Thursday, July 11, 2024

The challenges of employing people with convictions for a sexual offence: a new way forward or rebranded rhetoric.

By Porter, C., Ph.D., & McCartan, K. F., Ph.D.

Last week the UK elected a new government, a labour government. In the first couple of days they where in power the new prime minister, Sir Kier Starmer, talked about many things including health, education, social welfare, and justice. He said that they all needed an overhaul. As a former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, he understands all too well the pressures that the prison and probation service is under and stated that it needs to change, that their needs be a new approach to incarceration and community integration. In line with this, the new prime minster has appointed James Timpson, CEO of Timpson’s, as the new prisons minister. This is a clear declaration of intent to reconceptualise prisons and probation, as Timpson’s employs more people with a criminal conviction than any other organisation. James Timpson, like Kier Starmer, understands that meaningful employment matters in helping people desist from offending, building recovery capital, and pro-socially integrating into society. But what does this mean for people convicted of a sexual offence, a group normally shunned by employers and communities.

 

Across the UK we have reached a crisis point for prison capacity, with more people than ever being incarcerated with 87,453 people in prison across England and Wales as of the 5th of July and the cost per prisoner in the public estate being £33, 628 and in the private estate £51,108. This means that prison is not cheap and is not working (as a crime deterrence, anyway). In 2024 the English and Welsh prison service (approximately 700 individuals short of capcity) almost reached full capacity, and in Scotland it did, forcing the former conservative government to take drastic action. For more context, as of May 2024, there were only 557 spaces left across the entire England and Wales prison estate, with the number being even lower in male prisons. This overcrowding has triggered emergency measures such as, temporarily housing prisoners in police cells, early release, suspend prison sentences of less than 12 months, increased community sentences, Electronic Monitoring (such as GPS tags), removing and deporting foreign offenders, and ultimately building more prisons. These prisoner release schemes generally exclude individuals convicted of violent, sexual, or terrorism-related crimes.

 

Employment for people convicted of a sexual offence is complex and multidimensional, partly because individuals with a prior sexual conviction(s) are perceived negatively by professionals, employers, and members of the public. A series of online experiments have demonstrated that participant employers are typically unwilling to hire those with a prior offence, even when they are asked to make their hiring decisions before a disclosure and barring service ‘DBS’ check. Specifically, Porter and colleagues (2023) found that when they disclosed a prior sexual offence, employers were unwilling to keep the candidate they selected. Typically, they felt that the candidate was untrustworthy, a risk of harm, and a reputational risk to their organisation.

More thought needs to be given to people convicted of a sexual offence, as this population is growing within our prison and probation service with Justice lab data from July 2023 indicating that sexual offenses (13,788 individuals) are the second most common after violence against the person (21,919 individuals). In in the last annual report, 2022-23, there were 68,357 people with a sexual offence under the care of Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) which shows a steady year on year increase which emphasises the importance of employment for this group and the centrality of it for His Majesties Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS). But there has been limited consideration regarding how to find employment for these newly released prisoners, some of which have not had sufficient support or planning with their probation team or other local charities due to the early release scheme.

Recently, we have conducted a series of workshops with practitioners who support individuals with a prior sexual offence to find and maintain employment, including, members of police, probation, the 3rd sector and NGOs, as well as policymakers and therapists. We have found an inconsistent approach in how different organisations are advising this group to disclose (or hide) their offence. This means that we need to develop a more consistent and forward-thinking approach, which means we should consider:

 There needs to be more work done by HMPPS on the breaking down the barriers to employing people convicted of a sexual offence by employer’s and the public.

- A review of the skills base and training needs for people convicted of a sexual offence to help them retrain or repurpose their skills to enable employment post release.

- Think creatively about how probation and MAPPA panels can support people convicted of a sexual offence upon their return to the community to gain meaningful employment.

 Work with the 3rd sector and charities that support community integration, to see how they can better support their clients as well as strengthening partnership working.

- There should be a consideration of the role and function of disclosure in applying for jobs and broader employability, considering the role of schemes like “ban the box” and the use of CV-based self-disclosure as they might improve employability and generally trustworthiness.

