Ocean Grove, Victoria

Recently I was watching Studio 10 and saw a segment on sex offenders. Comments included that “they should all live in the desert together, and if they die well that’s OK”; that ”repeat offenders should be locked up for good with no chance of release”; that “sex offenders don't change.”

It's my belief that sex offenders should be punished according to their crimes, but that when their sentence is over, they should have every possible chance to receive help to change.

clip image002 000

The CoSA Model

Unfortunately in Australia the odds are against them. For someone who struggles with urges to commit such a crime there is little to no help. You cannot even mention you have a problem because you will be ostracised by the community at large.

In my experience and that of others in working with sex offenders, most first time offenders offend because there is nowhere to receive help without fear of instant reprisal, and for those coming out of prison, there is nowhere to escape the shame-blame-guilt cycle.

With a lot of media attention surrounding sex offenders, it makes life very hard for them and it is a natural progression of thought for people on the register to want to go back into prison. There is only one hitch there, the only way to go back into prison is to re-offend. For safety reasons, they may feel they have no choice but to go back into prison.

Even if they don't go back to prison, most face a life of isolation and the avoidance of contact with people. The problem with self-isolation is there is no one to keep an eye on the offender. The CoSA (Circles of Support and Accountability) solution handles this by keeping offenders accountable almost every day and challenging their distorted thinking to the point of rehabilitation.

While rates of reoffending among sex offenders are low compared to other types of offenders, studies show that the rate of reoffending for those who are involved in a program like CoSA is lowered even further. Under the model, the core member is surrounded by volunteers who help in teaching the core member how to exist in society, what types of behaviour are acceptable, and challenging behaviour that is not acceptable. Community volunteers dedicate up to seven hours a week.

I believe that sex offending is a community problem requiring a community solution, rather than communities isolating and rejecting the offenders as “someone else’s problem.”

If society tells a person that they are evil often enough, they will eventually believe it, whether they have committed a crime or not. Our whole justice system is based on giving offenders the chance to redeem themselves and be rehabilitated. The CoSA model is aimed at just that.

Something that you want to get off your chest but just haven't had the opportunity? Sight's Soapbox is a new feature allowing you to have your say on a subject of your choice! Send all items for consideration to [email protected].