By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D., Kasia Uzieblo, Ph.D., & David Prescott, LICSW
Recently one of the authors participated in an online seminar discussing the assessment, treatment, and management of people accused or convicted of a sexual offence. The seminar was based in the UK with professionals, criminal justice, and charities, that work with people convicted of a sexual offence in institutions as well as in the community. Although the aim of the seminar was to discuss the recent Council of Europe recommendations, but it also addressed prevention, harm reduction, and community integration. In the question and answers session the topic of employment and people convicted of a sexual offense came up, including the challenge how we can “safely” employ and manage their risk of people who have caused sexual harm. The challenge comes in finding the balance between community integration, harm reduction, strengths-based approaches to desistence, and protecting the public. However, the biggest challenge from an employer’s perspective, is managing their own reputation and the optics of employing people convicted of a sexual offense.
Research and practice suggest that the majority of people convicted of sexual offenses do not reoffend and are low risk. This means that we have a body of people returning to the community that could be engaged in gainful employment. However, the public and political perception of people convicted of sexual offenses is that they are all high risk and cannot meaningfully return to the community. Therefore, we do not have the same conversations about employing them as we regularly do with respect to people convicted of other kinds of offenses. The result is a cross section of people who cannot return to meaningful employment. In some cases, this may be legitimate because of their offending behavior and risk. For instance, an individual may not be able to return to teaching if they were convicted of child sexual offenses. In many cases, it will impact their rehabilitation and reintegration. On the other hand, people convicted of sexual offenses may also have wide skill sets, can be educated, or have held a range of positions before their convictions. Cutting off their return to employment potentially means that we are rejecting a skilled population that can contribute to society. It is important to acknowledge that some people were able to offend via their job, their skill set, and the access that their employment offered. For that reason, it's essential that any conversation about a return to employment is facilitated in a safe, secure, and controlled fashion.
During the online seminar probation, police, charities, and employers asked what could be done in this arena, as they recognise that meaningful employment is a central feature of strength-based approaches to desistance. Some key considerations around this area include:
- Employers need support and education in risk management from a multi-disciplinary team before as well as during the employment of people convicted of sexual offenses.
- Employers need to be supported in order to develop several safe working practices for all their employees and customers, whether this be in the form of risk containment through HR processes or in conjunction with state or related services that manage risk in the community.
- Employers may need help to develop public relations narratives about employing people convicted of sexual offenses so that they are prepared for any criticism or backlash towards.
- Employing people convicted of sexual offenses is an important part of their rehabilitation, risk management, and that it contributes to community safety. However, it must be recognised that some roles are off limits to this population. While this may be appropriate, it’s important to recognise what the limitations are and where they end.
- It is important to point out, too, that putting people back to work is not simply about keeping them occupied but also about keeping them out of debt, which is may not always be obvious, but can introduce a whole new set of problems.
- Realising that employing people convicted of sexual offenses is not anti-victim, nor does it diminish victims’ experience or narrative.
In discussing the challenges inherent in employing people convicted of sexual offenses there are no easy answers. Clearly, employers need support in doing this. Sexual abuse is a community issue, which needs a community response that allows people to return to being productive members of the community.