how honest should we be about why we’re transferring a client (who sent a creepy, inappropriate email)?

A reader writes:

I’m in a helping profession. Yesterday, I met with a new potential client who was just released from jail after a significant amount of time for rape. We spoke about his skills and education and I gave him some tasks to complete (required by our grant). An hour and a half after he left, I got a long email asking me to text him privately. He wrote a lot about how lonely he is and how pretty I am. The whole thing was very inappropriate, and I felt scared and forwarded the messages to my manager.

My manager is awesome and fantastically protective and supportive of her staff (there is a reason our team has the lowest turnover in the entire place). I work offsite in an office with no security and few people. She immediately stated that she’d transfer his case to a coworker in the main office where there are actual security precautions (including security officers making rounds).

Here is what we did: We have a new coworker who needs to build a caseload at the main office. My supervisor called the client to tell him that his case is being transferred because I’m super busy and that a new caseworker had been hired to help relieve me (which is true).

Part of me feels that this was the best way since we don’t particularly want to make clients uncomfortable or defensive. On the other hand, I wonder if I should have given him feedback about the email. I’ve read the Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, so I listened when my brain sent me danger signals, but I can’t help but wonder if I have done the client a disservice. What is your take on this?

I’d defer to people who work in this field and have actual expertise in it, but barring objections from those quarters, it seems to me that there are two important reasons to tell the client that the message he sent you was inappropriate and that he can’t do that again if he wants to continue working with your organization: (1) He needs to hear that that behavior isn’t okay — either because he genuinely doesn’t know and needs to be told, or because he knows but thinks he can get away with it anyway and needs to hear that he can’t. (2) Your employer should do what it can to stop this from happening again, and “hey, you can’t do this” is a basic part of that.

I do like that you found a solution that allows the client to continue getting the services that your organization provides, but that the person who now feels unsafe with him won’t be required to work with him. I also like that the person who works with him in the future is in an office with tighter security measures.

I’m assuming that you had input into this decision, and your manager didn’t just remove the client from you without making sure you were comfortable with that or without knowing you well enough to know you’d want this. That’s important, because the consequence of being harassed shouldn’t be “you lose this client/project/responsibility” unless you actually want that. (In this case, I’m guessing that you did, but it’s worth noting because in other cases with different details, it might be preferable to handle it differently and you should get some say in that.)

I’m also assuming that the new coworker who will take over the client has been briefed on what happened, and — especially since that person is new — is being coached on how to handle it if the same issue comes up again. If not, definitely make sure that happens.

But yeah, I think ideally someone would have called out the client on what he did and made it clear he can’t do it again. It might be too late for that to happen now, since it might make it clear that the transfer was more of a cover story and that could cause its own issues. And I think it’s fine to leave it right where it is, if that’s what you feel safest with. But it’s potentially an interesting question to talk over with your manager for the future, if nothing else.

{ 158 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    I’m surprised that in an organization like this this hasn’t come up enough for there to be a policy in place about private boundaries and what to do with clients who are crossing them.

    1. LW*

      fposte – The organization as a whole is NOT in what would be considered a clinical helping profession. I would have dealt with this much differently if it was an actual therapy situation, but it wasn’t. But yes, I agree about having a policy (though there wasn’t one about how to deal with domestic violence reported by a customer until it happened, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised).

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Even if it’s not clinical, you should absolutely still have those policies and procedures in place. Sounds like an opportunity for a serious review. I’m assuming this is some sort of job placement type of organization. I’d say that even though you aren’t doing clinical counseling, abiding by those sorts of guidelines would be the safest way to go for everyone involved.

        1. snuck*


          At some level it mightn’t matter if the person sending you creepy emails is an ex-con or not… the process and protocols should still apply (and it sounds like you’ve handled this just fine as per your comments).

          The fact that the person sending you them is a known quantity (known to be a sexual predator of women) means that there should be zero doubt about intentions and just enact the policy. If the person wasn’t a sexual predator then *maybe* a counselling session would be warranted with the sender.

      2. fposte*

        Yeah, sometimes that’s just how we learn–and develop policies. I suppose it’s a good sign that they haven’t needed one before.

  2. LW*

    Alison – I had input and definitely wanted him transferred and I helped brief the co-worker who will now be working with him. The co-worker has been told that if it happens again to let our supervisor know. Something I didn’t know is that our supervisor told her supervisor about it and Big Supervisor agreed with the actions taken.

  3. Anon for this*

    The OP needs to still be aware that the client may seek her out in the future, since he knows where she works.

    I may be way off base on this, but could communication like this be any sort of violation of his parole?

    1. LW*

      Believe me I am aware and have taken what steps I can (asking for co-workers to walk me to my car – it’s dark by the time we get off work).

      I didn’t even consider the violation of parole thing. I’ll ask my manager.

      1. catsAreCool*

        You might want to look into legal ways to defend yourself, maybe pepper spray or something, just as an extra protection.

        1. Blj531*

          Please just be very aware that pepper spray is not legal in many states and individual cities! I have my own concerns about using it beyond this but I’ve met far too many people who carry it thinking it is legal and have consequences for that decision.

      2. snuck*

        Good move.

        And if you are thinking of carrying pepper spray or similar… think it through. It can be used against you as much as against someone else if you hesitate they might get it off you. It’s also a largely one shot wonder… if you miss you now have a pissed off annoyance.

        Getting someone to walk you to your car is far more effective. Parking in different places if possible. Changing up your working hours when you can so they are unpredictable. I assume you have your private contact details (phone, address) not listed in public records? Working from a different location etc.

        But you mightn’t need all of these. If the guy is on parole he’s not going to want to be shoved back in, he’s going to move along to an easier target than you to manipulate.

    2. snuck*

      This is what I was thinking… that there probably is some form of parole officer out there that would LOVE to know this…

      And that the client would have been thoroughly briefed at some stage to not be a dick (and this is a dick move). This sort of thing would have been explicitly explained.

