We’ve produced this page to explain the changes that we made to the forum in late 2013. We hope that, by producing this page, it explains as fully as possible the reasoning behind the changes.
We’re currently working on an updated forum platform, and we hope to launch this in late 2015/early 2016.
Necessary changes we’ve made
[Note – this section has been moved to the top of this page, but please read the rest of this page, as it helps to explain why we have taken these steps]
The changes we’ve made are confined to our forum. They do not change the way that Unlock more generally works to help all people with convictions.
With regards the forum, people with convictions for sexual offences will continue to be able to contribute the forum in relation to issues of social exclusion and discrimination as a result of convictions generally (e.g. Employment, DBS checks, insurance). However, the discussion of sexual offences will be prohibited. The rules of the forum have been changed to reflect this.
As a result of the identified needs and potential solution outlined below, and in recognising that how the forum currently operates is not capable of meeting this need, it is necessary for us to make changes to the forum to ensure that it can continue to operate. This is alongside work being done to develop a solution outlined below.
The most significant change is that the discussion of sexual offences is prohibited. This does not mean that people with convictions for sexual offences are banned from using the forum. In practice, people with convictions of all types are able to contribute to the forum.
However, any reference to sexual offences or sexual convictions is not allowed and will be considered a breach of the rules. This means that people with convictions for sexual offences should take particular care not to disclose their offence type, explicitly or implicitly. As a result, if you feel that it is not possible for you to meaningfully contribute without disclosing such details, you should refrain from using the forum. Please be aware that there will be a strict moderating approach taken to this change, and this rule applies across the entire forum.
To support this change, Forum 2 (about the specific consequences of sexual convictions) has been removed. The content of Forum 2 has not been deleted, but it is no longer possible for members to contribute to this section. This section will be used to help Unlock internally to work towards a solution as outlined above.
To help clarify these changes, the forum rules have been amended (and simplified considerably), and new guidelines have also been produced. The guidelines help to explain some of the rules, which have been simplified so as to hopefully make them easier to understand.
If at any point you are unable or do not wish to accept and apply the rules and guidelines, please refrain from using the forum.
Why? The rationale
We recognise that these changes mean that we are, in practice, treating people with convictions for sexual offences differently to those without.
However, we have become increasingly aware of the fact that it is not possible for Unlock to run a forum of this type in the way that it has been run in the past. Over time, numerous unsuccessful attempts have been made to resolve the issues outlined on this page, short of barring people with convictions for sexual offence convictions, which is a step we are not prepared to take. We hope that the detail we provide on this page explains the reasoning behind it, and this is not a decision that we have taken lightly.
Unlock provides information, advice and advocacy for people with convictions who have decided to lead a law abiding life. This is currently via:
- A helpline (via phone, email and letter)
- An online Information Hub (unlock.devchd.com/information-and-advice/)
- A moderated online forum (forum.unlock.org.uk)
The support we offer does not stop people on the basis of their age, race, gender, type of conviction etc. The target group is people who have left or are planning to leave the criminal justice system. We do not work with people who are currently offending. We do not seek to rehabilitate, but to assist the reintegration of those who have rehabilitated.
We cover issues related to life after the criminal justice system so do not cover issues such as prison transfers or license conditions. Examples of issues include:
- Disclosure of criminal records when seeking employment
- Exclusion from financial services
- Difficulties when travelling
- Starting or rebuilding relationships
Between 2011 and 2013, Unlock saw a rapid increase in contact from people with sexual offence convictions, in particular for internet-based offences. Over time, people with these convictions have become significant contributors to the online forum.
Many of the issues faced by people with sexual convictions are the same as other people with convictions (as per bullets above). However, they also have a distinct set of needs as a result of the different way they are treated by the state. For example, questions about MAPPA, SOR, SOTP and iSOTP, Sex Offender Liason Officers, Social Workers etc are particular to people convicted of sexual offences.
The forum is open to any person with convictions, irrespective of conviction type. However, questions and discussions about these were dominating the forum. This was often at the expense of other issues being dealt with, as threads were often diverted onto sexual offence specific discussions. While people with sexual offence convictions are not excluded from the site, it is also not really designed for their specific needs. However, a common statement is that “this is the only place we’re allowed.” As a result, membership of the forum by people who want to ask questions related to sexual convictions is growing rapidly and is making it difficult for the site to achieve its goals.
