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Section 2: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Innovative Approaches to Supervision of Sex Offenders in the Community

2 hours, 45 minutes

TOPIC: A VICTIM-CENTERED APPROACH TO SUPERVISION
(50 minutes, including Learning Activity)

New Topic IconINTRODUCTION

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: 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 among the participant materials for Section 2 of this curriculum. A training curriculum on this topic is under development.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #2: Premises of Sex Offender Management
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Note: An introduction to this section might also include training team members from the different disciplines explaining what a victim-centered approach means to them.

Note: Throughout this section, trainers may want to 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 is the Containment Approach. For more info 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.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #3: What We Mean by "Involving Victims"
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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 whether a sex offender is 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.

Victim-Centered Approach

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; 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

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 person—how 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/parole 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.

New Topic IconA 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.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #4: Needs of Victims Addressed by Agency Policy
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Issues for victims that should be addressed directly by agency policy and/or protocol include the following. Understand that these are needs common to sexual assault victims and the policies and protocols you design should address these needs in a direct way.

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.

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #5: Needs of Victims Addressed by Agency Policy (cont.)
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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.

New Topic IconA 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.

  • Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #6: Victims and Case Management
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    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.

Learning ActivityLEARNING ACTIVITY: CONSIDERING A VICTIM-CENTERED APPROACH
(30 minutes)

Refer to Handout Symbol 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.

Section 2, Exercise 1 provides several discussion questions on the topic of victim-centered supervision.