Circles ReBoot August 2023



Circles of Support and Accountability are an established and effective intervention for individuals who have committed contact sexual offences and present a high risk of sexual harm. In recent years, the need for a Circle tailored for the growing numbers of lower risk individuals who access online Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM) has become increasingly apparent. Circles ReBoot incorporates the principles of traditional Circles; Core Members (CMs) are professionally assessed with a robust tool, the Circle consists of 3-4 trained and supervised Volunteers supported by a Coordinator and an Outer Circle of Professionals. Outcomes for the CM are closely evaluated. The Circle is shorter (12 -14 sessions over a 6-month period) with sessions and activities focused specifically on using the CM’s strengths and aptitudes to achieve agreed goals.

CSEM IN 2023

The prevalence of the online sexual abuse of children is increasing dramatically each year. The Internet Watch Foundation UK cites 250,000 separate confirmed abusive images of children reported in 2022. These images are more concerning in nature than previous years with trends indicating children involved are younger (a third of images involve children aged 7-10) and the nature of the sexual abuse more serious. A large majority of images are now created without the abuser being present but filmed by the child in their own home. This type of abuse occurs in the context of threats, grooming, blackmail, coercion and financial payment.

The increasing use of CSEM appears to relate to the availability, anonymity and affordability of these images on the internet. Some (but not all) perpetrators have a sexual interest in children, but there is some evidence that the use of pornography can “shape” the interests of users leading them to search for more extreme images. Most users of CSEM are male; in comparison to individuals who are involved in contact sexual offending, they are more likely to be married, have children and hold stable employment. They are also more likely to be previously socially responsible and law-abiding and less likely to have previous convictions or show anti-social traits than contact abusers.

Many users of CSEM have relevant life experiences (social and sexual relationships, attachment issues and trauma) that do not cause the offending but provide a context. An interaction of these factors with personal situation/difficulties (job loss/ loneliness, relationship breakdown) may lead to CSEM offending.

For all the above reasons, arrest for these offences can have an explosive and catastrophic effect on the individual, their family and their community. The risk of their taking their life after arrest is very high.

The majority (80%) of individuals convicted of CSEM offences do not receive a custodial sentence.


As with victims of other types of sexual abuse, survivors suffer in profound ways; issues may include a lack of trust, difficulty building healthy relationships, substance abuse, poor educational attainment and mental health problems. Even when images are taken down from one platform, they still can remain on the internet.

Survivors are aware that past images of them being abused continue to be looked at years after the abuse occurred.


Assessment tools and interventions designed for people who commit contact sexual offences are not suitable for those who access CSEM. Circles ReBoot is designed specifically to meet the needs of individuals who meet a lower risk threshold, but where it is likely risk will escalate without intervention.

Although lower risk, the individuals suitable for Circles ReBoot are still likely to have a significant level of need. A ReBoot Circle, rather than mentoring, is appropriate because this form of abuse may ‘mask’ complex and underlying issues in the person’s life. As with all Circles, the Core Member is likely to be socially isolated; the interaction and support offered by a Circle is likely to be both a benefit and a catalyst for positive change.


Circles ReBoot follows the proven Circles methodology. After being professionally assessed and having given their consent, the Core Member meets regularly with a group of 3-4 Volunteers. There is an outer Circle of professionals (Police, Probation) who make the referral, receive and give updates about progress and attend review meetings.

A ReBoot Circle has more structure than a traditional Circle so that relevant issues in the Core Member’s life can be addressed comprehensively within a shorter time frame. The approach follows desistance principles and those of the “Good Lives” model of rehabilitation (this model promotes working collaboratively with individuals on positive goals; by increasing their personal capabilities and access to legal and legitimate life satisfaction, the risk they present to others is diminished).

The content therefore includes encouraging CMs to identify their own goals and strengths and start to achieve positive changes in their daily life. They work through “Keys for Change,” exercises on topics such as perspective taking, building resilience and mindfulness which have been identified in many studies as supporting desistance from crime. The Circle is Core Member centred; they are an active participant and material can be adapted to suit their individual needs.


In 2021/22 (despite some interruptions caused by the pandemic) 11 pilot Circles were delivered by Circles South West and Circles South East. The materials provided, training for Coordinators and project support were provided by Circles UK.

