I hear so many stories about the difficulties that people encounter trying to live with Sexual Offences Prevention Orders (SOPO’s) or Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPO’s). If you’ve just been given a SOPO/SHPO and are struggling to see how you’re ever going to be able to live a normal life again, then here are some of my own experiences and opinions.
As you can probably tell from the above, I was convicted of a sexual offence and as part of my sentence, I was given a SOPO (as they were known then). It was ridiculously wordy and repetitive and I’m pretty sure it had some unlawful elements too. But, here’s how I dealt with it.
My employment background has been heavily tech based (Cisco networking, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) and within senior management. Whilst I was on licence, following my release from prison, my Probation Officer forced me to disclose my conviction to any potential employer prior to accepting a position with them (even when they’d never asked me about my criminal record). I was offered two senior positions but immediately I disclosed well, – go figure – offer revoked. It was a really difficult time.
I came off licence about a month ago and guess what, I start a senior position this week. I haven’t disclosed by conviction, because as per both employment law and disclosure law, if you aren’t asked, you don’t need to tell. Many employers I’ve come across haven’t asked me the question but I know that many do. Remember if you’re asked about your unspent convictions then you must disclose. If your employer does find out then you’ll probably going to be instantly dismissed with no comeback.
I’m not sure whether I’ve just been lucky but my Public Protection Unit Officer has been great (I know other’s experiences are very different). He didn’t agree with my Probation Officer’s view about forced disclosure as he didn’t believe that my conviction was relevant to my work. He also made the point to me that gainful employment is a factor in reducing the risk of re-offending.
The Google Effect
The best advice I can give is to change your name. I believe there’s every chance that people will ‘Google’ you, if only out of curiosity. I changed my name to coincide with the end of my Licence. Anybody can do it and there’s no cost involved if you do your own Deed Poll (its much easier than it sounds). Of course, you’ll have to inform the Police (as part of the Sex Offenders Notification scheme) within three days and remember to also change the name on your bank account/utility bills/driving licence – the works.
One of the conditions of my SOPO was ‘not to delete internet history and make it available to the police’. This really didn’t bother me at all. At the end of the day, if you aren’t doing anything wrong then you’ve nothing to worry about. The police told me that they will only wish to have a look at my computer if they had good cause to do so. Well, my history is completely clean. I’ve been out of prison for 22 months now and no one has every asked to see my history.
If you’re not on licence and have no travel banning orders then you can go anywhere you want, for as long as you want – well except those countries that require you to have visa’s (the USA for example). Remember to notify the police of when you’re going and where.
The police may choose to notify border control of your travel plans and you may get ‘questioned’ by border control but that’s life I’m afraid. Just go and enjoy yourself.
I was told that disclosure only applied to me if the lady I was involved with had children or may have children staying or visiting her. Lets be clear though. If you hide a relationship with somebody who has children/grandchildren, even if they’re just visiting, then you’ll be in serious bother.
If you explain all the facts to your new partner then its not a foregone conclusion that they will run a mile (although they might!!). You should be mindful that the police/social services may wish to conduct a risk assessment as to your risk and also your partner’s ability to protect their children from harm.
Many people simply avoid getting into a new relationship until they come off the Sex Offender Register even if it’s for 3, 5 or 7 years – that’s a decision only you can make.
You may have to start completely from scratch on this one. You may have friends who’ll stick by you, who are understanding and supportive. However, they may have friends who take a completely different view. If your friends have kids then spending an afternoon and evening at a barbeque can be difficult when you have to notify the police if you’re spending 12 hours in the home where there is an under-18 present.
Don’t be worried about making new friends – how and where you meet them will depend on your age and interests. Just remember to choose your friends carefully.
Things won’t always be plain sailing and can often be quite daunting but the future is achievable. Maybe not the kind you’re used to nor ideally what you want but it’s there.
Don’t let 1% of your life define the remaining 99%.
By Alex (name changed to protect identity)
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