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


Case Study A

Adult Community Circle

The core member is a former teacher who used his professional position to sexually assault numerous pre-pubescent girls in addition to photographing some of the victims and accessing indecent images of children from the internet. Index Offence: Sexual assault against a child under 13yrs (24 victims); voyeurism; making indecent images of children. Sentence: 60 months custody


The core member was referred by his probation officer because of concerns about his emotional loneliness, isolation, low self-esteem and self-hatred, difficulties in asking for help, lack of agency and lack of constructive use of time. He was assessed as presenting a medium likelihood of sexual reconviction but is a high risk of serious harm to children, particularly pre-pubescent girls.


The Circle consisted of five volunteers, two of them experienced Circles volunteers with Circles South West.

The Circle was active for 12 months during which time there were 38 formal meetings; 3 reviews with volunteers and 1 review with CM; and 9 social meetings. 4 social meetings in phase 2 since formal end of circle (phase 1). Total number of volunteer hours: 230 (approx.)

The focus of the circle was to build a relationship with the core member and start to try to understand the context of his offending and what needs this met for him. The core member was an isolated individual who had lost his wife, children, friends and family as a consequence of his offending and this together with what appeared to be high levels of guilt and shame, led to him suffering from extreme low levels of self-esteem and negative self-perception; therefore, the circle’s role in helping him come to terms with these factors would be invaluable if he is to lead an offence-free lifestyle in the future.

The core member used the circle well to his advantage and regularly brought issues to the meetings to gain other perspectives from the volunteers. The volunteers were very ‘risk aware’ and regularly referred to the assessed risk and to the suitability of some of the core member’s ideas and plans and how the two affected and influenced each other. The volunteers were particularly proactive over the Christmas period in recognition that the core member would struggle to cope during this time because of the memories of what he has lost through his offending. It became clear that although the core member did not necessarily need high levels of practical support, nevertheless, the circle was invaluable in providing significant levels of emotional support to a man who clearly struggled at times to come to terms with the enormity of his offending and the consequences of such for his victims, his family and for himself.

Examples of the effectiveness of circles in managing risk and holding the core member accountable included when the core member disclosed to the circle that firstly he had a phone with access to the internet (potential breach of SOPO) and secondly that he had been secretly meeting with what appeared to be a vulnerable woman, and that he had disclosed his offending to her and she in turn had shared this information with others, thus putting him at risk of identification and vigilante reprisals.  Details of her and the facts were passed immediately to the supervising police and probation officers who further investigated the situation. The volunteers, despite being misled by the core member, continued to support him and worked with him to deconstruct his behaviour and to try to understand the thought processes behind his actions and the decisions that he took which led him to put himself in a ‘risky’ situation, both for him and the woman involved.  This was an excellent example of managing the balance of support and accountability and maintaining a relationship with the core member whilst passing on vital information to the statutory agencies.

Police & Probation involvement

The probation officer and public protection police officer were very involved in the process from the start and throughout and there was a very positive relationship between them and the coordinator. This was an excellent example of multi-agency working with public protection and community safety and the centre. The circle was reviewed three times by the coordinator with the probation officer and police officer attending each review.


Volunteer comments at end of circle:

Volunteer W: ‘Remembered how sad and battered CM was at beginning of circle process but now see a happy person who has accommodation, has found a job, who is in control of their life. Can see the ‘real’ person out there, not someone scared and hiding from everyone and everything leading a ‘half-life’.

Volunteer X: ‘CM is a different person now: when challenged has been honest… recognise that CM has been sad at times about what he has lost and harm caused. He has embraced the circle each week and seemed to be less anxious each time’.

Volunteer Y: ‘We started with a broken person full of self-doubt and self-hate but have discovered the ‘real man’ behind that. Lots of achievements over the year including earning money, driving and owning a car, working. I am very proud of you, been an enormous reward working with you.’

Volunteer Z: ‘Initially held back by all the baggage but we all muddled through together and a new person emerged. Couple of ‘dips’ but you coped well with that. Impressed how managed difficult situations. Never forgotten the past and the harm have caused’.

Probation Officer:

‘I knew you would be fine with this lot – 5 fantastic people who have supported and challenged you, kicked you up the backside when you needed it. You have been able to leave the ‘old you’ behind. What you have done is a credit to the victims of your offending and the best thing you could have done to make some kind of amends. In future, need to think carefully if start a new relationship especially with regard to disclosing offending and when and where to do this’.

Police Officer:

I still have the photo of you on day you came out of prison and you look so totally different now – the circle saw something good in you and helped it come out. Amazing bunch of volunteers who have done so much for you. You have come so far in a year and am really proud of you’.

Core member:

I don’t know where I would have been now without circles – wouldn’t have achieved the milestones I have without your help, belief and support. Is only once a week but was on my mind every day – always looked forward to the meetings even when knew they would be difficult – the key was that I could always talk freely. Thanks so much for everything’.

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