Rachel was only a teenager when she was raped, and has now lived half of her life as a survivor.
Despite being robbed of her virginity, and living in fear of being controlled, she backs a charity that tries to prevent attacks and save victims by forming support networks around those who have offended.
Here, Rachel explains why society must be prepared to welcome offenders back into the fold.
I’ve always had a quiet voice.
When I speak, I’m not often heard – and I often liken myself to Mr Cellophane from the musical Chicago.
It’s a pity, really, because I feel that I’ve actually got a lot to say – important stuff. Stuff that should be heard by as many people as possible. Especially those people who have strong opinions on sex offenders.
When I was in my late teens, I was raped. My life was changed after that night. I was robbed of my virginity, for one thing, and I was also robbed of my ability to allow other people to have any level of control over me. That is, I now actively dislike – and react to – people pushing me for decisions, or making decisions on my behalf.
I am now in my late 30s, and so I have been a survivor of rape for half of my life. I thus have enough “experience” of being a survivor to be able to comment on a charity which does incredibly valuable work.
Its aim is to build safer communities through local volunteers, working with sex offenders to minimise alienation, support reintegration and so prevent sexual re-offending.
The charity is called Circles of Support and Accountability (often shortened to Circles).
A charity which aims to prevent sexual re-offending should surely be lauded and supported by all, no? How could anyone take a dim view of a group of people who devote their time to preventing sexual re-offending?
Lots of people do, however, take a dim view of Circles’ work, and it is because of the first two parts of the sentence above, describing their aim: working with sex offenders to minimise alienation, and support reintegration.
The trouble is, very few people want sexual offences to be committed, but very few people want to take any responsibility for helping the people who commit the offences.
Think of the outcry whenever a known sex offender moves into a local area: “Hang him!”, “Cut his balls off!”, “Rape him, see how he likes it!”.
As a rape victim, I can quite honestly say that these views disgust me.
I fully support the work that Circles does, because I strongly believe that people who are supported, who aren’t treated like slugs on a rose, and who are made to face up to the consequences of their actions (remember the accountability part of the charity’s name) are much less likely to re-offend on release from prison.
It feels like our world is lacking in compassion, empathy and support right now.
Please consider this: would you rather a sex offender moved into your area, who had simply been released from prison without receiving any support and was loathed by all who come across him?
Or would you rather he received support, was made to account for his actions, and was helped to reintegrate to the community in a healthy way – in order to contribute to society, rather than continue to be a burden and a threat?
Circles is struggling for funding, and it cannot claim to prevent all sexual offenders from re-offending – it is, of course, complex and one size doesn’t fit all.
However, let us laud and celebrate their efforts, and perhaps even consider fundraising for them, or volunteering with them, rather than denigrate them and bury our heads in the sand.