In recent times, Unlock has taken a number of steps in response:
- Created specific detailed information for people convicted of sexual offences covering FAQs
- Tightened forum rules to avoid repetition of questions and questions that relate to offending (rather than moving on from it)
- Banned any individuals who appear to be seeking information that could be used to ‘get around’ restrictions.
- Established a sub forum within the forum specifically for questions relating to sexual convictions
However, there remain tensions between the majority of forum members (including many people with sexual offence convictions) who believe the site should focus on issues affecting all people with convictions, and a small number of people who feel that specific discussions relating to sexual offence convictions should be supported.
The statistics we routinely gather from the forum have shown that, following a specific split of the forum between general discussions and discussions specifically regarding sexual offence convictions, the number of visitors to the forum dropped significantly, and the number of new members fell by a similar proportion per month. Furthermore, despite attempts to limit the discussions that people have, it is clear to us that members of the forum who have sexual offence convictions continue to discuss issues which are outside of the scope of the forum.
Unlock does not discriminate on the basis of conviction. It will not ban people on the basis of sexual convictions in order to please others. However, if the forum is unable to fulfil its purpose it may have to be shut down. This would be a great tragedy.
One way of categorising people in need is as follows: –
- Currently offending or at risk of offending
- In the justice system (prison/probation)
- Out of the justice system but under control of civil orders
- Reformed, free from state control but facing social exclusion
Unlock’s focus is stage 4. Stage 3 is essentially unique to people with sexual offence convictions and Unlock’s service appears to be the ‘nearest thing’ to what they need. Unlock does currently assist people in stages 2 and 3 but only where it relates to planning for stage 4.
The evidence we are gathering, particularly from the forum, indicates a strong need for information and advice for people with sexual convictions in relation to state controls. For example, they often seek clarification on the limits of control that can be placed on them e.g. “My SOLO says I have to do X, can he really do that?”
Access to this sort of information seems crucial if abuses of these powers are to be prevented. However, the channel for delivery must be sensitive to the potential reasons why people may be seeking information. Some simply want to know what the rules are so that they can follow them. A minority will be seeking to exploit loopholes. It’s crucial that information providers understand this, so that they can advise and signpost people effectively.
There does seem to be a genuine unmet social need amongst people with sexual offence convictions who are under the complex, various and developing state controls. People need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities, both to ensure the avoidance of abuses of state power, and to ensure people have the best possible opportunity to comply with what is required of them.
Many people with convictions feel socially and emotionally isolated and a forum that offers a positive (and where necessary, challenging) network can alleviate this suffering and contribute to mental well-being. However, many forum members have deep concerns that a forum specifically for ‘sex-offenders’ will attract the wrong sort of contributions and that it may cause problems for the individual who sets it up, given that they themselves may be a convicted sex-offender seeking to contact other convicted sex offenders and form a network. There is a risk that the development of a separate and specific forum could develop unhealthily if not properly managed. Certainly, the users of our forum have made it clear that management by a credible charity is the only reason they feel safe to use the site.
Unlock does not discriminate on the basis of type of conviction. However, it is clear that there is a specific group of people seeking assistance from us whose issues do not relate to the core purpose of our existing services.
The views of forum members
In an effort to understand how we could resolve this problem, we set up a specific thread on the forum in December 2012, asking for the views of its members. This tried to cover what is working well, what isn’t working well, what the problems are, and what the solutions are. This thread provided a range of responses, and it became clear to us that the attempts that we’ve made in the past, in an attempt to reconcile the various competing issues, have been insufficient.
We acknowledge that a broad range of competing views were provided in this thread. However, a couple of posts in particular stood out to us as being particularly useful in giving us a way forward. Extracts of these are copied below.
