feelings of empowerment and reduced feelings of isolation. They demonstrated clearly that their children’s safety and wellbeing was their paramount concern, and that they now have the ability to make well-informed decisions about their partners and ex-partners in terms of future sexual risk.
One participant said of the programme:

‘The course has been amazing. Not only have I learnt so much, I have met some amazing people who were just inspiring. I can go away knowing and feeling that I am armed with all the information I need to move forward. The course was also delivered in a way that was easy to understand, with facilitators putting everyone at ease so that they were able to speak up / open up’.

Circles South West is now seeking funding to roll out the programme more widely across the South West region.

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