      And… another thought… people don’t go to gaol for long terms for rape without having other long histories with criminal acts. Sadly our society just doesn’t do that. And that says something about this client… they have a long rap sheet that goes back well before the rape probably. Or the rape was spectacularly evil. These facts point to someone you don’t want to mess with. He’s probably manipulative…. I wouldn’t assume at any stage he a) doesn’t know how to manipulate to get what he wants and b) he’s innocent of anything.

      On those grounds I wouldn’t confront him about it, I’d (get your manager to) let the parole officer know, explain the case has been transferred, the client is NOT to contact you again, and let them deal with it. They are the professionals on this stuff, and will know if it’s actually part of a picture that needs to be handled. The Parole Officer has the power to make him behave (or send him back to gaol).

      If the client ever contacts you again I’d arrange to work out of a different location for a while (and complain to that same parole officer again), and take out a restraining order. He’s been told then not to contact you, and he well could – with a sob story, or a guilt trip, or a legitimate question – this is how manipulators get their foot in the door – small seemingly innocent trust steps.

  4. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    OP – I was once in a similar situation to you, although much less scary (client came on to me, I was rather upset by it but lack of boundaries was part of the reason we were working with him, if that makes sense – I’m trying to be suitably vague) Similarly, I was asked whether or not I wanted to keep the client, I didn’t, and somebody else took it on. I made sure to talk to the person taking it, to explain what had happened and make clear I was happy to help them but didn’t want further contact with the client. We didn’t tell the client.

    I’m just going to apologise at this point if what I say sounds offensive/”wrong”. I’m really struggling with language for this (if anybody can suggest better ways of phrasing things, I’d be really grateful). My concern with telling your client would be 1) he would take it as “she doesn’t trust herself to work with me, she must fancy me, I’ll keep harassing her” or similar or 2) he would become angry and could escalate matters. Ordinarily, I would say call out someone who behaves like this, because they *do* know it’s wrong (and if they don’t, they need to) but in certain “higher risk” situations, I think that the benefit of standing up to somebody is outweighed by the risk of something happening.

    This sounds like somebody with inappropriate boundaries who at best doesn’t react well to situations, and at worst is potentially dangerous. I think he knows it was wrong, and telling him it was wrong won’t help him; and if he doesn’t know, this isn’t the situation in which to start helping him understand why it’s wrong.

    1. LW*

      He just sent me an apology e-mail. So yes, I’m fairly sure he knows it was wrong.

      Thank you for your support. It was a really icky feeling.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        I am sorry that it happened to you. ‘Icky’ is about the perfect word, really. I don’t know how far this applies to you, but one of worst bits can be that usually, you can tell people to sod off and one of the benefits of that is being able to feel empowered and still in control – but in any situation where you don’t feel comfortable with that you can end up feeling both icky and helpless/powerless, which makes it even worse. That’s where telling someone can just be best for you personally, disregarding even the he needs to know/people should stand up against this/other reasons. But it doesn’t make you powerless; you had the control and awareness to deal with this professionally and in a way which minimised drama, and that in itself is a hugely powerful thing.

        I also don’t know how far the next bit applies to you, but just in case – please definitely take security precautions like talking to his security officer (and asking your coworkers to help – hurrah for lovely coworkers!) – but please also remember if necessary that absolutely nothing you did caused this. For a while, I did the “better wear trousers to work” game with myself, which was silly, because whatever I was wearing that man would have harassed me. But it took me a while to get there. I do sincerely hope that you are in a better place, but just in case, please try and remember and hold on to that, and do still allow yourself a little time to feel icky/vulnerable/scared without feeling guilty that that’s how you’ve reacted, too.

      2. Artemesia*

        That is good as it indicates he did get the message. And I’d totally ignore any further message from him.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          Yes, this. I wouldn’t even respond to the apology email – just press “Delete” and move on.

          (My skin is crawling and this didn’t even happen to me. Yeesh.)

      3. Temperance*

        Gross. I would print everything out to document what he’s doing, and absolutely keep your manager apprised of the situation.

      4. Sarah*

        I hate to say this to you, but I’d feel like I wasn’t being appropriately protective if I didn’t: He knew it was wrong, he knew it would scare and upset you, and that’s WHY he did it.

        Rapists don’t commit rape because they’re guys who are awkward and incapable of getting dates, it’s because they want to breach boundaries and cause pain and fear.

        If it were me I wouldn’t just tell his parole officer, I’d look into another line of work. It’s good that your boss has your back, but it sounds like the organization’s bitten off a bit more than it can chew. This stuff sounds a bit above their ability to handle if they’re working with parolees but they don’t have a policy in place for criminal harassment or abuse of their staff.

        My goal here isn’t to upset you further, but to make it crystal clear that some people don’t need education on appropriate behavior; assuming predatory people are just ignorant or giving that benefit of the doubt gives them more tools with which to manipulate the situation.

            1. OhNo*

              Agreed. The follow-up email is also a classic second round to that ploy. It sets the stage for the “I’m not a bad guy; I didn’t mean to be scary/threatening/creepy; I just have poor social skills” defense.

              LW, I’m so glad you listened to your gut on this one, and I’m glad you’re taking precautions already. As much as I believe people can change after prison, and that everyone deserves a second chance, this guy just blew his with this nonsense. Make sure you keep your manager (and the police, if necessary) in the loop on any further contact from this guy for your own safety!

      5. INTP*

        Sounds like he knows exactly why he got transferred, hence the apology email, so no disservice could have been done to him my euphemizing the situation.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          After years of human service, my knee jerk thought was that OP should find out if someone told him they know about the message to OP. It sounds like OP is assuming someone told him but has not verified. Nope, I am not paranoid. I just know the importance of verification when working with people.

      6. Sarah*

        I’m glad your boss had your back, but my gut says this guy did it because he knew it was inappropriate, scary and upsetting. It’s not about not knowing the boundaries, but about wanting to breach them. I think giving people like this the benefit of the doubt gives them more room to manipulate, and letting him know he scared you could be worse than just letting him be transferred without comment on why.

        I also think this stuff is above your organization’s ability to handle it if they don’t already have a policy and expert guidelines in place. But I’m paranoid like that.

        1. L McD*

          “…my gut says this guy did it *because* he knew it was inappropriate, scary and upsetting.”

