Leeds watchdog investigates Yorkshire charity’s policy on sexual relationships between staff and service users

Yorkshire MESMAC works with the LGBT community, sex workers and male victims of sexual exploitation.
Yorkshire MESMAC works with the LGBT community, sex workers and male victims of sexual exploitation.

A Leeds safeguarding watchdog is investigating concerns that a sexual health charity’s policies condone physical relationships between staff and service users.

Yorkshire MESMAC, which has offices across the region, describes itself as one of the oldest and largest sexual health organisations in the country.

Tom Doyle, chief executive of Yorkshire MESMAC.

Tom Doyle, chief executive of Yorkshire MESMAC.

Its activities include the Blast! project for boys and young men at risk of sexual exploitation, outreach work in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, and free HIV testing services.

This weekend it emerged that Leeds Safeguarding Children Board was looking into the Yorkshire MESMAC workers’ conduct policy.

It reportedly says: “Sexual relationships are acceptable with service users initially met during work time, but this would be inappropriate if the service user has entered into a one-to-one or ongoing support relationship with the worker.”

Advice on the safeguarding board’s website tells third sector organisations that clear policies give staff and volunteers guidance on what they can and cannot do, what decisions they can make and what activities are appropriate.

We accept that read out of context this could be misconstrued.

Tom Doyle, Yorkshire MESMAC chief executive

It reads: “All organisations working with children and young people and/or their parents and carers should have robust policies and procedures which will ensure that children are safe, workers know and understand their roles and responsibilities and how to respond appropriately if they have concerns about a child or young person’s safety or welfare.”

Yorkshire MESMAC argued that its policy had been misconstrued as they did not apply to service users under 18, but said it was rewriting the document.

Chief executive Tom Doyle told a national newspaper: “For clarity, the scenario that it attempts to address is, for example, 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 they then meet that person in another setting, say at a party, and both are attracted to each other, then 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.”

The workers’ conduct policy states that it is not acceptable for workers to use work time to further relationships they may wish to pursue in their own time.

There are also separate policies for the safeguarding of children accessing the various services.

Mr Doyle said he was not aware of any instances of sexual relationships having developed between staff and service users.

He added: “We accept that read out of context this could be misconstrued. All staff undergo an extensive induction programme, including a full walkthrough of our priority policies, which includes safeguarding.

“Staff at Yorkshire MESMAC are in no doubt about safeguarding.”

Leeds City Council confirmed the safeguarding board was investigating the policy and meeting with the charity.