Desistance from Sexual Offending : The Role of Circles of Support and Accountability book cover
1st Edition

Desistance from Sexual Offending
The Role of Circles of Support and Accountability

ISBN 9780367646240
Published December 24, 2021 by Routledge
194 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations

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USD $160.00

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Book Description

This book explores how Circles of Support and Accountability can reduce sexual reoffending. The release of a notorious sex offender from prison strikes fear into members of the public. Media coverage often provokes further panic, casting such offenders as irredeemable monsters and ticking time bombs, destined to continue preying on innocent children and women. In the West, governments have responded by enacting heavily punitive and exclusionary policies, such as public sex offender registers, indefinite detention, and lifetime correctional supervision.

A radically different approach – Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) – emerged alongside these measures. CoSA are groups of trained volunteers who collectively resist the exclusionary impulse, instead actively supporting those with sexual offence convictions to reintegrate into communities. Despite their seemingly counterintuitive nature, the research is clear that CoSA reduce sexual reoffending far better than more popular draconian sex offender management policies. However, little is understood about how CoSA work.

This book begins to address this gap by proposing a new way of understanding how CoSA reduce sexual reoffending. Drawing on 65 in-depth interviews with CoSA participants, it offers a new theoretically-informed empirical explanation of CoSA’s capacity to promote desistance from sexual offending, and to turn those convicted of sexual offenders into law-abiding and productive members of the community. Ultimately it is a call to action, demonstrating that we, the community, must play a more central role in integrating people with sexual offence convictions if we desire safer communities for our children and our selves. This work illuminates new directions for research, policy, and practice, and is essential reading for academics and students engaged in the study of criminology and criminal justice, restorative justice, sexual violence, and reentry

Table of Contents


Prevalence and criminal justice response to child sexual abuse

Stigmatisation of people convicted of sexual offences

The emergence of Circles of Support and Accountability

Outline of the book

Chapter 1. Situating Circles of Support and Accountability

How do CoSA work?

Who volunteers in CoSA?

Do CoSA work?

Chapter 2. Theorising Circles of Support and Accountability

Existing theorisations of CoSA

The Risk, Needs, Responsivity model, the Good Lives Model, and CoSA

CoSA as restorative justice

CoSA as reintegrative shaming

Understanding desistance

Theorising desistance

CoSA as desistance-promotion


Chapter 3. Researching Circles of Support and Accountability

Methodological approach

Participant sampling and recruitment

Data collection

The participants

Making sense of the data

Ethical considerations

What was it like?


Chapter 4. A shot at redemption: Circles of Support and Accountability, desistance and redemption scripts

Redemption and condemnation scripts

Desistance and people who have sexually offended

Alan’s story

Establishing a true, good self

Identifying a "bad It"

Incorporating a sense of "tragic optimism"

Developing a sense of optimistic control and self-efficacy


Chapter 5. Circles of Support and Accountability, the 110-percenters, and witnesses to identity transformation

Todd’s story

The 110-percenters

Surpassing other core members’ desistance efforts

Ratting out other core members

The Judge Judy effect: Adopting hyper-conservative criminal justice values

If desistance occurs in the woods and there is no one there to see it…

Adam’s story


Chapter 6. Giving back from a hopeless place: Circles of Support and Accountability and generativity

Rory’s story

What is generativity?

Core members and the will-to-generativity

Paying it forward: From projectivity to generativity

Zack’s story

Helping out a brother: Core members and reintegration advocacy

Generativity and managing the risky self

CoSA volunteers as the subjects of generativity


Chapter 7. Circles of Support and Accountability and core members as wounded healers

Wounded healers in the criminal justice context

Wounded healers and CoSA

Morgan’s story

‘Cheeseburgers are on Wednesday’: CoSA and wounded healers’ unique expertise

CoSA, wounded healers and identity transformation

Daniel’s story


Chapter 8. Implications for practice: Delivering Circles of Support and Accountability as desistance-promotion

The key arguments

Assisting desistance in practice

Implications for practice – Redemption scripts

Implications for practice – 110 percenters and witnesses to identity transformation

Implications for practice – Generativity

Implications for practice – Wounded healers



Limitations of the study

Future research directions

Victim/survivor and public views of CoSA



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Kelly Richards holds a PhD in criminology from Western Sydney University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Justice at Queensland University of Technology, where her research focuses primarily on those who perpetrate sexual violence. In 2010, she was awarded the ACT Government Office for Women Audrey Fagan Churchill Fellowship to investigate Circles of Support and Accountability in Canada, America and the United Kingdom. She was recently awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award and will use this to further her research at California State University and the University of Vermont. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and Staghound X, and enjoys hiking, music and pub trivia.