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


The importance of victim services: Supporting our allies in a time of need

In this week's blog, marking Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness week, the Chair of our Board of Trustees, Professor Kieran McCartan, positions Circles South West as a victim-oriented charity working to prevent first time and repeat sexual offending.

Recently the Centre for Expertise in Child Sexual Abuse reported that victims of child sexual abuse were waiting months to get support, highlighting the under-investment in victim and sexual abuse services across England and Wales. Although this is not a shock to those of us who work in the sexual abuse prevention field it is disappointing to hear and reinforces in us the need to pull together to support victims of sexual abuse. On the outside it may seem that Circles South West mainly works with men convicted of sexual abuse, however, in reality we are a victim-oriented charity that works not only to support victims but to prevent repeat and first-time offending.

Circles South West currently has more than 170 dedicated volunteers who work with our core members (the term we used to describe the subject of a Circle of Support and Accountability), many of whom have experienced, directly or indirectly, sexual abuse themselves. They provide a powerful voice for victim advocate in our circle meetings and enable core members to understand the lived experience of sexual abuse victimization, which helps them on their path to desistance and community integration. Additionally, because of the training that the volunteers receive to carry out their work, the volunteers better understand the explanation and reasons for sexual abuse, which can support their personal recovery. Circles are often painted, especially in the early days, as a restorative justice intervention. However, what circles really do is embody restorative principles and through a process of vicarious restorative justice enable both core members and volunteer survivors to better understand their experiences and heal.

Circles also promote better community understanding of sexual abuse, both in terms of motivation and victimization. Circles enable members of the public to better understand the reality of sexual abuse, which often means taking the shame and stigma away from victimization and allowing victims the ability to voice their experiences. This is very true in our work as part of #TogetherForChildhood in Plymouth, an innovative place based approach to building a child abuse free and preventive community. This has included providing training for professionals in working with people who have sexually harmed facilitating community conversations about sexual abuse prevention.

Circles South West also works with adults and children who have committed sexual abuse who are victims of sexual abuse themselves. Although not everyone who goes on to commit sexual abuse are victims of abuse themselves, a large cross section have experienced their own trauma, which can include abuse. In helping the core members heal we can help them understand their abusive behaviour and make them less likely to offend again in the future. This is also a key consideration in our prevention programmes.

We also support women with children whose partner or ex-partner has been convicted of sexual abuse through our provision of Breaking the Cycle, a non-offending partner programme. Working with the families of individuals convicted of a sexual offence is essential, especially given the stigma of sexual abuse and the impact that this could have on them personally as well as socially.

At this time when there is a squeeze on public finances and the frontline sector is under fire, it is important that the needs of victims are at the forefront of the debate and that we as a sector pull together to reinforce the importance of support services. As a victim centred organisation it is essential that not only do we work to have no more victims, but also that we work to support the victims that already exist.

Our Funders