When organisations fail to behave ethically.

Firstly, an apology if you click the other pages and they are blank, I am in the process of turning this from a blog to a website, but was so disturbed by what appears to me to be unethical practice I felt compelled to speak out. 

All that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed is for enough good men to remain silent; Edmund Burke

I enjoy twitter for the wide range of people it brings me into contact with, people whose voices and experiences I might never have encountered in a less connected age. I am aware it is also used for campaigning, promotion, and politics. However today was a less positive experience as I saw an organisation who offer counselling engaged in what could only be described as hostile haranguing of other twitter users. Indeed, the account (for one must be careful not to ascribe the views of the person who tweets to all in the organisation) was rude, dismissive and taking  what can only be described as a political, and rather extreme stance, on the controversial subject of sex work.

The Personal and The Political

Can counselors be political? It is a thorny subject. As I have written before in order to demonstrate the qualities of being non judgemental and offering unconditional positive regard we must be willing to leave our own political judgements behind. It is, I believe, impossible to offer the core conditions whilst taking a strong political stance on a subject such as sex work.

This subject was first drawn to my attention by this tweet from Rape Crisis South London this morning.

I was shocked, to threaten members of a marginalized group with libel, and the dismissive “this is our social media we will use it as we wish” seemed to break a number of the personal qualities and values that the BACP expect counsellors and counselling organisations to adhere too. There is no requirement for anyone offering counselling in the UK to be registered with any regulatory body, however I have checked, and Rape Crisis South London do say they adhere to the BACP framework.

The therapist and their supervisor should be members of a recognised professional body such as the BACP, and preferably accredited by them. In the BACP Ethical Framework therapists are encouraged to develop their personal qualities in terms of their empathy, sincerity, integrity, resilience, respect, humility, competence, fairness, wisdom, and courage.

Quote from the RCSL website

These next tweets were also disturbing.

One can understand why someone would feel unable to access a service which demonstrated such hostility, however it  to shows, in my opinion how Rape Crisis South London are in breach of basic principles. In this instance the requirement that;

  • Practitioners should not allow their professional relationships with clients to be prejudiced by any personal views they may hold about lifestyle, age, gender, disability, gender reassignment, race, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership.

Quote from the BACP website.

Adhering to The Ethical Framework

The personal moral qualities of humility, respect, and fairness were certainly not adhered to in the quoted tweet. When we are trying to work ethically, we need to remember not just the moral qualities previously mentioned, but also the framework by which those qualities become in practical reality. Rape Crisis South London, in both taking, and advocating for, a political stance, and in their attitude to members of the public are failing in a number of respects to adhere to the ethical principles of counselling and psychotherapy, in particular;

  • Justice: the fair and impartial treatment of all clients and the provision of adequate services
  • Autonomy: respect for the client’s right to be self-governing

Furthermore the principle of Non malfeasance  means, in seeing those occur, I feel duty bound to not remain silent.

Practitioners have personal and professional responsibility to challenge, where appropriate, the incompetence or malpractice of others; and to contribute to any investigation and/ or adjudication concerning professional practice which falls below that of a reasonably competent practitioner and/or risks bringing discredit upon the profession. Justice: the fair and impartial treatment of all clients and the provision

Quote from the BACP ethical framework

In talking to one of the sex workers involved she explained some of the background, and I am even more concerned by what seem to me to be breaches of the ethical frame-work every member of the BACP must adhere too. They explained that Rape Crisis South London take an ideological stance around sex work, and campaign according to this stance. I am not here to pass judgement on which laws should or should not be in place, my concern here is ethical therapeutic practice.

For a number of years The association of Christian Counselling defended conversion therapy on the grounds it was the sincerely held belief some therapists that being gay was wrong, could be “cured” and needed treatment. They have now changed their stance, accepting that the personal moral beliefs of the individual counsellor should not be motivating their client work in this way. In presenting only one view of sex work as acceptable, and one can assume, only one type of sex worker as deserving of help from their organisation it is my contention rape crisis South London are behaving identically to those organisations and individuals who offer reparative/conversion therapies. Being non judgemental, a basic core condition of counselling, must not simply be on policy documents, but must be demonstrated in word and deed.

I believe, as the BACP stated in 2010, that;

The ability to appreciate differences between people, to commit to equality of opportunity, and to avoid discrimination against people or groups contrary to their legitimate personal or social circumstances, is central to ethical and professional practice (BACP 2010, Ethical Framework).

