Section 2: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes:
Innovative Approaches to Supervision of Sex Offenders in the Community
3 hours, 55 minutes
TOPIC: A VICTIM-CENTERED APPROACH TO SUPERVISION
(60 minutes, including Learning Activity)
Note: For more information about the implementation of a victim-centered approach to supervision, see Engaging Advocates and Other Victim Service Providers in the Community Management of Sex Offenders (2000) included with the participant materials for the long version of Section 2 of this curriculum. A training curriculum on this topic is under development.|
Note: An introduction to this section might include training team members from the different disciplines explaining what a victim-centered approach means to them.
Note: Trainers should listen for comments that disparage or perpetuate myths about victims, and be prepared to counter victim-blaming comments if they arise (i.e., remind participants that it's always the perpetrator who makes the choice to abuse and that the victim is not to blame).
Note: One model management process, documented by English et al., is called the Containment Approach. For more infomation about this approach and the use of polygraphy in sex offender management, see APPA's publication Managing Adult Sex Offenders: A Containment Approach (1996), edited by English, Pullen, and Jones.
Current sex offender management practices are based on two basic premises:
- Multidisciplinary collaboration is more effective than the work that any one discipline can do alone; and
- The safety needs of victims and the community must be at the forefront of any management strategy.
It’s easy to see the offender as our client because his name is on the case, he’s the one we’re developing a plan for and the one we meet with and monitor. But our job is public safety and the victim and the community are our clients. They’re the ones we’re working to keep safe in the short and long term. If management ends with checking to see if he’s going to treatment and paying his restitution, but he molests another child or sexually abuses another woman, then we’re not doing right by our clients.
This approach recognizes that sex offenders as a group are in need of special management practices. It views the goal of sex offender management as containing the potential danger of the offender through the development of his internal controls (treatment) and the application of the justice system’s external controls (supervision). This requires cooperation and collaboration among supervisors and treatment providers. It also involves, wherever possible, the use of the polygraph. And it involves victim advocates who ensure that the safety needs of victims are considered in both policy and practice, and who work to help maximize the benefits of victim involvement.
CSOM has observed what has come to be called a victim-centered approach to sex offender management emerging in practice around the nation. The victim-centered approach is a strategy for managing sex offenders that sees victim safety and the prevention of revictimization and new victimization by offenders as the purpose of sex offender management. The victim-centered approach means that the question, "What would be best for the victim?" serves as a form of guidance as we make both policy decisions and individual case decisions.
The victim-centered approach does not say specifically how to do this work; there are many ways to integrate concerns for victim safety into case management practices. But it does remind us that effective sex offender management requires talking to victims and victim advocates and that involving victims and working with victim advocates are not burdens, or disconnected from what we do. Practitioners have come to view a victim-centered approach as central to good sex offender management. They continue to create practical ways for this approach to be implemented on a day-to-day basis.
Victim involvement implies some level of direct contact with primary and secondary victims. This means contacting and getting input from victims and providing information and some level of support to them. It means having a protocol for who initiates contact, how that contact is made—whether by letter or phone or in personhow often, who takes the victim impact statements, etc.
Victim involvement also includes contact with secondary victims. When we work with child sexual abuse, for example, we may be required to work with victims’ parents, who experience a certain level of trauma. This is especially true for incest victims and their nonoffending parents and parents of sibling incest offenders and victims.
Many jurisdictions doing this work are finding that the families of offenders—whether or not the victim is a family member—are another group of secondary victims whose participation in the process is essential. They are the ones whose denial may result in the offender having contact with potential victims (e.g., if they don’t believe he is a danger to children, they may not be willing to exclude him from contact with them) or who will experience the impact of a negative community response if the offender returns home. How we educate primary and secondary victims about what we do and how we include them in what we do are core issues for sex offender management.
Working With Victim Advocates
Victim advocates have an important place on our policy teams. They are responsible for ensuring that the general concerns of victims are addressed in the policies and protocols established to deal with sex offenders and that systems are victim friendly. They hold us accountable to implementing a victim-centered approach.
They can also play an important role in helping supervisors and treatment providers as they develop and implement policy. In some jurisdictions, a victim advocate is part of the management team and initiates contact with the victim, accompanies the probation officer to home visits, and participates in the planning and management of individual cases. For some of you, that may be a departure from current practice, but those who participate find that the advocate is a vital member of the team.
|A VICTIM PERSPECTIVE AT THE POLICY LEVEL|
As agencies begin to review what policies need to be in place to create a more victim-centered approach to supervision, it is important to consider the issues that will address victims’ rights and needs. These issues will manifest themselves differently depending on the age of the victim, and practitioners should consider the different needs and abilities of adult victims, child victims, and nonoffending parents or guardians of child victims.
