The Commons

Returning to the community, safely

Brattleboro Community Justice Center to host public forum on sexual assault

Originally published in The Commons issue #103 (Wednesday, June 1, 2011).

BRATTLEBORO—It’s a fact of Vermont’s corrections system that most sexual offenders will complete their prison sentences and return to the community at large.

On Thursday, June 9, the Brattleboro Community Justice Center (BCJC) will host a public forum at Brattleboro Union High School for the community to discuss issues regarding individuals who have committed sexual assault and to ask questions about Vermont’s re-entry programs.

The thought of sexual offenders returning to society can strike fear into the hearts of survivors and community members, for whom the image of a sexual predator lurking in the bushes represents the unthinkable.

And, for returning offenders, the idea of re-entering a world that hates their existence also represents the unthinkable.

As a press release for the event puts it, “The Justice Center wants to create a space where members of the Brattleboro community may come together and discuss questions and concerns regarding offender re-entry into the Brattleboro area, and how we may best ensure safety in our neighborhoods for all citizens — even if the discussion can be hard and painful.”

Dr. Robin Wilson, a clinical and forensic psychologist who works with sexual offenders, will open the forum with a short keynote address.

He will also present in Brattleboro and Montpelier as a consultant working through his private practice, Wilson & Associates.

Wilson, with over 20 years experience in his field, helped found Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSAs), a model that has been used as a tool in preventing violent and sexual offender recidivism in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

According to BCJC Executive Director Larry Hames, Canada has used CoSAs as a tool to lower the recidivism of people who have committed sexual offenses and are high risk for doing so again.

The CoSAs model, said Hames, works by surrounding a newly released offender with community volunteers.

The volunteers fulfill dual roles: They support the former offender, called a “core member,” by providing support, acting as a sounding board, and accepting him with kindness.

Concurrently, said Hames, the CoSAs volunteers hold the core member accountable, making it clear that hurtful behavior, or re-offending, are unacceptable.

Keeping the community safe is the end goal of a CoSA, said Hames.

According to Wilson, at a “basic level,” a sexual offender seeks the same “need for physical intimacy, driven by a biological need to reproduce,” as most other people.

Although the need may prove an appropriate human drive, the ways sexual offenders fulfill their needs are not, said Wilson.

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