Outside of the counselling room.

The final issue  which I believe needs to be addressed is the question of whether these ethical standards and personal values apply outside of the counselling room, and specifically in this case, on a social media account.

Given that therapists can be sanctioned for their behaviour in a supervisory role, and in other relationships it is clear the ethical framework, and personal moral values I have discussed are not just limited to the counsellor/client interaction. No professional would I believe accept that behaviour which harms the profession as a whole in the public eye. It was clear that many members of the public were distressed by the attitude and opinions expressed by the Rape Crisis South London tweeter. Indeed, some said such an attitude meant they were discouraged from seeking counselling support, which is clearly malfeasance on the part of the organisation. Whilst we must always respect autonomy in accessing therapy this does not excuse actions which directly cause individuals to not access counselling. Indeed, I think it is clear that such behaviour harms the profession of counselling as a whole, creating as it does the impression that counselling organisations are hostile, judgemental and lacking in unconditional positive regard.

Some organisations on twitter allow various people to tweet for them, named individuals who make clear that they are representing their own views, not those of the organisation as a whole. I personally follow Writers of Colour and Diverse Church and have myself tweeted from the rotational curation account TWKLGBT. However, having checked there is no such division in the Rape Crisis South London account. There is nothing to indicate this is not one of the workers, or therapists, or to mitigate against the negative impression of counselling and counsellors the account is creating in the pubic consciousness.

In conclusion, I believe that it is acceptable to expect the public face of a counselling organisation to uphold and adhere to the highest standards of the profession, and that Rape Crisis South London has significantly failed to do so. I repeat my offer to those who were personally attacked to support any official complaint they with to make. Finally I hope that this is a situation the management of Rape Crisis South London take seriously, and work to rectify, ethical practice is not optional and must be at the heart of all that we do.

A link to this piece shall be sent to RCSL. 

20 thoughts on “When organisations fail to behave ethically.

  1. In my very limited experience as a man I can only cite a single case where a sex-worker told me she had developed a positive and non judgemental relationship with a WPC (Woman Police Constable) who was following her case.
    Some people think Sex Workers are just ‘too dumb’ to tell the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. This idea is popular in much that passes for ‘politics’ in our glorious social democracies. Last thing these people will talk about is organised labour, trade unions and suchlike.


  2. This is a very confused piece that makes totally unsubstantiated and very serious charges against Rape Crisis South London. As an organisation, it takes a critical stance on the sex industry and does not support the right of men to purchase consent. This is a wholly legitimate position – you may disagree with it but it doesn’t conflict with Rape Crisis’s ability to counsel and support women in prostitution. I find it incredible that you think the role of the rape crisis movement is to endorse the actions of men who may harm women.


    1. I think I recognise your name, you are a journalist yes? Not a therapist? I am afraid you have failed to understand any of the ethical considerations an organisation offering counselling must adhere too. This is not about any view of sex work, but about standards every BACP registered therapist must adhere too.
      Apologies if you find this confusing I am aware that when one writes about ones profession it may be off putting to those outside of the profession, however I did try to make the explanations of where they had breached the ethical frame work clear. Which points did you have trouble understanding? Let me know and I shall try to clarify them


      1. No, I understand the case you are trying to make. You think it is unethical for Rape Crisis to hold a position on the behaviour of punters because you consider this to be in conflict with their therapeutic responsibilities. However you have not supplied evidence of any unethical conduct: in fact your case rests entirely on ideologically motivated individuals discouraging women from approaching Rape Crisis, which I consider highly irresponsible.


      2. Organistaions which offer theraputic support must be apolitical yes, for the reasons listed. This is basic, year one ethics when studying to be a counsellor. You must leabe personal political beliefs outside the door. In the tweet I linked to the org threatened people with libel. Furthermore, in simply creating the perception of being judgemental, and not offering unconditional positive regard in the public mind they are harming counselling as a profession. I saw no individual discouraging others, I did see a number of sex workers and non sex workers say they would not feel able to access their service. As I say in the piece, this in and of itself is worrying. The ethical frame work of the BACP also includes a duty of care to the general public.
        You have I think misunderstood, the gap between personal and proffessed opinions is a dilemma all therapists must negotiate. Perhaps this is something too familiar to me, and not at all an area you are familiar with. I shall endeavour to make my writing more accessible in future.


      3. The organisation did not threaten anyone with libel. It contended out that a libellous statement had been made, and chose not to engage with that. As for being apolitical – you have confused the aims a movement that works to prevent male violence and protect the victims of it with the therapeutic practice of its counsellors, and done so in a highly irresponsible way.


