A LGBT charity in Yorkshire has been criticised for allegedly allowing its staff to have sexual relationships with clients.
Yorkshire MESMAC works with victims of child abuse as well as vulnerable young adults offering counselling, sexual health information and HIV tests, according to The Guardian.
However, its policy on staff conduct has been slammed by other charities and victim welfare experts.
The policy, which does not pertain to minors, reads: “Sexual relationships are acceptable with service users [who] initially met during work time, but this would be inappropriate if the service user has entered into a 1-2-1 or ongoing support relationship with the worker.”
However, the advice also states: “It is not acceptable for workers to use work time to further relationships they may wish to pursue in their own time, for example by exchanging telephone numbers or other personal contact information.”
The Survivors Trust, which helps those who are victims of rape and violent sexual acts, has said it is "astonished."
The chief executive Fay Maxted said: "The nearest example I can think of [to] this that would be appropriate or acceptable is around relationships with ex-service users and even then with caution.
“The policy doesn’t sufficiently protect service users from workers who may exploit their position to gain access to vulnerable people," he added, saying “it’s a charter for workers to seek out service users they want to have a relationship with.”
Dr Alec Grant, former reader in narrative mental health at the University of Brighton, claims that this policy is “contradictory” because “they are told that it is not acceptable to turn work relationships into personal ones. They are then informed that they can pursue sexual relationships with service users met during work time, providing they are not in either a one-to-one or a supportive relationship.”
Now Yorkshire MESMAC is changing its guidelines, although it claims the policy had been “misconstrued.” Chief executive Tom Doyle explained it actually means “in our adult sexual health services, where a worker is giving out condoms in pubs, clubs, etc. Technically at that point everyone they give a condom to is a service user.”
If the staff member then sees the service user outside of work “we think it is acceptable for them to develop a relationship. What is unacceptable is to use work time or their position in MESMAC to further that in any way."