-       To effectively support this group, more work needs to be done to empirically examine employer decision making and disclosure interviews.

-       Think about what we can learn for other areas of criminal justice, social justice and public health, to see what e can learn from other populations. We need to recognise what is similar about challenges to employment for this population compared to others, and what is different.

 

Individuals who are released from prison need access to accommodation, employment, and support services. To successfully obtain access to accommodation, people need regular and secure employment. This is particularly difficult for those with a prior offence and has been made even more challenging for those who have committed a sexual offence. With the new UK government in post less than one week, we are still waiting to see how they tackle this pressing issue but given their history with Criminal Justice System and promising cabinet appointments the future looks promising.

 

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Pornography exposure and sibling sexual abuse and behaviour

By Adams, A., MEd, King-Hill, S., Ph.D., Russell, D., Pg Cert., & McCartan, K., Ph.D.

When exploring the influencing factors in relation to sibling sexual behaviour and abuse (SSB/A), it is useful to consider the influence of outside factors. One factor that has come to the fore in recent years is pornography. Pornography is sometimes seen as an aggravating factor of sexual abuse. Yet, the conversation about pornography, sex, sexuality and sexual abuse is more complex than simply viewing and then doing. There are other social, cultural, personality, psychological, and behavioural considerations that impact the way that pornography consumption impacts ideas and actions related to sex and sexuality; these are often ignored or overlooked. This conversation is still in its infancy, but it is pertinent to consider the role of pornography within the context of SSB/A. There appear to be two broad aspects to pornography in this context: the influence of all types of pornography on sexual behaviours between siblings and intra-familial specific pornography (i.e. stepsister/stepbrother themed pornography).

SSB/A has long been and continues to be a prominent issue in frontline practice. Pornography use by adults and adolescents are often very different matters, with the latter being potentially harmful in ways that adult exposure to pornography may not be. Within the field of practice many services supporting children and young people (CYP) displaying harmful sexual behaviour (HSB), including SSB/A, often reference the prevalence of pornography use and exposure. Pornography is a frequent area of focus within interventions – these interventions often seek to correct and address unhelpful and harmful messaging that has been gained via the use of pornography as a source of sexual information and knowledge.

The influence of pornography appears to be embedded within wider societal systems i.e. patriarchy/misogyny and relate to:

·       Men/boys more having power than women/girls (e.g., are they permitted responsibilities and authority that girls are not).

·       Modelling violent gendered interactions.

·       The excusing and minimisation of boys inappropriate and abusive behaviour because of their gender.

·       Lack of understanding of consent for boys.

·       Exposure to pornography from a young age is rising in line with increased internet usage in CYP and plays into these societal systems.

Pornography can skew the perspectives of consent, engagement, and participation in sex and sexual pleasure. When considering this in the context of SSB/A pornography may act as an influencing factor for PSB/HSB onset. Pornography has been shown to heighten CYP’s contact with unhealthy sexual scripts which endorse a lack of sexual consent and violence. Pornography can also influence sexual expectations and attitudes towards women and girls and can reinforce hetero-normative sexual relationships, as well as harmful formations of masculinity such as male entitlement and dismissiveness to the needs and wants of young women. While critical engagement with the harms (including gendered harms) associated with pornography have been discussed in relation to HSB enacted by non-related children there is much less discussion surrounding pornography and SSB/A. The specific role pornography might have on the onset of SSB/A is limited, but there is a small body of research evidence to suggest that exposure to pornography bares an association with SSB/A.  These studies (Latzman et al., 2011; McDonald and Martinez, 2017; King-Hill et al., 2023; Zaniewski et al., 2022) found that children who had sexually harmed a sibling (primarily males) had being exposed to pornography within the home, and pornography distorted their understanding of consent and exacerbated their senses of entitlement and power.

