No More Victims – No One is Disposable
CoSA Canada is the Canadian national organization for Circles of Support and Accountability, a Canadian-made restorative justice program for individuals who have committed serious sexual offences. CoSA allows the community to play a direct role in the restoration, reintegration, and risk management of people who are often seen with only fear and anger.
CoSA works to combat social isolation; a major factor in sexual offending.
Social isolation and lack of positive relationships are two of the most significant factors in sexual offending.
CoSA began in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1994, with the release of Charles Taylor. He had committed over 20 sexual offences and was nearing the end of his fourth sentence. He was also low-functioning, had been chronically abused, and spent most of his adult life in jail.
“Charlie,” and others like him, have always been hard to deal with. To ensure our safety, they are usually kept in prison to the end of their sentences and don’t receive parole. The result is that they are often released without any supports or effective monitoring.
CoSA fills this gap by providing trained volunteers to act as friends. They provide the supports to help ex-offenders succeed, hold them accountable for their behaviours, and work closely with police and mental health professionals to raise the alarm if necessary.
Many peer-reviewed studies have been done on CoSA, all showing the same outcome: dramatically lower rates of reoffending.
What does a circle look like?
A “Circle” involves a group of three to five screened, trained volunteers who commit themselves to support and hold accountable the ‘Core Member’ who is typically assessed as being a high risk to re-offend. Because he has been held to the end of his sentence, he is returning to the community with little or no support available to him and often with much media attention.
The Circle meets together regularly and is guided by a written and signed agreement called a Covenant which outlines the responsibilities and expectations of the Core Member and his Volunteers and includes the ‘promise’ of confidentiality as well as the limits of confidentiality. The Volunteers provide assistance with re-entry challenges (housing, employment, medical needs, etc). The Core Member commits to open communication with the group regarding his identified risk factors and triggers, problematic behaviour, attitudes, etc., all in an effort to end his pattern of sexual offending and to increase public safety.
Volunteer members come from all walks of life, ranging in age from 21 and up. They are professionally supported by CoSA staff, Board of Directors and advisors and work in conjunction with community agencies and treatment providers like psychologists, parole or probation officers, the police, and courts.
Overall, the goals of the Circle are to:
•Support the Core Member’s community reintegration by facilitating his practical needs (i.e. access to medical services, social assistance/financial means, seeking employment/affordable housing, etc.) and by providing a consistent network of emotional support;
•Develop constructive and pro-social strategies and solutions to everyday problems and concerns as well as celebrate successes, and
•Challenge the Core Member’s behaviours and attitudes that may be associated with his offending cycle.