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


Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy

This week we are joined by one of our trustees, Dr Kieran McCartan, PhD, to discuss the new Home Office strategy on child sexual abuse.

Last week [22nd January 2021] the Home Office released its new strategy to protect children from sexual abuse. The new strategy is a comprehensive look at the policies and practices that surround child sexual abuse, as well as exploitation, and has a focus on victims, reducing reoffending, and more proactive approaches to policing as well as community safety.

The document itself is an interesting read, especially the literature review on what we know about people who sexually offend and the impact that COVID-19 has had on offending. The new strategy addresses three key objectives.

  1. Tackling child sexual abuse and bring people who have committed said abuse to justice.
  2. Preventing child sexual abuse
  3. Protecting and safeguarding victims, children, and young people.

In delivering these three objectives the Home Office will:

The strategy is a mixed bag in its objectives and ability to deliver, as it includes discussions around the importance of prevention strategies (and by default public health approaches to sexual abuse) as well as a focus on traditional conservative criminal justice values (increases in sentencing and punitive responses); therefore, the new strategy moves the debate about responding to child sexual abuse forward, but the question is does it go far enough?

The strategy needs to think about the ways in which it can proactively prevent and respond to child sexual abuse; it’s not about just working harder, but about working harder and smarter. What are some of the most effective prevention strategies that can be used? Realistic and productive sentencing for people apprehended for offences involving child sexual exploitation material? A realistic debate about sentencing guidelines, especially for low-risk offenders? A review of Sarah’s Law that allows us to see if its fit for purpose, if it is working properly, and if the framing of it is useful (i.e., moving from a deficit, punishment-based approach to the law currently used in the UK to more of a strength based, rehabilitative version that is used in New Zealand)? Therefore, we really need to examine current practices and question if they are working, which would lead to a system change and not just tinkering around the edges.

If we really want to prevent child sexual abuse, we need a “what works” approach grounded in desistance, harm reduction that hears the service user voice in a trauma informed way that allows the state to work with people at all stages of their potential, or, actual offending pathway. This is something that Circles South West understands and does, as it works in partnership with the state agencies (Police, Probation etc). Circles take a pro-social, community focused approach to understanding as well as preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. In many ways, Circles embraces the public health approach as well as community safeguarding, staff support and victims’ rights as suggested in the strategy. Having a strategy that is bespoke means hearing the service user and building a service that they embrace as well as understand.

The new Home Office strategy can be viewed here.

Dr Kieran McCartan is a professor at the University of the West of England and leader of the Social Science Research Group. He is Adjunct Professor in Criminology at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Visiting Research Fellow: Centre for Applied Childhood, Youth and Family Research at University of Huddersfield. International Chair & Executive Board member: Association the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) and Conference Chair & Executive Board member: National Organization for the Treatment of Abuse (NOTA)

You can read his other work:

Sexual Abuse Blog

NOTA Prevention Blog

Research Gate

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