“I’m slightly uncomfortable about some of the more lurid discussions, and not because the subject is controversial and unpleasant, or that it relates to specific offending behaviour. I’m not convinced an open forum for reformed offenders is the most appropriate place for certain topics? I try to imagine Mr & Mrs Average-Normal reading these posts, and what they might think. I’m not suggesting that in a negative way, but rather, how do we think our comments might be perceived? I understand some forum members may not care what anyone else thinks, but what is the message we are giving? I appreciate some of us would like to discuss and explore certain thoughts and feelings. But without passing judgement on anyone, IMHO the remit, rules and limits of this forum, cannot accommodate or allow anything that might place UNLOCK in an untenable position?” MOT
“The problem with constantly disputing things here is the potential outcome will be that Unlock decide to delete the forum altogether & just concentrate on the other parts of the service. Might be a differently story if we were paying for this site, but how many of us have donated a penny to it? There’s ‘use it or lose it’ which certainly doesnt apply to this forum but there’s also ‘abuse it & lose it’. Lets focus our energies on things that really are holding us back. I can’t always understand why some things are allowed here & others aren’t, but its not worth getting annoyed about.” BT
“There is very little interest in life, only how restrictions are messing up their lives. What people are forgetting, is that this is a very public forum, therefore, while little contributors are around, the forum is being read and while it may satisfy some on some areas, I cannot blame them for not wanting to join. The rankings of crimes and the constant barrage of “how my life is hell on the SOR” and the inherent streak that sex offenders are the worst off in society is what is driving people away, is what is not encouraging people to join.” Moostrasse
“The constraints and imperatives ex sex-offenders face are different in degree and quality to those faced by most other offenders. Even probation officers and PPUs acknowledge that. I’d also suggest that a forum like Unlock’s will inevitably see ex sex-offenders joining in greater numbers than their proportion in the general ex-offenders population would suggest. There’s something different culturally about ex-sex offenders who show up here (most of whom are internet offenders). They’ve no experience of the criminal justice system, they’ve inevitably lost the vast majority of their support systems and they’re mostly very frightened, desperate people. However, this causes Unlock a real problem. The forum is not the be all and end all of Unlock. In fact it’s probably relatively unimportant in the grand scale of Unlock things. One of the most important things that Unlock has to sustain, is maintaining and being seen to maintain, it’s integrity. When you’ve got a forum that’s got a bunch of ex-sex offenders talking about the restrictions and challenges they face, you’re going to have risks to maintaining that integrity. If you seek to minimise that risk to acceptable levels then the forum faces considerable difficulty meeting the needs of the ex-sex offenders. Difficulty meeting the needs of both those who are committed to reform (which is a shame) and those who are maybe less so committed (which is not). In the current climate it is going to be immensely difficult for Unlock to run a forum that welcomes even genuinely reforming ex-sex offenders and allows them to use it in a way that is constructive and useful to them, whilst maintaining Unlock’s inherent and public integrity. Drop forum 2. It requires extra effort to police and given the (understandable from my point of view) new rules, doesn’t really provide enough to be worth while. Ban any discussion that is specific to ex-sex-offenders. Fine grained moderation is too time consuming and difficult and general rules like there are at the moment are too general to unambiguously put certain discussions out of court and work to prevent the genuinely useful discussions that could occur. Sorry if this seems all a bit pessimistic but things are what they are and Unlock has an important role to play that should not be derailed by a forum that takes too much effort to moderate effectively and is a danger to the reputation of Unlock.” SouthernChap
Alongside the necessary changes we’ve had to make (see above), Unlock is looking to secure funding to work in partnership with other organisations that will enable us to meet the needs of specific groups of people whose needs are not met via our current services, including the forum.
Please note: The need outlined here in relation the forum can be similarly applied to our helpline and information hub. Because of the differences in the ways these are delivered, we have not taken a similar step in relation to these services at this stage, and so, for example, information relating to sexual convictions remains available on our information hub, and we will continue to respond to queries that are directed to our Helpline. However, we believe there remains a need to develop a comprehensive solution to the needs that we don’t believe we are able to adequately meet on our own as a small charity.
People significantly affected by these changes
We are conscious that a number of people who have significantly contributed to the forum, particularly Forum 2, will be upset, disappointed or distressed by these changes.
We encourage anybody who has such feelings to seek the support of appropriate agencies, such as those detailed below:
If you are worried about your own sexual thoughts and behaviour towards children, call the Stop it Now! freephone helpline. Stop it Now! gives all adults confidential information, advice and support to prevent child sex abuse.
If something’s troubling you, get in touch with the Samaritans. They’re open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Let us know what you think
As always, we are keen to hear from people who have thoughts and views about these changes. Given the specific changes, it will not be possible to provide feedback on this change through the forum itself, as this would be likely to be in breach of the rules.
However, given that the purpose of the ‘Feedback’ section of the forum is to provide Unlock directly with your views on the forum, we encourage members to get in touch with us directly. Unfortunately, given our limited resources, we cannot guarantee to respond, but we do make sure that we properly consider everything that we receive.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any views that you have.