The blog has previously discussed the importance of enging with the public on sexual harm and the potential outcomes (Public Engagement and Changing Attitudes about Sexual Abuse), the current blog posting follows on from this discussion by highlighting a series of past and forthcoming public engagement events held over the last year by ATSA (San Diego, October 2014; Montreal, October 2015) and NOTA (Dublin, September 2015).
The engagement events are designed to bring members of the public as well as professionals together to discuss how we understand, respond to and prevent sexual harm. In this respect what is meant by the term'public' we use it in the broadest possible sense to refer to any one that does not work in the sexual harm field or anyone working working in the criminal justice areana. The reason for this broad defination is twofold (1) that we all come from communities that are more or less informed and therefore will benefit from these conversations, and (2) we all have a broad social network that we share information with that we are more likely to respond postively to information shared by people that we closely identify with apposed to strangers. Therefore the events are to inform, educate, engage and start a conversation.
The first public engagement event was held at ATSA 2014 as a result of a conversation between myself, Katie Gotch and Maia. I had seen an advertisement for the festival of dangerous ideas and thought that maybe we could organise a similar event based around sexual harm at ATSA as way of educating the public and increasing societal understandings around sexual harm. We started by discussing what the topics should be and agreed upon four areas (1) sexual abuse as a public health issues; (2) general information about sexual offending; (3) collaboration in the sexual abuse field; and (4) preventing sexual abuse and bystander intervention. We then thought about who would be best to talk on these issues? We considered local, regional, national and international speakers (specifically those who were attending the conference), and reached out to and confirmed 8 speakers (Elizabeth Letourneau; Bob Geffner; David Prescott; James Cantor; Tom Tobin; Sandra Henriquez; Joan Tabachnick; Tracy Cox).
The format of the event was to get speakers to talk on one topic for a maximum of 10 minutes, without powerpiont, on one topic in plain English. The idea being that anyone could come to this event with no significant subject or area knowledge and walk away feeling informed, educated and empowered. We decided to group the speakers in to groups of two as predetermined topics, (1) sexual abuse as a public health issues (Elizabeth Letourneau; Bob Geffner); (2) general information about sexual offending (David Prescott; James Cantor); (3) collaboration in the sexual abuse field (Tom Tobin; Sandra Henriquez); and (4) preventing sexual abuse and bystander intervention (Joan Tabachnick; Tracy Cox)
So how to get people through the door? Always an issue! The first question is who are the public in this context and how do we reach them. We wanted to reach out to people that reflected and represented members of the wider community or engaged with them (community leaders and/or people from community groups). We developed a marketing and media strategy utilising social media (twitter, facebook, linkedIn and traditional email) via our contacts in the community (religious groups, sports clubs, schools, charities and NGO’s). After many months of advertising and dissemination the night of the event came around and we ended up with approximately 70 participants from the city of San Diego and the ATSA conference.
The event was chaired by myself and Katie Gotch who introduced and concluded the event as well as holding the speakers as well as the Q & A to time (easier said than done!). The attendees asked numerous questions about how to implement a public health approach, how to overcome the barriers that working with communities on sexual harm throws up, how we manage these perpetrators effectively and how we are going to change the conversation about sexual abuse. None of these questions and answers where confrontational and the event ended with a buzz in the room where the debate continued, people networking and reaching out to each other. (We recorded the event as an educational tool, please see - https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCwkom_2lxMlZ6-A3BOugdKg). The event was viewed as a success because of the conversation that it started and the people who were in the room to have the conversation; but it was felt next time we should have less speakers and more conversation.
The conversation about hosting an event at NOTA started at the ATSA 2014 public engagement event, which members of the NOTA NEC attended (Gail McGregor, Marcus Erooga and Jon Brown), and when the NOTA 2015 conference committee started to plan the finer details of the conference we approached them to ask if we could do a similar event in Dublin. They agreed and we started working! The first thing we agreed was that the event should be very much part of the conference and that the public should be invited into the event.
The big questions involved where would the event take place, at what point in the conference and who would speak. We agreed that it should be a mixture of local, national and international speakers [like the ATSA event]; therefore giving a range of perspectives. We agreed that the format, content and structure of the event should be similar to the ATSA; except shorter and more focused [8 was too much in two hours, so we agreed on 4 in 90 minutes]. Therefore, we agreed on two topics and four speakers (two practitioners and two academics, two regional speakers and two international) agreeing upon (1) “preventing sexual harm” (Elizabeth Letourneau and Sharon Beattie, Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland) and (2) “sex offenders 101” (Micheal Seto and Niall Muldoon, The Children’s Ombudsman for Ireland).
As with ATSA 2014 we reached out to people that reflected and represented members of the wider community (religious groups, sports clubs, schools, charities and NGO’s) or engaged with them (community leaders and/or people from community groups) via marketing and media engagement through social media (twitter, facebook, linkedIn and traditional email). After many months of advertising, dissemination and even media coverage (it was in the Irish Independent a couple of weeks prior to the event) we had to close the registration a week in advance as we had 90 applicants. These participants were all from the local and regional community with people from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The event itself was a success with 60 plus participants showing up, which is fantastic given that it was 6pm on a midweek evening on the outskirts of Dublin (with a car accident and rush hour traffic to contend with). The event was chaired by Mary Tallon and Marcella Leonard who introduced and concluded the event as well as holding the speakers as well as the Q & A to time (easier said than done!). The attendees asked numerous questions about how to implement a public health approach, what paedophilia is, what the function of treatment is, how we manage these perpetrators effectively and we are going to change the conversation about sexual abuse. All of these questions and answers where not necessarily confrontation free (which is simultiuously the risk and the benefit of doing these events), with lively debate over the innate/biological nature of paedophilia and whether treatment should be used at all. The interesting thing is that following the event there was a buzz in the room with the debate continuing, people networking and reaching out to each other.
ATSA will be hosting another public engagement event at the start of this year’s ATSA conference (ATSA Conference, 13th October, Montreal 2015 – see http://www.atsa.com/publicengagement). However, in Montreal we have an added dimension language, therefore we have to provide an English and French speaking version of the event; which meant that although the event is only going to be an hour we have to do it twice in too languages with different speakers (some presenters cannot not speak English, while others cannot speak French) to make sure all the topics are covered. We decided upon four topics and 6 speakers for the event, including (1) sexual victimization (Delphine Collin-Vezina & Isabelle Daigneault); (2) child sexual abuse imagery (Caroline Girard); (3) sex offender treatment innovations (Patrice Renaud);(4)the sex offenders register (Josee Rioux & David Herni). As with previous events we having been advertising through social media [see the ATSA website for more information] and are building up a healthly interest in the english and french events; but with two weeks to go we can not be complacent and would encouarage anyone in the area to publise the event.
So where these two public engagement events a success? Yes, as they engaged members of communities who would not necessarily have access to this information as well as facilitating a conversation and got people engaged and involved. Will it have an impact on community understandings and responses, only time will tell but it is a step in the right direction? If you are at the ATSA conference or based in Montreal please do come to the next event!
Kieran McCartan, PhD