          +1000000000000 x infinity. This guy is a convicted rapist, so there is no room for misinterpretation here. His intention is absolutely to violate boundaries and exert dominance and control over people. This isn’t just some guy that everybody says is a creep, this is a guy whose crimes were obvious and/or violent and/or brazen enough to actually get him caught and convicted. I’d definitely do everything I can to make sure those who are supervising his re-entry into society know what he’s up to.

      7. snuck*

        Take the apology letter, and the original one to the Parole Officer. Do not engage. Do not respond. Do not acknowledge. Do not Pass Go. Do not collect $200. Dead in the water.

        This is grooming behaviour.

        If it’s not, if the client has somehow made it through years of gaol, and years of adult life before that without having his naiveté knocked out of him then let the Parole Officer read him the educational riot act. The Parole Officer knows EXACTLY what this client is capable of, has his rap sheet, has his gaol file etc. Let it be his problem.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I totally agree. He is testing.

          So, make sure you and you organization pass this test–and he fails it.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I think I know what you’re getting at: people who are bad with boundaries need them enforced even more strictly, or else they see their attempts at communication as being rewarded.

      I was coming here to say that it might be a better idea for the new provider to try to explain to the client how and why they were inappropriate for this very reason. But my direct patient contact was many, many years ago.

    3. Colorado*

      To The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon:
      This: … but in certain “higher risk” situations, I think that the benefit of standing up to somebody is outweighed by the risk of something happening.

      I really like your post and the way you explained it. Much like the saying “sometimes it’s better to be kind than right”, this is so true. I know this isn’t relevant to the post but I was robbed once by a drug addict and I did nothing because I was afraid of the repercussions of said unstable person. Maybe not the best choice but at the time I was scared they’d come back angry and try to harm me even further than taking my stuff.

      1. Becky*

        I am sorry that happened to you.

        I wasn’t there, yet I would like to say that what you did WAS the best choice for you to do.

        I do the “if only I’d done this” timesuck-spiral before I catch myself; fact is, 99% of the time I would have done the exact same thing because of whatever knowledge/insight/instinct I had at the moment it was going on. Hindsight is great for adding to your arsenal of what to do next time, but even then, it’s a case-by-case basis.

        You were scared the drug addict would do worse than what he was already doing; you acted accordingly to prevent that fear from becoming reality. You are still here today to share what you’ve learned. Outside of it happening to you in the first place, this is pretty damn good.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Sometimes we have to trust that our intuition is giving us the right answer. On that basis, I think you made the right choice at that time.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I don’t think I would want the OP to be the one to say, “this was out of line.”

      This is not someone who needs some friendly coaching. He needs boundaries, and they should be set by someone with authority.

      It would be great if we could all set our own boundaries and be respected, but this guy is in a different category.
      If I were the OP’s manager, I would forbid her to ever contact him again. I’d want to know about the apology email, and I would be following up on that.

  5. Meg*

    If this client is on either state parole or federal supervised release, it’s possible that your agency has a contract with the supervising agency and an obligation to report this information to the probation office/parole officer. As such, this may be an appropriate conversation for his supervising officer to have with him. You may want to keep a record of the text and provide it to his officer. As a former probation officer, this kind of information is something that we would have wanted to address with our clients. This may even be a violation of the terms of his release.

    1. LW*

      I don’t know if we have a contract with the supervising agency, but I’ll ask my manager! Thank you for letting me know!

      1. Meg*

        We valued information from our community partners like this and saw our community partners as part of the team.

        1. Doreen*

          When a releasee behaves this way at a community partner, they typically reject the person from their program. The supervising officer want to know whether there is a contract or not , as it is not uncommon for parolees to behave inappropriately to sabotage their admission to a program. Likewise, they often behave inaapropriately to the supervising officer hoping to be transferred to a more lenient officer. If for some reason we decide to transfer the case rather than pursue a violation , we dont tell them why and we make sure that a more lenient or inexperienced officer doesn’t get the case.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Thank you, Meg, many times. There has to be an overseer somewhere here, a PO or a counselor, someone. If he is on the sex offender registry he probably has an assigned person to report to, minimally an assigned location. The original message needs to be given to that person. This is a person that would know if this is part of this guy’s grooming or baiting technique.

        Not trying to scare you, OP. I think the situation involving you is over/done. However, out there somewhere is a person who is keeping track of this guy’s behavior. The person keeping track also understands this guys patterns. What seems like a one-off to you, might be very significant to this person tracking his behavior. You handled the problem and you handled it well.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Yep, he’s got other people who can “coach” him; give them the information so they can do their jobs.

  6. Ann Furthermore*

    Holy cow, OP, that would have really scared me too. You did the right thing, and how fortunate that you have a manager that is supportive and takes these things seriously.

    I think you’re right that someone should (or should have) said something too him, for the reasons Alison stated: he either doesn’t know how inappropriate that was, or he doesn’t care. And if he truly doesn’t know, then that’s information that he needs to have in order to get his life on track and put the past behind him. But I wouldn’t think that you, specifically, would be the right person to have that conversation with him. He could see that as “rejection” and not handle it very well. Yes, he’s paid his debt to society and deserves the chance to move on with his life, but his behavior demonstrates that he’s got some issues with boundaries and given his history it’s prudent to proceed with caution.

    It’s commendable that you still want this guy to receive the services your organization provides, even though he did something that made you feel unsafe.

    1. SomeAwesomeUserName*


      I think it’s appropriate for your organization to, in communications with him, give him the benefit of the doubt that he might be genuinely unaware that this type of thing is unacceptable (i.e. is not the way you form relationships)– especially given the apology email. But that’s not for OP to do, but rather for the org to communicate. I feel like a lot of people are coming down really hard with the assumption that this is an evil guy, which doesn’t resonate with how most client services orgs would think about this.

      But also more than appropriate for OP and the organization to assume that he *could* be quite dangerous and to take all necessary safety measures (including OP cutting off all communications). So those aren’t at all opposite things, IMHO.

