Thursday, February 24, 2022

Giving Back: Reflections on People Who Have Abused Supporting Those Who Have Been Harmed

 By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D. and David S. Prescott, LICSW

Prince Andrew recently settled out of court in the civil case brought forward by Victoria Giuffre. The accompanying statement indicated that Andrew would provide support by "fighting against the evils of sex trafficking, and by supporting its victims." This resulted in condemnation and concern from sexual abuse charities with the implication that this was a tone deaf and inappropriate response. This raises questions about how those who abuse can offer support and give back to victims of sexual abuse or exploitation. This blog post is not a commentary on whether Prince Andrew is guilty or the legitimacy of his out-of-court settlement, but rather whether it is possible for people accused or convicted of a sexual offense to give back, assist professional practice, or support victims in their ongoing recovery?

The conversation about people accused or convicted of sexual abuse making reparations is often seen as a controversial one, with many in the public and some charities/NGO’s believing that punishment is the only appropriate route. This is a challenge, as a significant amount of sexual abuse and exploitation cases never get to court much less end in a prison sentence. This, in turn, begs the question of what comes next for accountability for their actions and how best to make reparations.

Historically, there have been conversations about the role of restorative justice (also controversial) as an alternative or additional approach to traditional criminal justice. Within the restorative justice framework, recognition, accountability, and restoration are among the most important components; the person accused or convicted of a sexual offense offers insights to their behavior and acknowledge the impact that it has had on the victim. While this is one way that people accused or convicted of a sexual offense can give back, it is a very individualized one based on the inclination of the two individuals involved and the benefits of the intervention being most directly felt by the people involved. Therefore, how do we broaden the conversation beyond the individual and the interpersonal, to make it as much about community and society?

Andrew’s suggestion was that he could support those who have been victimized from a more top-down position with a broader impact. What does that actually mean? Is that working directly with a charity, being on a board of directors, setting up a new charity, or providing a funding pot for victim services or campaigns (all of which he is well able to do given his wealth and position)? It is interesting that his ideas all seem to have his name attached to them. There has apparently been no consideration of helping anonymously or in some other quietly humble way.

Andrew’s response will be watched and commented on, but the reality is that most people accused or convicted of a sexual offense do not have the same reach or resources that he does, so how do they give back?  Some clear steps for anyone giving back and supporting people who have been harmed by sexual abuse include:

Acknowledge: Anyone accused or convicted of a sexual offense who wants to support victims, their families or the wider community has to recognize what they have done and made their piece with it. This is essential because throughout the process of giving back they may need to recognize their behavior, the issues with it, and how they can move on and support people in doing the same.

Accept: It is important to accept that the victim, their support network, related organizations, and the broader community’s, as well as society’s response to the offense that you have been accused or convicted of is out of your control. It is important to go into the process of giving back with an open mind that is not defensive and recognizes that you may be criticized, not accepted, and not forgiven.

Recognize: The most important piece of giving back is to recognize the victim and their wishes, whether they want the people accused or convicted of a sexual offense to give anything back. If the timing and the messaging is not right, then it is important to step back and not force the issue.

Manage: It is important to manage expectations around what the giving back looks like in terms of content, message, timing, and involvement. This needs to be an ongoing process that moves at the pace of the victim and their representatives.

Message: It is important to get the tone of the message and involvement right. Engagement and giving back is not about enabling the person accused or convicted of a sexual offense to feel good about themselves or to feel that they have “done their bit”. Rather is about the victim, or the victim’s organization, what they want and what they need. This can be challenging as the message maybe very different from different perspectives.

Collaborate: In giving back and supporting victims the process needs to move beyond the individuals affected, it needs to be part of a wider prevention and rehabilitation response. This means understanding the socio-political and service landscape so that messaging can be used appropriately. This means that the voice of the person who has been abused needs to be recognized, framed, and progressed accordingly.

Be open to opportunities: The changing narratives around sexual abuse, prevention, and responses, mean that new funding, research, and collaborative opportunities are opening. Some if these may look and feel familiar where others may not. They may feel uncomfortable and challenging. It is important to embrace these opportunities so that people at risk of victimization and perpetration can learn from the experience of the person accused or convicted of a sexual offense. It is important to state that in helping or working with current victims we can help and safeguard against future victimization.

The role of people accused or convicted of sexual offenses giving back and supporting those who have been victimized is not an easy one, nor a decision to be made lightly. It needs careful thought and consideration and must be done in a thoughtful, considerate, and appropriate fashion. While Prince Andrew’s offer may have failed to ignite a positive response, this may be a fault of the messaging, more to do with the tone, nature, and implied ego and intrusiveness of it.


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