People receive convictions for a number of reasons but as Gemma’s story demonstrates, what’s written on your DBS certificate will never adequately describe the story behind those offences. After a period of being free from offending, is there really anything to be gained by making people relive the traumatic experiences they’ve been through?
I’m a teacher. I worked hard for my qualification and work damn hard at my job, mostly because I love teaching but also because deep down, I’ll always feel like I have something to prove. That’s because over 20 years ago I was a ‘persistent young offender’. Subconsciously, I will probably always give that extra effort to show myself, and others, that I am a good person.
One thing that does really strike me about the current DBS debates are the talks about the stigma of the criminal record verses protection of the public. There’s lots of discussion about how Bob can’t get a job in insurance because of his drunk and disorderly conduct conviction while he was a student. I’m really sorry for Bob, and I hope he finds another position – and not to belittle Bob’s situation, but I don’t think the government appreciates the depths this stigma can reach taking into consideration the variation of narratives of people with criminal convictions. I also don’t think the government realises the way in which, sometimes, stigma and public protection interact.
In my profession, when I apply for jobs, I have to sit in a room in front of a panel of complete strangers and explain why, as a 12-14 year old girl, I ended up with a criminal record that spans over five pages of double-sided A4 paper. I know the score by now, I feel it physically as the discussion gets nearer. My hands start to shake, my mouth goes dry, and I turn from a confident professional to that broken child I once was. My brain won’t function and I want to say as few words as I can get away with. I know it’s too late now, they know, the sickness, the shame, the dirtiness, they can see it, they know what I am. How can they not look at my record and just know?
Despite this chapter in my life being over 20 years ago, disclosing makes me feel like it was yesterday.
And what do I say? I don’t want them to think that I think I’m not responsible for my past actions. I want them to understand my story, but I don’t want to tell them about it. You see for me, my offending wasn’t just a set of unlawful actions – it was a whole trajectory, as is the case for many others. When I’m faced with the disclosure of my record, I’m faced with revisiting painful life experiences and trauma. It isn’t like I haven’t dealt with these life experiences either, I’m a (mostly) functional adult with a normal life, only my close family and one friend knows about my history. It is not something I routinely think about. It’s just that now and again the DBS system literally forces me to revisit the pain to make sure the public are protected from me…
To protect the public from me, I have to tell strangers that one of my convictions is for assaulting one of the men that abused me.
So to make sure the public are protected from me I have to sit in a room and tell complete strangers my story. To protect the public from me, I have to tell strangers how I was systematically abused from the age of 6. To protect the public from me, I have to tell strangers I was excluded from school at 12 and got in with the ‘wrong sort’. To protect the public from me, I have to tell strangers that one of my convictions is for assaulting one of the men that abused me. To protect the public from me, I have to tell strangers that at 13 I had a 20 year old ‘boyfriend’ who was a heroin addict, that I was infatuated with and literally did anything for. To protect the public from me, I have to tell complete strangers that I was taken into care because I was ‘out of control’ and to protect the public from me, I have to tell strangers that I nearly went to a secure unit for my own protection!
Under the current system, my convictions will never be filtered. I have worked so hard and I am a good person yet I am stopped from living some aspects of my life. As well as this, I am forced to revisit a whole life chapter when I do disclose, something that makes me feel raw. Some employers are really supportive about this but some have treated me like I am a bit of a freak show, asking questions I feel like I can’t avoid. Aside from the way I experience disclosure I was not able to pursue my first career choice. I’ve been denied work experience placements. I can’t even help out on my children’s school trips. I am a member of the public too, isn’t it about time that I had some protection.
By Gemma (name changed to protect identity)
A comment from Unlock
It’s obvious from Gemma’s story that she is a well-qualified and dedicated teacher. Her passion for teaching has meant that time and time again she’s put herself through the agony of disclosing her criminal record. We don’t believe that Gemma should be put in this position and it was for this reason that we intervened in the Supreme Court case which challenged the Government’s approach to disclosing old and minor criminal records on DBS checks. We’re hoping for a favourable outcome before the end of the year.