      1. Sarah*

        [quote]I feel like a lot of people are coming down really hard with the assumption that this is an evil guy, which doesn’t resonate with how most client services orgs would think about this.[/quote]

        Frankly, I’m not sure how else to characterize a person convicted of the crime this client was. It’s not exactly an “oops”.

  7. 420DildoSwaggins*

    Hey im just testing the commenting function, because it does not seem to work for me. Where can one see if ones comment got in moderation or whatever you call it?

    1. Not me*

      If you post a comment and it doesn’t show up after you hit “Submit,” that’s how you know. That can happen randomly, but will always happen if your comment contains a URL.

      1. olympiasepiriot*

        I find I need to hit Submit twice: once to get out of the commenting box and once to actually submit.

        1. Artemesia*

          Me too. Sometimes if I hit submit twice, I get the ‘duplicate’ message and it never posts. Other times, it doesn’t post unless I do it. The blue is a blue loading line in the search box; if that is happening then I don’t need to hit submit twice, otherwise nothing happens unless I do. And often when I try to post, the entire site reboots and my comment is lost. It only happens on this site.

        2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          I find most commonly in Chrome when using zoom. It’s like my comment adjusts to rest of the text when I first click Submit, then the second Submit actually submits.

    2. fposte*

      If it bounces you back to the top of the post, it went into moderation. Your username may ring the bell for spam filters :-).

        1. VivaL*

          FYI this posted as a reply to fposte, not to 420…. just fyi he wont get notified of follow up/your request, I don’t think :-)

    3. Jerzy*

      I hope that username is just a troll doing their troll thing. You know that’s why you’re getting caught up by the filters, yes?

      1. A Bug!*

        I don’t think it’s necessarily a troll; I chuckled at it. Unless you’re referring to a history of making inappropriate comments under that username rather than to the username itself?

  8. AMT*

    Social worker here in a similar field (criminal defense). I would not hesitate to tell this client that his behavior was the reason for the transfer. As social workers, we are *not* required to work with people who are personally dangerous to us or to shield them from the knowledge that they have crossed our boundaries. Furthermore, this behavior could get him in serious trouble in the future. Have the new social worker brief him on what happened and why it was unacceptable.

  9. Eliza Jane*

    I strongly feel you should not tell him.

    The reason for the transfer is insufficient security at your site, right? I have known enough guys who aren’t newly released sex offenders who got aggressive and angry after being rejected. The transfer without telling him the reason presents as a bureaucratic shift. If you tell him the reason, it may come across as rejection, and put you in danger. Your responsibility to him does not trump your personal safety, and I suspect telling him would increase your risk.

    1. Helka*

      I agree with this as a reason the OP shouldn’t tell him. OTOH, a message from someone higher up basically saying “We are aware of your email to OP, and must warn you that further similar messages to any of our workers will result in your removal from this program” would be warranted. Very impersonal, very bureaucratic, but still making sure it’s clear that sending that email was incredibly inappropriate.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, the person has been removed from your caseload. How this is handled going forward is up to other people. You are done-thankfully.
        There should be a formal process where you write out what happened. That documentation should be a part of his file with your company. Anyone that reads the file will find your report.

        Your boss should be able to guide you through a process like this. Not saying this in a snotty way, I was in human services for quite a while and there are so many stories. Every single one is different and how do you handle it? Your go-to should be your boss because you will encounter so many unique settings. People do people-y things.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I totally agree.

        This needs to have authority behind it–it needs to be coming from the organization, and not from you.

    2. irritable vowel*

      Agreed–I’d like to see this decoupled as much as possible from the guy’s background, although I know that’s hard. Some of the other commenters’ thoughts on reporting the incident to his parole officer (or equivalent post-release supervision) seem to be unnecessary escalation at this point. We have no way of knowing whether this man is likely to be a repeat offender or if this inappropriate conduct is an indication of that. I would hate for him to go back to jail for this behavior–he has not committed a crime. He should certainly be told why he can’t contact the LW or anyone else who is helping him in this way, and transferring him to a neutral party was a good idea. But beyond that I think it’s important to give him the opportunity to learn from the incident in a productive way rather than making it into a punishment.

      1. Meg*

        He wouldn’t necessarily go back to jail for this. I think you are misunderstanding the role of a supervising officer. His supervising officer should be made aware of high risk behavior, and it is his officer’s job to address such behavior. At least in my office, POs didn’t just go around revoking people without giving the clients the opportunity to make changes. It is the POs job to work with the client and help them to make better decisions. In most instances communicating this to the PO would give the client the opportunity to make changes.

        1. Eliza Jane*

          Agreed with this. Even though I wouldn’t tell the man, because I feel like it would be a risky behavior, I would definitely contact his parole officer, and maybe even ask for advice on the best way to handle it.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          POs fill out reports that a judge and/or DA read, they are on the ones who decide if he returns to jail.

        3. TootsNYC*

          Yeah, I don’t think his going back to jail because of this complaint is any more likely than a worker’s chance of getting fired for one complaint from a customer.

          Sure, sometimes it happens, but it’s far more likely that the complaint will be taken in the greater context–what else is going on here?–by someone far closer to the situation than the complainer, and way closer than us total strangers.

          If he ends up back in jail because of this, it’s probably warranted.

          1. snuck*

            “If he ends up back in jail because of this, it’s probably warranted.”

            Considering the lack of space in gaols…

            He’d be going back for more than this.

      2. Temperance*

        Here’s the thing: if participating in this program is a condition of his parole, his PO needs to be aware that this man, a convicted rapist, has made inappropriate advances on a team member. You can’t just write off the fact that he has a violent history with women, because without that violent history, he wouldn’t be accessing these services.

        He made the choice to make those inappropriate advances; he knows the conditions of his parole. You don’t need to commit a second crime to have parole revoked.