Circles UK entered into a partnership with independent researchers from onlinePROTECT and Royal Holloway University (Prof Derek Perkins and Dr Hannah Merdian) to do the evaluation and the final report was released in May 2023, showing positive results. The evaluation was based on the RE-AIM feasibility evaluation framework, which confirmed that the programme design and methodology are appropriate for the service user group, the materials are effective, and Circle Coordinators and Volunteers confirmed that the semi-structured programme worked well.

Positive findings of the RE-AIM feasibility categoriesAreas for development
Reach: Overall, Reach was achieved. Core Members overwhelmingly matched the intake criteria and additionally identified criteria of benefitting from structure, personal engagement and personal accountability. Core Members were able to identify personal strengths that would help create a more positive, offence free life. There was only one referral drop-off (which would have been the 12th pilot Circle) which possibly was due to a lack of engagement of the Core Member. Police and Probation staff were enthusiastic about the programme.Some indications of possible referral reluctance due to the perceived low risks of potential candidates and the potentially restrictive specificity of the referral criteria.
Effectiveness: Overall, Effectiveness was assessed as positive, based on a) Participants being able to identify the aim of ReBoot (with one exception), b) Core Members deploying identified strengths into meeting prosocial goals whilst reducing harmful behaviours, c) improving their coping mechanisms for possible future challenges, d) reflecting on how to change their lifestyles in ways that would lead to a more satisfying and offence free future, and e) seeking positive opportunities for change, such as engagement in hobbies, employment, and relationship development. All Core Members described their experience of ReBoot as being exclusively positive.No unintended negative consequences were identified or recorded elsewhere.
Adoption: Overall, Adoption was assessed as good, in that a) the initial ReBoot training was regarded as useful and relevant, b) Core Members were able to successfully engage with the ReBoot process and contents, and c) to a slightly lesser degree all the sessions made sense and were easy to run.No negative adoption aspects were identified.
Implementation: Overall, Implementation was achieved. There were some variations in delivery, based on the emerging needs of Core Members and the Volunteers’ judgements and decisions in response to these. There were some negative views on the extent to which training prepared Volunteers for their involvement in ReBoot, but this was counterbalanced by the general view that Coordinators were generally readily available and could provide useful feedback, and guidance.Specific suggestions for improvement of the training were provided.
Maintenance: Overall, Maintenance was assessed as promising. The extent to which clear and tangible outcomes could be achieved was limited by the opportunities Core Members had to make significant changes within the timescales considered. However, positive themes were identified such as Core Members developing greater reflection and self-awareness, more confidence in social situations and more willingness to seek out positive opportunities for change. As with the Core Members, the Volunteers and Coordinators generally experienced Circles ReBoot as a positive experience, from which they had gained professional knowledge and skills.No negative maintenance aspects were identified.
Some quotes demonstrating the qualitative findings:
I’ve actually been going out into social situations, alone, [by] myself, and things like that which is incredible for me, who’s been a self-isolating loner (CM XXX).
Comments by Core Members
Yeah, socially he improved quite a lot which was not necessarily something we were expecting … towards the end of the process he had way more eye contact, he was talking more, even starting conversations with me yesterday which was …a big, a big thing (V XXX).
Comment by a Volunteer:
His Probation Officer came along (to the review) and just said how he’d been transformed, how he made eye contact with everybody when he came into the Probation Office now as well as the Circle and how she thought he’d been a transformed character… physically his body language was more relaxed and comfortable and engaging, he brought Easter eggs for the Volunteers at the last meeting as a goodbye which was a very positive sign and socially adept, I’d describe it as just the clunkiness just seemed to go from him (Co XXX).
Comment by a Coordinator:


Some changes have been made based on Coordinator feedback and the evaluation recommendations. The number of sessions has been increased from 12 to 14 to allow more time to develop a relationship of trust and minor adjustments have been made to materials that worked less well. There has been an ongoing emphasis on offering flexibility for Volunteers to be able to decide which material is most suited to a particular Core Member.

Given the constantly evolving nature and prevalence of CSEM, Circles UK are currently working closely with Professor Perkins and other stakeholders to ensure suitability criteria accurately reflect where is the most need for this intervention. The assessment for Circles ReBoot is also being reconsidered to ensure it reflects the latest research about this population.

More Circles ReBoot are currently being delivered by Circles South West and Circles South East.

As this is the first Circle programme of its kind, the results of the pilot and evaluation were awaited with great interest by key stakeholders such as the Home Office, police, probation and other charities working with people who sexually harm others.