Of course, most CYP will witness pornographic material and not engage in HSB including SSB/A, and where SSB/A does occur pornography may not always be evident as a behaviour engaged with. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that CYP’s pornography use can have positive, not negative, implications such as providing education to CYP about their bodies and sex (Goldstein, 2020). Nevertheless, CYP who frequently engage with pornography may be more likely to internalise sexist messages and gendered power differentials such as male sexual domination and female objectification and submission (Massey et al., 2021; Vera-Gray et al., 2021). It is reasonable to propose that CYP’s exposure to highly sexualised imagery, coupled with their proximity and access to a sibling, could heighten the risk of SSB/A.  This is not to suggest that pornography exposure causes SSB/A, nor that sexual gratification is the sole reason for SSB/A. Instead, it is to emphasise that pornography can diminish bodily boundaries and perpetuates a normalisation of extreme, sexist, and intrusive sexual practices, and if CYP are regularly exposed to these sexual scripts, and this is combined with other issues such as parental absence and a sexualised home environment, problematic and abusive SSB may be more likely to occur.

A second consideration in relation to SSB/A and pornography consumption is that of ‘sibling-based’ pornographic material (i.e. pornographic material which depicts a familial relationship such as step brother/sister). Pornographic material depicting sex between step-siblings (while these actors are not actual siblings they act as if they are) is commonly available on the main porn streaming websites and explicitly apparent on some social media platforms. For example, one mainstream pornography site hosts ‘channels’ which are collections of pornographic videos produced by production companies or studios. There is a function whereby the user can search and select these channels based on their ranked popularity, (no.1) being the most popular (i.e. most subscribers and views). Examining this list of channels shows that ‘family-based’ pornographic material is featured regularly. Of the top 30 ranked channels 10 are dedicated to family-based pornographic content, three of which are dedicated to pornographic material which depicts a step-sibling relationship. While there is no research which demonstrates an association between ‘sibling-based’ pornography and SSB/A. There is a meaningful body of research that highlights that CYP can mimic and act out what they see in pornography. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest, that ‘sibling-based’ pornography could manifest a normalisation and acceptance of incestuous sibling relationships and be internalised into CYP’s sexual scripts.

The challenge of understanding the role of pornography in SSB/A, as with any form of sexual abuse, is disentangling it for the inter-related social, psychological, and behavioural factors. In terms of professional practice this highlights the importance of focusing on CYP’s wider sexual knowledge and interests that may have contributed to their HSB occurring, as well as supporting CYP to understand the content they may have been unintentionally exposed to while exploring their sexuality and sex; exploration that may have been influenced by a lack of developmentally required relationships, sex and health education. In addition, we have to be careful that we are not equating correlation with causation between SSB/A abuse and pornography viewing. What we need to understand better is how this material is viewed by CYP who engage and do not engage with HSB’s and what the different triggers are in the SSB/A experience. We also need to understand the role and impact of sibling related pornography in relation to the volume and scale of SSB/A. All of this means we need more research, more education, and more frank, but challenging conversations with the pornography industry, CYP, and adults.

Note to readers on terminology: Language in this area has has been part of an important discussion of late. In our work over the past four years focussing on this issue we have seen many instances and examples of the behaviour between siblings being clearly sexual abuse and sexually abusive. However, there are also key examples where this is not the case and that the issues present as sexually inappropriate and/or sexually problematic. This is an important distinction, and with this in mind, for this blog, we will use ‘sibling sexual behaviour and abuse’ (SSB/A). We would also like to acknowledge that terminology in this space always evolves and that SSB/A is not a static term and is likely to change as we begin to understand more about this issue.

If you are a young person worried about your own or others’ sexual behaviour you can anonymously contact Shore for support.

 

If you are an adult concerned about your own or others’ sexual behaviours you can contact the Stop it Now Helpline for confidential support.


If you are based in the USA and want support please contact - (1) What's OK https://www.whatsok.org(2) Stop it Now!  https://www.stopitnow.org/about-us/get-involved?gad_source=1&gclid=Cj0KCQjw7ZO0BhDYARIsAFttkCjbg75p5PN0hUEtF12zQ_ATtbPOVQjg4RSYDnE0_B4-xCQ792hp2UsaAg2OEALw_wcB