        1. Katniss*

          Agreed completely. I’m not going to coddle someone who “might have changed” or might be reformed when they exhibit bad behavior at the cost of the safety of others. Added to his history, making those advances is a warning sign, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

        2. L McD*

          Thank you. There’s no way to view this outside of the context of his crimes. I don’t want to get into a whole Thing about this, but any woman here knows how difficult it actually is for boundary-violating behavior to even get into the “I have enough evidence to call the cops” territory, let alone “there is enough evidence to convict and sentence” territory. This guy and his behavior are not to be taken lightly. Rape isn’t an accident or some momentary lapse in judgment. There are no extenuating circumstances. You don’t rape someone in self-defense or to feed your family or because you just got caught up in the wrong crowd. The LW is getting some great advice here, and notifying his parole officer is a great step in protecting herself and anyone else this guy might come into contact with. If he is sufficiently convinced that no one is going to give an inch, it might suppress his behavior enough to keep people around him safe.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            With a convicted person the bar is lowered. Generally, there are certain behaviors that are targeted as big no-nos because it is known that this is how the person operates and does his crap that he does. The list of behaviors can be unique to that individual, but it is still a targeted behavior that is not acceptable.
            OP, you can’t guess at this stuff because each person is different. So always check in with someone else in situations like this.

      3. rvsl*

        “I’d like to see this decoupled as much as possible from the guy’s background, although I know that’s hard.”

        See, normally I would agree with you. Actually, for most other criminal offenses I would agree…BUT this guy was previously convicted of a sexually violent crime, and now he’s sexually harassing the LW? Maybe he won’t become a repeat offender…but many rapists ARE repeat offenders (and frankly, he is not off to a good start by blatantly crossing the LW’s boundaries). By asking the LW to give him the benefit of the doubt, you are asking her to take a major risk. This guy does not deserve the luxury of the benefit of the doubt.

        I forget who said it, but I feel like this quote applies here: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          noooooo- please do not decouple this. The only one who should be decoupling it, it a trained professional such as his counselor.

          If you found an arsonist playing with matches would you decouple that? Please do not skate by it, let others know and let them decide if your incident merits further follow up.

      4. Observer*

        I’d like to see this decoupled as much as possible from the guy’s background, although I know that’s hard.

        It’s hard very a very good reason. So good, in fact, that it provides a good reason for NOT decoupling it from his background.

        We have no way of knowing whether this man is likely to be a repeat offender or if this inappropriate conduct is an indication of that.

        That is where you are incorrect. We do, in fact know both things. Recidivism is fairly high for these types of offenses, in general. Furthermore, this is hugely boundary crossing and inappropriate behavior that would raise red flags even without the history. The combination says that he hasn’t changed anywhere near enough to trust him.

        A question for you: You seem to be more concerned about the risk of this guy going back to prison than the risk of his hurting someone. Why are you so focused on that in the face of a real issue?

        1. OriginalEmma*

          Probably for the same reason men all over are given “the benefit of the doubt” regarding sexual assault/harassment/molestation accusations and charges against them, while their female accusers are given the 3rd degree. And that reason is we live in sexist societies, where women’s voices, views and experiences are by and large treated with suspicion.

          1. OhNo*

            Good point. We do need to be aware that people can change, and they deserve second chances sometimes. But this WAS his second chance, and he just blew it with this email.

            What you’d be asking for this time, by decoupling his background from the reaction to this, would be a third chance. Maybe even a fourth, given that he sent an “apology” email that sounds like it could be a further grooming ploy. And these chances would be coming at the expense of the OP’s sense of safety. Sorry, but that’s just not worth it.

      5. Sarah*

        I’d like to ask, why would you like to see his current behavior decoupled from his past behavior?

        This will be my last comment on the subject. I don’t want to run all over the thread, but I feel strongly enough about it to address these idea that the client deserves services more than the public deserves protection, or that the client is merely ignorant of social norms.

  10. Observer*

    I’m going to agree with the people who say that if the client can be safely called out, he should be. In addition to what’s already been said, he needs to realize that this kind of behavior could easily keep him from getting or keeping jobs.

  11. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    Similar field as well:

    Years ago i had something similar happen with a client who was working with us because of stalking (he was the stalker). I was demographically similar to the victim, and he kept asking me out, commenting on my body, coming by without a good reason, etc. We transferred him to an older man (my boss). We didn’t initially tell him the reason for the transfer, and he started calling me every 10 minutes to object, leaving handwritten letters taped to the office door, etc., asking why I had rejected him. At that point, my boss did tell him that his behavior had to stop if he wanted services, and that solved the problem. My point is that he may continue to pursue you if he’s not told to stop.

    1. BadPlanning*

      The lack of self awareness is scary. Dude, you were stalking, now you are stalker still. Although, at least he was apparently able to stop it when told.

      1. Shannon*

        That is what they call an extinction burst, where someone ramps up their bad behavior because they’re afraid they’re going to have to stop.

        1. Artemesia*

          Not so much ‘afraid they are going to have to stop’ as making it clear to the target that she can’t ‘make me stop doing what I want to do, so there.’

      2. Not So NewReader*

        He’s totally aware of what he is doing, I am sure. Often times, intervention of another male does stop it.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Which is proof that this is absolute a power thing, and not a “sexual attraction” thing. When greater or equal power shows itself, they sometimes back down. Sometimes.

    2. Temperance*

      Wow. Your office didnt’ report him for violating his parole? I would have asked for permission to get a restraining order.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        He wasn’t on parole. I was new, young,and inexperienced, or I would have shut it down more firmly the first time. At the time, I read it as poor boundaries/persistent flirting. I’d see it differently now. The stuff he was saying wasn’t that different than what guys in bars say. I definitely think you owe it to people to tell them to stop before reporting stuff like this where no harm was done (as the target, I did not feel there had been harm). Many people who do this sort of thing have a history as abuse victims or have experienced significant trauma.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          To add a little more about my thinking process, I had previously worked in retail, where I was flirted with all the damn time. And I had just gotten engaged to one of those flirtatious customers (still happily married!). So it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary until it went too far. That’s why beginner human service professionals need really strong supervisors and plenty of training about their role with clients.

  12. LBK*

    Gross. I get the sense that in the OP’s line of work this is the kind of thing you have to expect and/or take in stride, but if possible I’d have fired the client or at least made it clear to him that this was his single warning before that step was taken. I understand there’s a security concern and that you don’t want to provoke him, but I also think there’s something to be said for not enabling him, either, otherwise I think it undercuts what I’m under the impression is meant to be some kind of rehabilitative program.