Issues for victims that should be addressed directly by agency policy and/or protocol include the following. These are needs common to sexual assault victims. CSOM strongly encourages practitioners to consult with victim advocates in the design of victim involvement policies.
Control: Victims need to have control over their level of involvement in the sex offender’s supervision and treatment. Giving victims control of their involvement does not mean giving away control over supervision; it means giving them control over their involvement, which policies and protocols should define.
Choices: Victims need choices. When given choices, they can determine what is best for them. Probation/parole officers are responsible for explaining to victims or to their guardians what their choices are and, to the extent possible, the implications of each option.
Safety: Victims’ involvement should not jeopardize their own or their families’ emotional or physical safety. Policies should strive to make this explicit as a principle and explain the steps that will be taken to ensure that this is the case.
Information: Victims need information about the offender’s location and sexually violent predator status, community notification procedures, probation conditions, victim notification, registration, compensation benefits, court dates, and sentencing guidelines. Information policies also need to address how to use information from victims. Policies must ensure that victims are fully informed about how information is used, and that information from victims will not be used in a way that could jeopardize victim safety.
Input: Victims need to have the choice of giving input during the pre-sentence investigation phase through victim impact statements and through ongoing contact with the management team. The opportunity to provide input benefits the victim and invariably helps the stakeholders who share responsibility for developing a case plan and supervision conditions that adequately and effectively address the offender’s risk factors.
Knowledge about the offender: Victims may want to know whether the offender has been receiving treatment, what his level of denial is, and whether or not he feels empathy or remorse.
Resources and support: Most victims need some support for themselves and their families and increasingly are statutorily entitled to such support. The nonoffending parent of an incest victim is often resistant and confused and, as a secondary victim, needs specialized help for herself and her children. Policies and protocols should address what will be made available to victims and by whom.
Advocacy: Most victims need some type of advocacy during the presentencing and postincarceration phases of a sex offender’s criminal justice involvement.
Access: Victims need to be able to contact the probation/parole officer or other designated individual with questions regarding the offender’s supervision conditions and whereabouts. Officers must make reasonable accommodations so as not to overburden themselves with issues that they are not equipped to address. For example, they cannot act as counselors or therapists for victims. However, they can help ensure that victims have access to the resources and services they need. Having pre-established relationships with local victim advocates can help when such referrals are necessary. For more information regarding victim services, see the packet of material in the reference section of this training curriculum.
Control over contact with the offender: This must be the victim’s choice. Victims will also have concerns about the offender contacting their children if there are children involved. If the victim is a child, decisions about contact should be made by the supervision officer in conjunction with the nonoffending parent or caretaker and the victim’s and offender’s treatment providers. Contact should occur in a supervised therapeutic setting and be monitored carefully. Frequently, especially in intrafamilial cases, victims will want to establish contact before officer and treatment providers consider it safe to do so. Policies should address this directly.
Empathy. It may help a victim to know if the sex offender exhibits victim empathy and is being educated about sexual victimization issues.
|A VICTIM PERSPECTIVE AT THE CASE MANAGEMENT LEVEL|
What does this mean in terms of how supervision officers do their work? Victims of sexual assault can be involved in the supervision of sex offenders in many ways. Policies and protocols should address the specific forms that this involvement can or should take.
- Victims can provide input into the pre-sentence investigation—either through a victim impact statement or through an interview with probation staff. Prior to an offender’s release from incarceration, similar input can be sought for parole consideration.
- Victims often want to recommend treatment and supervision. They may have insights into the modus operandi of the offender that no one else possesses and that can be valuable in both supervision and treatment planning. Often, the concerns victims share with the probation/parole officer may give insight into risky situations, particularly around access and grooming of other victims. Victims may also have recommendations about how offender treatment can incorporate the development of victim empathy. A victim may even play a role in a supervision network, and/or in providing an external control, particularly if other potential victims are in the home.
- Victims may be able to recommend restitution and/or appropriate and meaningful community service for sex offenders. More broadly speaking, victims can help educate their communities about sexual victimization and sex offenders and encourage other victims to report.
Current practice regarding the involvement of victims at the case management level is evolving. Agencies that have chosen to be more proactive in this regard have learned that a victim-centered approach equips them to better supervise offenders. Understanding the experiences of victims leading up to their contact with you will help significantly in that process. When offenders have their first contact with supervision agencies, victims have already been through a series of contacts with other components of the criminal justice system. They may have participated (by choice, ignorance, or pressure) in everything from investigation to plea bargaining discussions, a trial, and a sentencing hearing. They may have had sufficient support from advocates, family, and friends, or they may have felt isolated, confused, and revictimized by the process. Designing and implementing victim-friendly policies will help them as well as you.
