A long journey by Probation Officer, Ms. MaryAnne Zammit

When I embarked on my journey in my career as Probation Officer, I never imagined that I would end up sitting alone in a room, facing a person who has committed a sexual offence. That day, the client did not have the courage to look me in the eyes and keep eye contact.

To put it quite frankly, I expected to see a different person, but contrary to my expectations, I came across a client who was in need of both care and control. Even though these client group does not open up directly to us professionals, we know that they may be feeling ashamed of their acts and yearn to be normal and reintegrate back into the community. Besides that, they have families, spouses and children who are left to face the consequences of their actions.

Still, this was a situation that unquestionably triggered a lot of emotions that had to be controlled. Not only but also, I had to manage uncomfortable conversations, adapt to sexual fantasies and become familiar with their stories.

Working with persons who commit a sexual offence is quite challenging and entails lots of focus and hard work, often with limited solutions and the risk of re-offending remains always high.  Another reality facing us is the online world which is expanding and is offering endless opportunities which open up for grooming and more, all done behind walls and making evidence difficult.

At the Department of Probation and Parole, Malta, cases related to sexual offences vary from rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse of minors, child pornography, stalking and defilement of minors.  In most cases, Probation Officers follow Court Orders and Parole licences from the Parole Board. The Orders may be as follows; Probation Orders, Supervision Orders, Treatment Orders, Provisional Orders of Supervision and Parole Licence.

The majority of these offenders are males. Probation Officers work closely with these client groups to ensure that they abide by the conditions imposed by both the Courts and the Parole Board, whilst encouraging them to attend programs and treatment. Probation Officers liaise with other professionals including Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers, Counsellors and other treatment providers. On top of all, the aim is to help clients develop respectful attitudes towards themselves,  and take responsibility for their own behaviour.

When working with these client groups, the Probation Officer s’ objective is to assess and determine some of the risk factors which may be leading to offending. These factors are the nature of the crime and if it was repeated, if there had been other crimes not related, age education level, mental health, social and family support system, criminal history and past trauma. Most offenders may have been traumatized, or sexually abused and it may be the way they cope with it. All these findings help to identify a road map for a treatment plan and for further collaboration with other professionals. Treatment and case management are targeted according to these rates and risk of offending.

 What works

This is a million dollar question! However, despite these types of client groups and all the difficulties surmounting them, there are situations that lead to success and not to re-offend again. This is an encouragement to us professionals!

One of the sole objectives is the first attempt to make the client evaluate and come to terms that they need to cooperate and that this would be for their own good and for facilitating their reintegration into society.

Perhaps, one of the dynamic factors in this can be the concept of what offenders stand to gain or lose. This applies throughout the whole process of the casework but in particular when offenders risk violating the conditions of the Order, by not following the treatment plan, or not cooperating with the Supervising Officer.

This same concept may be a culprit for increasing the level of motivation for the offender when being confronted with temptation and may question; What have I got to lose if I offend? Will I risk prison and facing other inmates? Other questions raised would be losing total respect from their family members, losing their job and the respect from the community.

All in all, this is an incentive to keep offenders attending programs and following treatment. Categorically, from experience, there have been cases of persons who committed sexual offences and managed to keep away from re-offending. Therefore, we need to ask further questions such as what is making them stop and why. This in return will provide us with new insights.

I firmly believe that these offenders do look thoroughly at their actions and they do not feel good at all. Instead, they feel devastated and it is our aim to reconstruct their lives and help them towards reintegration by building on their positive strengths and offering hope for their future.

Public opinion plays an integral part when aiming to help offenders who committed sexual offences in returning back to the community. My point of view is that it is imperative to keep constantly educating the general public about these client groups and their success stories. This in turn manages to shift the publics’ outlook toward them and get their full support. In this regard, media plays an important part in providing real and concrete information and narrating real success stories.

The road is always long but not impossible and if we persist we will get results and help these people regain their dignity. This will decrease the rates of sexual offending and also protects the community. Also, ongoing research will definitely shed more light and enhance our practice when working with these client groups. As for my part, I will definitely keep on this path.

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