    1. LW*

      The program isn’t really rehabilitative, clients who need rehabilitation *should* be seeing a different organization. Now, that doesn’t mean that they actually do…

  13. some1*

    “asking why I had rejected him.”

    It never ceases to amaze me (in a bad way) the mentality of people like this. Like you two were peers and he turned you down for a date? Yeah, no, dude. Of course, it’s obviously not appropriate to hound you if you HAD been peers – but just the fact that he deluded himself into thinking asking you out was in any way appropriate in the first place . . . Wow.

    1. Artemesia*

      There is a huge subset of men who think of women as commodities to which they are entitled. I remember reading about a UN supervisor who was enraged that a female employee wouldn’t date him although she had dated someone else in the organization. ‘Am I not good enough? Don’t I have a right to have some of this too? ‘ It is similar to the idea that a woman who has ever chosen to have sex cannot be raped because ‘well, she is a slut who put it out there so she is fair game.’ They simply don’t see women as people who get to decide with whom they have a relationship.

      1. rvsl*

        Ugh, this. I also hate the whole “But I’m such a nice guy! She didn’t even give me a chance!!” BS. Yeah, buddy, that’s kind of how free will works. Women are not vending machines where you just press the right buttons and you get what you want.

        1. OriginalEmma*

          Wait, I thought if I build up enough “Nice Guy” credit, I can insert my tokens and s*x falls out? Is that not how women work?

          1. OhNo*

            Sorry, that only works for the blow-up kind without free will.
            (Although apparently they’ve even started designing those robotic dolls to be able to refuse, which is either a great stride in teaching socially awkward men how to deal with rejection, or something intended as a feature for a really unpleasant portion of the population that includes the OP’s client.)

            1. OriginalEmma*

              Wow, really? I think that goth guy from National Geographic’s Taboo TV series could use of those. IRRC, he specifically says that part of his “love” for Real Dolls was that they can’t talk back, refuse, etc. *shiver*

        2. maggiethecat*

          Ugh or vending machines where you are entitled to something because you spend money! And shake the vending machine violently when you don’t get what you requested from it and it took your fifty cents…shudder!!

  14. BadPlanning*

    If the client is/should be told, it seems like it would be most appropriate to come from the manager. It would make it clear that the letter was inappropriate and make it clear that this isn’t some secret space between the client and the OP. The client is dealing with a business/service. Although the client probably realizes that on some level since he asked for a private text after the email — I don’t know if that’s testing the waters of what the OP will do or some sort of special cluelessness (hey, be my friend and text me).

    I’m glad your manager had your back, OP. And I’m glad you brought it up right way. I hope he doesn’t continue to email — an apology to the apology — why won’t you accept my apology?!?!

  15. em*

    I used to be a public defender, and I would have someone say something to him. If I were your supervisor, I would sit down with him (and maybe the new caseworker) and say, “The reason we switched your caseworker is because your email made [LW] uncomfortable. I’ve read it, and those kinds of comments are not acceptable here. We want to be able to work with you, but we can’t do that if something like this happens again.” That way he knows that 1. you didn’t like it, and 2. more than one person knows, so there is some accountability.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      As someone not involved in this kind of work at all, I wonder if he’d actually LIKE knowing he made the LW uncomfortable? It might be better to say “you’re not allowed to make these kind of comments,” without giving any hint of how the recipient felt about them. Or am I way off base, experts?

      1. Artemesia*

        I thought this too. The focus needs to not be on ‘you scared the lady, you big powerful hunk of manhood you’ but on ‘your behavior was inappropriate and we don’t allow that here.’

      2. fposte*

        I would agree that keeping the OP’s emotions out of it would be preferable. It’s not like it would be an okay thing to do if the OP had been comfortable with it, after all–it’s not acceptable because it’s an unacceptable thing to do. I think it’s good to keep emotions out of it whether the offender liked making her uncomfortable or not, in fact; this is about the behavior that’s expected in this professional relationship, and I would prefer not to bring the personal into a situation that’s about keeping the personal out of the relationship.

        1. the_scientist*

          Absolutely agree that keeping OP’s emotions out of it is the way to go, because involving emotions might play into the paraphilia here (i.e. causing fear, dominating, controlling).

          Also, I don’t really think there’s a point in telling the guy why he has a new caseworker, unless it’s as part of a final warning. I’m thinking the message should be (and it should come from a manager): we have seen the email you sent and it is categorically unacceptable. Your file has been transferred to a new caseworker, and this is your final warning- any further behaviour like this and we can’t provide you with services anymore. Also, I personally would consider reporting this to a parole officer, assuming that’s in play. It’s high-risk/boundary violating behaviour from a recently released sex offender. It’s up to the parole officer to decide whether this is NBD (which they might do) but this behaviour could be the start of a pattern of high-risk behaviour, which may be identified earlier if there’s documentation of earlier incidents.

      3. em*

        Yeah, that is a good point. Part of the problem, I found, is that men in that circumstance (this is a huge generalization) aren’t used to women having the agency to get out of the situation when he makes them uncomfortable. I once got off a case because the guy was being scary/manipulative, etc., and then he tried to force a judge to make me stay on the case, because he wasn’t used to women having the power to walk away. So I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing for him to know that making someone uncomfortable = her walking away from any (professional or otherwise) relationship with him, but it does depend on a certain ability to read people.

        The supervisor could also just say, “I expect the

        1. em*

          Hit submit too early.

          The supervisor could also just say, “I expect you to treat the staff here like the professionals that they are, and those comments are inappropriate.” The important parts, I think, are letting him know that it didn’t stay a secret (and won’t in the future) and that continued services depend on him respecting staff as professionals.

      4. Velociraptor Attack*

        I work in a field that could easily have some of these same issues.

        I’ve had clients say things to me that made me uncomfortable and were fully inappropriate but it’s always been better to say “this is inappropriate and not tolerated” rather than “this made me uncomfortable”. Aside from making the LW uncomfortable potentially being something this person wants to do, a blanket statement makes it clear that no one will tolerate it.

