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


Is Circles South West a Restorative Justice project?

We are often asked about the connection between Circles of Support and Accountability and Restorative Justice. Circles do not practice a specifically restorative model. However, the reason that this is a recurring question is due to the many similarities in the two ways of working and the values upon which they are premised. Take the following three examples:

Relationship Building

Circle volunteers dedicate their time to learning about the core member and one another, developing honest and mature relationships which allow space both for praise and for challenge. The trust and regard developed in these relationships are crucial to the Circle’s success.

Likewise, for Restorative Justice to be effective, it is essential that the relevant parties engaging in the process feel that the facilitators, as well as the other parties, are treated with respect and confidentiality. Facilitators work hard to develop strong relationships with all involved, so that participants feel supported.

In both practices, the participants share a desire to be listened to and considered as a ‘whole’ person, rather than the sum of the harm they have caused or have experienced. Only in developing strong relationships can this need be met.


Expectations and Goal Setting

Circles and Restorative Justice are also analogous in their approach to expectation management and goal-setting. A restorative engagement (of any kind) is unlikely to proceed if the involved parties are seeking resolutions that are in opposition or that cannot be met. It is the role of a Restorative Justice facilitator to ensure that all parties have clear expectations of the process of the work as well as likely outcomes.

Similarly, Circles volunteers learn in training and in meetings with their Circle coordinators what they can expect from being in a Circle; what challenges and successes they might meet. The same is true for the Core Member in a Circle; the coordinator managing their case will work hard to ensure that Core Member fully understands what they are signing up for, how it might feel to be part of a Circle, and what they might hope to gain from the process. Disappointment and frustration are avoided by doing so.


The core principle at the heart of a Circle’s work is to ensure that there are no more victims of sexual abuse. Circles South West works to this goal by safely integrating Core Members back into communities, working closely with health, police and probation services. The Circle volunteers act as representatives of the community a Core Member returns to; holding them to account for their actions, whilst supporting them to make the sometimes challenging journey to a safe and fulfilling lifestyle.

Restorative processes arguably aim for outcomes; a key question within the Restorative Justice model is that of ‘what next?’. The ‘what next?’ question asks of all parties what they can envisage for the next steps after a restorative engagement; do the parties have specific expectations of one another for the future? Do the parties agree on how they would like to interact with each other within their community? In asking this crucial question, Restorative Justice facilitators are looking to find an onward journey for communities in which harm has occurred; working, like Circles, to address previous harm as well as being proactive in preventing potential future harms.

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