In 1998, a full-time advocate position was added to the Intensive Sex Offender Supervision Unit in New Haven, Connecticut, to systemically include the victim’s perspective in decisionmaking and to provide regular contact with victims and their families. The addition of the advocate was the result of collaboration among the state Court Support Services Division (which houses probation), treatment providers from the Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior, and Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc. (CONNSACS). The advocate was hired with Court Support Services funds, but is an employee of and is supervised by CONNSACS. She is based in the probation office and works one day a week in the CONNSACS office.
Other unit staff include two therapists (average caseloads of 50 to 60 offenders each), three probation officers who do intensive supervision (average caseload of 25 offenders each), and one relapse prevention probation officer (average caseload of 50 offenders). The advocate has an average caseload of 100 cases, about 25 of which are active at a given time.
The advocate’s primary role is to initiate and maintain contact with victims and their families. The advocate also serves in several other functions, including those listed below:
- She works with offenders’ families to help them understand the dynamics of sex offending and offenders’ manipulative behavior. Through these interactions, the advocate has found that many offenders’ partners have also been victims of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse by either the convicted offender or other perpetrators.
- She accompanies probation officers and treatment providers on unannounced field visits to offenders’ homes.
- She helps treatment providers with the empathy portion of treatment groups, helping them present information in a more comprehensive and effective way.
- She participates in weekly case review meetings with probation officers and treatment providers. Team members share information, discuss concerns and potential problems, and make decisions in each case.
The advocate indicated it took about a year and a half to incorporate her role into the unit’s work of managing sex offenders in the community. The success of her participation can be seen in the fact that probation officers and treatment providers now are more often posing the question, "How would this team decision affect victims?"
Note: This section can be followed with either or both of the following Learning Activities. The first is more policy/organizational in orientation, while the second uses a case study to explore case decisions and their impact on victims.|
Due to the success of New Haven’s team approach, two advocate positions are being developed for sex offender supervision units in Hartford and New London, Connecticut. Other jurisdictions around the country have also begun to add advocates to their case management teams.
|LEARNING ACTIVITY: CONSIDERING A VICTIM-CENTERED APPROACH|
Refer to handout: Section 2, Exercise 1 is designed to guide participants through a discussion of victim-centered supervision. Trainers should familiarize themselves with local policy (where possible) regarding victim orientation in supervision. In addition, trainers should prepare themselves to manage some resistance to the concept. The level and amount of resistance will depend upon how supportive agency policy and culture is to such a perspective. If you're using small groups and time or space is limited, consider pairing this activity with another (See User's Guide for suggestions). |
Refer to handout: Section 2, Exercise 2.
Allow time to read the case study carefully if participants were not directed to read it at the end of Section 1. Throughout the training, participants will discuss specific questions about the case that relate directly to the material that is presented. The case is detailed and the questions are extensive.
Section 2, Exercise 1 provides several discussion questions on the topic of victim-centered supervision.
|LEARNING ACTIVITY: CASE STUDY|
A lengthy case study is included in participants’ materials (see the case study and the case study questions). This case covers a variety of topics and issues associated with sex offender supervision. Please read the case study now and we’ll be discussing questions 1 through 4 on victim-centered supervision.
There is space after each question on the worksheet for participants to write preliminary thoughts. We’ll be referring to the other questions in the case study as we move through the training.
- While DSS agreed to find a suitable and safe place for Mike’s daughters to live, there is no information in the case study regarding the provision of victim services to Mike’s daughters, or information about the girls’ mother. Based upon your own experience, how could Mike’s probation officer work to help Mike’s daughters access the victim services that they need? What, if any, contact should the officer have with the mother?
- It has been suggested that it is important to understand victim trauma and to focus on the role of victims in the supervision of sex offenders. Once Mike began earning a steady paycheck, do you think that it would have been appropriate for him to support some of the costs associated with his daughter’s treatment? Would you have permitted Mike to "collect" clothing for his daughters? Why or why not? How might this affect his daughters?
- Do you think that Mike’s younger daughter was affected by their conversation in the car? How? What about the possibility of Mike’s younger daughter relaying the contents of the conversation to her older sisterthe victim of Mike’s sexual assaults? What might you do as a probation officer to help attend to the needs of both of Mike’s daughters after the conversation occurred?
- What would you have done differently if you had known that Mike’s daughters were residing at his half sister’s house when he asked for permission to live in a tent on her property? What are the implications of this on victim trauma? Can you share with the group the steps that you take to ensure that you (and the other stakeholders with whom you work) have as much information as possible?