      5. louise*

        I thought that too. And then thought the flip side is that without hearing that, he may infer that “she liked the email (and me!), but alas, there’s a big bad policy keeping us apart so I’ll just swing by there so she knows we can be together even though her boss/agency/PTB are trying to keep us apart.” There’s no winning with someone who had the poor judgment to send that original email. I can argue for and against any possible course of action here.

  16. Kirsten*

    Music therapist here, currently working in acute psych with a background in forensic psych. I think you did the right thing by transferring the client, and I’m glad to have read in your comments above that your co-worker was briefed on the reasons for the transfer (if I received a new client for that reason but was not informed of the situation, I would be very upset to find out the details later). I do think it would be beneficial for the co-worker to discuss professional boundaries with this client and let him know that’s why the transfer occurred, but the security risk certainly would not need to be a part of that. I’m curious whether your organization has policies in place about disclosure of personal information, including email addresses. All of the mental health facilities I’ve worked for have strongly discouraged giving out last names or contact info to the clients, as well as the obvious precautions of not disclosing information about personal lives, where you live, etc.

    Kudos to you for working with this population. It’s certainly not for everyone, and involves a lot of tough situations that a lot of people don’t think about and/or don’t want anything to do with.

    1. LW*

      He only has my work e-mail. Every potential client is given a business card with name, (work) address, direct (work) line, and e-mail. But all of it is work related and IT can (theoretically) oversee it.

  17. Book Lover*

    I would also strongly urge that the client be transferred to a male case worker. And that the client be told in no uncertain language that his behavior is completely unacceptable.

  18. Temperance*

    I think this should be reported to his parole officer, if this program is something he needs as a condition of such. You might actually be violating a bunch of rules by not turning him in, depending on what your organization does and what this rapist’s probation terms are.

  19. Teacher*

    I teach in an elementary school. We get parents (yes, parents) who act like this. Staff is told to agree with parents, be available to them when they send these crazy messages, meet with them when they stop by without an appointment, etc.

    The theory (which I do not agree with) is that we just want to “keep them calm.”

        1. Charityb*

          I think (hope?) she might mean that they aren’t allowed to balk or directly reject the comments. It’s still appalling.

    1. Artemesia*

      I hope you have a file of these directives and keep good notes about being forced to make yourself vulnerable to loons so there will be a paper trail after the tragedy or short of that (we hope) if things escalate to where you need to call the police. I have been a teacher and there is no security for teachers in most buildings. More than once I have had to deal with scary people — but I am thinking nowhere near as scary as those you are dealing with. Get on record about your concerns in case you need it down the road.

  20. Elder Dog*

    I completely agree with The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon. He thinks there’s something in you he can use, or he wouldn’t have asked you to contact him privately.
    The apology worries me too. Prisoners learn to groom people, especially women, and apologizing is part of the process. I hope you didn’t reply.
    If this guy makes any further contact with you, that’s a huge red flag with fireworks and a marching band.

    Is there any reason for private contact between you and clients as a legitimate part of your work? If there is, I’d get that changed ASAP. I see that request for a private conversation as the first red flag he threw and would have shut him down right there.

    1. LW*

      I didn’t reply. There is no reason why private contact would be required, so at least that part is good. :-)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Agreed. Again, not trying to alarm you, OP. Just report any contact he makes with you from now on. This is not paranoia, this is called putting your foot down. No means no, no does not mean keep trying.

      1. BookishMiss*

        “No means no, no does not mean keep trying.”

        Perfect, and applicable in so many scenarios. Especially this one. I don’t have enough plusses to give you.

  21. Similarity*

    I had something similar happen several years ago and my manager was not at all supportive, insisted I had nothing to worry about even though another co-worker confirmed my concerns. I ended up resigning partly because of this attitude but also other concerns. It turned out that the person was transferred to someone else when I left and started quite soon with the same threatening behaviour. The co-worker he was transferred to later said she was shocked that his previous threatening behaviour was considered ‘not a real thing’ by the manager.

    I think your manager did exactly the right thing and am sure there will be added scrutiny to protect the person he was transferred to.

  22. Similarity*

    I had something similar happen several years ago and my manager was not at all supportive, insisted I had nothing to worry about even though another co-worker confirmed my concerns. I ended up resigning partly because of this attitude but also other concerns. It turned out that the person was transferred to someone else when I left and started quite soon with the same threatening behaviour. The co-worker he was transferred to later said she was shocked that his previous threatening behaviour was considered ‘not a real thing’ by the manager.

    I think your manager did exactly the right thing and am sure there will be added scrutiny to protect the person he was transferred to. These are tricky situations and there isn’t really one right way to deal with them.

  23. Guy Incognito*

    Yikes that’s a bad situation.

    The guy should have been told very clearly that it’s not ok, my mom works with murders and rapists in a clinical setting and setting clear boundaries is EXTREMELY important the risk of not doing it is to large to ignore.

    The best indicator of future behavour is past events the guy is a convicted rapist and as soon as he comes into contact with a woman starts crossing boudries, that shit does not fly!

  24. Student*

    If he does approach you again despite the precautions you’ve taken, there’s one thing you can do that has very good odds of helping you out of the situation.

    Don’t get scared. Get angry. Make sure he knows you are angry. Say angry, mean things you wouldn’t normally say. Storm off in a huff. Slam a door, stomp your foot, bang your fist on a desk. Make a big angry spectacle where everyone in the area is staring awkwardly at you. Whatever works for you. I know that is much, much easier to say than to do in the moment – but if you can hold onto that, it’ll help.

    If he is trying to hurt you, he is looking for an “easy victim” – someone who gets scared and shuts down when confronted with bad behavior. If you draw bystander attention to what is going on, and if you get angry and show you aren’t a “good victim,” then he will go look for an easier target. Don’t be the easiest target he has access to, and he’ll leave you alone.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I would say “get firm”. If you show too much anger that can be showing as much vulnerability as if you showed fear. Aim for as “cold as a stone”.
      “Bob, this is inappropriate. You have been told this already. You need to leave/hang up right now. Good bye.”
      The go report the incident immediately.

