The story of Margaret (58), COSA volunteer

“He must live somewhere anyway, so let him live here”

“Last week it happened again: a bunch of kids were messing around his house. They kicked against his door and made comments about abusing children. I asked those kids to stop bothering him, it makes him anxious and suicidal.” Margaret is COSA volunteer. COSA stands for Circles Of Support & Accountability and is a unique and innovative community justice initiative for post-release monitoring in and by the community of medium- and high risk sex offenders.

The method entails that a sex offender after release is regularly visited by volunteers from the local community. They assist in resettling in the community by stimulating pro-social behaviour and by providing support and practical help. The volunteers are also trained to recognize behaviour indicating increased risk with the ex-offender. In that case they will alert members of the so called outer circle of COSA that consists of professionals, such as probation officer, therapist or police officer, who can take necessary steps to prevent further offending.

Margaret: “Last year a new neighbour arrived in one of the rent control houses across the street. He was leading a secluded life. Me and my husband went over once to become acquainted, when one of the villagers discovered our new neighbour was a convicted sex offender. Panic broke loose. It almost became a witch-hunt, it’s was even on national television. People were furious, thinking it was a scandal such a man living among us. He had to be put in a home for elderly, where no children were near, even had to be castrated, and so on. Our village was divided in two camps: one camp convinced he had to leave and the other, the majority of the village, believed that he deserves another chance.”

“Being the linking pin between this new neighbour and the community was not appreciated by everyone. ‘If anything happens, it’s your fault’, was said. Well, that’s not how it works.  Even the mayor feared in the beginning that the community would turn against us. But that never happened. Although some people don’t understand that we are not on the sex offender’s side, but on the community’s side. We cannot for 100% stop him from re-offending but we can surely give our 100% effort to help him rehabilitate and in that way prevent recidivism. He can call us anytime, which is something he does regularly. Small events can make him very anxious, make him feel like a hunted animal. And when he gets anxious, in his mind he makes things worse than they really are. Then he calls everyone in panic: us, probation services, the police. My husband knows very well how to talk to him. I’m more a caring person, my husband would say simple but effective things as: ‘come on man, not so bleak.’  Our neighbour is not a bad person, he is a damaged person. And he should live somewhere anyway. So let him live here, in a small town where everyone knows each other and we can keep an eye on him.”

In 2002, COSA was first introduced in Europe, in the United Kingdom, where were obtained. COSA was transferred to the Netherlands in 2008. In a project funded by the European Commission (called Circles), the elements for a successful transfer of COSA from one national context to another Europe: Together for Safety were identified.This formed the basis for a the project Circles4EU, in which COSA is further implemented in Europe with pilots in Bulgaria, Latvia and Catalonia, and implementation in France, Hungary and Northern-Ireland.  For more information on the Circles4EU project, please visit the website.

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