      4. No, I believe RCSL are confusing the two, and this is a moment for self reflection and self awareness on their part. If they wish to campaign they must do so completely separately from offering therapeutic support.


      5. Your position is that it is inappropriate for an anti-rape organisation to critique male sexual entitlement and the expression of patriarchal control. I find this extraordinary.


      6. If they wish to do so they need to somehow separate their campaigning arm from their counselling arm. In the piece I gave a suggestion as to how this could be achieved.


  3. As an outsider looking in I have looked through a few days of RCSL Tweetline and was surprised to see some very politically orientated anti-sex worker posts. Whilst RCSL states that ReTweets are not endorsements I haven’t seen anything that balances out the arguments. I would imagine that SWs would feel that they are unwelcome as it looks like RCSL judge that SWs allegedly contribute towards male entitlement and male violence towards women.

    I realise that some people feel very strongly that sex work encourages male entitlement but is this actually true? I struggle with an organisation that offers therapeutic services to all victims of rape making such sweeping assumptions. The issue of gender entitlement is way too complex to be dealt with by the demonisation and scapegoating of sex workers.

    I also find it worrying that an important resource for victims of rape is making such sweeping judgments about sex workers in general (as well as continuing to insist on using the word prostitution in full knowledge that it is regarded as derogatory by those in the industry).


    1. Amanda: perhaps you could specify some of these “sweeping judgements about sex workers,” because as far as I can see ,there are none. Rape Crisis South London has expressed an opinion on the sex industry, and it is inane that you should regard the critique of an industry in which women are exposed to extraordinarily high levels of sexual violence (so high that one sex worker quoted about refers to rape as “hurt at work”) as an attack on the women who are harmed by that industry.


      1. If a sex worker approached me for therapy, and described being raped as being hurt at work (which is factually correct) I would not be offering the core conditions if I did not accept that was how she viewed things. I think you clearly feel very strongly about sex work, so much so you are failing to see the many concerns different therapists have. A fundamental tenet of our profession is that we are non judgemental, that we leave those feelings motivating you outside the therapeutic space.


      2. You seem to have failed to understand. My reply had no bearing on how a counsellor should respond to a client’s self-description. I was, however, pointing out that if rape is seen as an occupational hazard of the sex industry by those working within it, an anti-rape movement is wholly justified in critiquing the institution of prostitution.


      3. Hi Sarah
        I am referring to the retweets of articles which do make these sweeping judgments which are not balanced out with the retweeting of blogs with alternative opinions. This gives a message. I have no agenda here. I am merely trying to point out that I can quite understand the point that Karen is making and appreciate that it does come across, at least to me, that RCSL is anti SW. As far as I can see there appeared to be a very clear anti SW agenda being Tweeted which would have an effect on whether SWs feel that they are able to access counselling at RCSL. The Twitter account also clearly refers to sex workers as prostitutes, when a previous blog post was retweeted by the same account (surely it’s safe to assume that the RCSL Tweeter actually read the article before retweeting) that acknowledges that SWs see this as a slur, which is inflammatory and thus compounds this point.


  4. I can appreciate the issues highlighted by the article. Both the UKCP and the NCS have similar issues about the non-judgemental stance of their members.

    The issue comes when perfectly acceptable personal views are confused with official stances and in this case it’s not clear if this is an organisational stance or a tweeter’s opinion. However, when tweeting from an organisational account, it’s always important to ensure the tone of the message is appropriate.

    It would be a shame if anyone was made to feel uncomfortable/judged to such an extent that they would refuse to access the support provided by RCSL.


  5. Thank you for this analysis. As an RC volunteer and a trainee counsellor I very much agree that RC centres need to be mindful of how the materials they share and the comments they make on social media could be perceived by potential service users. RC is a political and campaigning movement, and rightly so, but all campaigning work needs to be balanced against the primary goal of supporting survivors and conducted in manner that ensures all survivors feel able to access RC services and know that they will not be judged for any aspect of their lives. Given that several women have stated that this particular RC centre’s online conduct has put them off accessing the centre, a line has clearly been crossed.


    1. Thank you for your reply, having been in contact with rape crisis in the past this thoughtful, and ethical manner your portray has always been my experience. I understand the dilemma that people want to campaign for change, whilst offering practical support. As you say its a balance, and one which has here, I believe been crossed.


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