    2. Anonymous for This*

      Unfortunately, this isn’t going to work in a professional setting. I realize LW has said this isn’t a clinical human services setting, but it sounds close to and/or connected to it, and that’s not going to fly if he approaches her at work. She’ll be expected to maintain her professionalism and I’d argue that that’s even a better tactic in this context. Firmly but calmly stating that it is inappropriate denies him the fear response he may want and reasserts the boundary without any undue discipline potentially coming her way.

      Above all else, her superiors should be taking every measure they can to make sure she is safe at work and has no real reason to need to interact with him, but if it comes to that, getting angry and flying off the handle, even in a staged sort of way, is not the way to do it in the workplace.

  25. That Marketing Chick*

    LW – Has your organization contacted his parole officer? It seems like this is a violation no-brainer. At the very least, you would have a case / paper trail started if it should escalate.

  26. Sunshine Brite*

    Social Worker here – There’s a lot of good ideas on here already. Keep all communication and maintain strong documentation of what happened and why in his file. Most of my work is over the phone so I would have my supervisor call and discuss inappropriate behavior and boundaries. If most of your work is in person, I’d see if the new worker and both your supervisors would be open to meet as a group with him for his next meeting with your agency. I’d discuss which behaviors are inappropriate and point all further communication from myself with the supervisors’ help

  27. MC*

    I work in management at a large behavioral health organization. We have a lot of high risk clients and have policies in place for these sorts of things. I think it sounds like the supervisor did the right thing. I would absolutely not talk to this guy at all, in any setting, if I were the OP. I don’t think it’s the OP’s job, nor should it be, to try to teach this guy a lesson. The supervisor has to protect the OP and the organization and seems to have done that well. If the person who this guy was transferred to knows all the information, and there is security present, than that seems to take care of it. Definitely do NOT respond to any emails. I would forward anything you receive from him to your supervisor- to protect you but also so the new caseworker can be made aware, and as others have mentioned, the parole officer.

    That said, it sounds like this guy did do the time sentenced to him for the crime he committed. I do think it makes sense for him to receive feedback about the email but that shouldn’t come from the OP. I would think that given that the new case worker has all the information, he/she can address that with him and then follow up with management if necessary.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      No contact for any reason.
      And yes, if it were me, I would expect the person to be removed from my oversight. (I’d pay it back later when I take someone who has to leave a cohort’s oversight. Don’t worry about the trade-offs like this. It’s normal stuff.)

      I suspect the guy knew exactly what he was doing and he was trying to see if he could get away with it. In places that have no policies or standard operating procedures (there are many of such places) people like this get away with all kinds of stuff.

      Keep doing as you are doing, OP. Know your boundaries and put your foot down. This is very important when you are dealing with populations that have no boundaries, do not know what boundaries are or have never been taught boundaries.

      Am waiting for Ruffingit here. I know she will weigh in most persuasively. Ruffingit… are you reading here?

  28. DrJulesSunny*

    Hey 0P – I’m in that helping profession as well and I think we are in very similar fields. I’m a psychologist and work primarily as a therapist. Having read your post, I think that you made the right decision by transferring the client – especially to a male clinician. That is exactly how I would handle the situation if it were with someone in my clinic and how we’ve dealt with situations like this in the past. I also understand your fears about safety – I was in a similar environment and a former job and it made me feel nervous about the lack of security but I was fine. Do you have a clinical supervisor? This is an important thing to bring to their attention to discuss. I would not put too much owness on yourself in this situation. You have a right to feel nervous. The only thing I’d suggest if the situation was slightly different – and actually it’s always a good idea to do this in any clinical situation – is to consider what it is about the situation that’s making you uncomfortable. What does it trigger/hit in you? (Again that’s in a different situation where you’re not rightly concerned about your physical safety.)
    I haven’t read any of the responses to your post but if for any reason you want to ask more questions, feel free to let me know to email you back channel.

  29. Lefty*

    I was thinking about what could be done to lessen the potential for this kind of thing to happen again in the future. Here are a few ideas I came up with:
    1. Create a Code of Conduct that each client must read and sign at the beginning of the first appointment. The Code should state in easy to understand language specific behavior that is not permitted. This could include phone conversation or email of a personal nature – however you want to word it so that the meaning is clear. The Code could include anything else that you specifically want them to do or not do. Go over the Code with the client to see if they have any questions. If people have been out of regular society for long periods of time, it’s possible that they may truly need guidance on what acceptable behavior is. Prison is an entirely different environment. Reiterate that adherence to the Code is essential for them to remain in the program.
    2. Only assign clients convicted of violent crimes to case workers located in secure facilities.
    3. I know I’ll catch flack for this one, but I’m going to say it anyway. If/When possible, assign male sex offenders (especially the violent ones) to male case workers. A man who has just been released after serving a lengthy sentence for rape has got to be uncomfortable working closely with a woman, and I would definitely be uncomfortable working with him.

    The OP did an excellent job in handling this situation, as did her boss. This is important work that can really make a difference in people’s lives – both the clients and those with whom they interact. It is important that all of the case workers feel empowered to listen to their instincts and keep themselves and their co-workers safe.

  30. Candi*

    I have something I feel is important to relate in the context of this post.

    “Games Criminals Play: How you can profit by knowing them” by Bud Allen and Diana Bosta is a book discussing manipulative and threatening behavior of the incarcerated. And this is behavior also seen in ex-cons.

    Talking about how wonderful this female is and how they’re the only ones who can understand them? Yep.

    Asking for private one-on-one communication? Yep.

    Apologizing for scaring or offending them in a further attempt at grooming? Yep.

    This could have gotten very bad. Assault, rape, and death bad. Good on you, your boss, and your company.

  31. Nieve*

    This is disgusting. Females in services like OP should not have to interact in any way with sexual predators! Shouldn’t there be a rule about this in the company/organisation? By allowing disgusting criminals like rapists to interact with women providing rehab services the workers are being put in danger of being the next target :(

Comments are closed.