Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Reflecting back, moving forward: Part 1 – Highlights 2015

Welcome back to the SAJRT blog and happy new year! 

The first blog of the year is going to be in two parts, one looking back at 2015 and the other looking forward to 2016. We are going to select what we consider to be some of the standout articles from the 2015 across the sexual harm field.

David Prescott - SAJRT’s February 2015 special edition on protective factors propelled our field forward in a vital direction. It captured the imagination of our organization as a whole and inspired important discussion at conferences and on ATSA’s listserv. All too often in this author’s experience, professionals acknowledge the importance of such ideas as resilience and desistence without being able to put these concepts meaningfully into practice.

Of note, many ATSA members, like the contributors to the special issue themselves, have noted that there has long been no secret of the importance of this avenue for inquiry and understanding. This was the first collection of articles in our field on the topic. Adding even greater appeal is that the guest editors are experts in assessing and treating adults and juveniles respectively (Calvin Langton and James Worling).

The issue begins with an excellent overview from Langton and Worling (Introduction to the Special Issue on Factors Positively Associated With Desistance for Adolescents and Adults Who Have Sexually Offended), in which they offer defining features of protective factors (e.g., those attributes that enhance competencies, ameliorate specific risks, stabilize or enhance functioning, and are associated with desistence). Langton and Worling also discuss two domains of protective factors. The first involves factors that are at the other end of a continuum with a corresponding risk factor (e.g., early versus late adulthood, social isolation versus interpersonal competence). The other domain involves factors for which there is only a positive association with desistance (the authors offer the example of religiousness).

In the end, the idea of protective factors is not new, but this collection of studies provides an important way forward for those concerned with assessment, treatment, and prevention.

Kieran McCartan –  One of my stand out articles comes from the same edition of the journal as David’s, the February special edition on protective factors [which was a sterling edition across the board], with the article by de Vries Robbé, Mann,  Maruna, and Thornton on Protective Factors Supporting Desistance From Sexual Offending. This article talks about the need to reconsider risk, risk management and treatment, emphasizing that we need to be proactive. As the article states, in general, risk assessment focuses on the issues that the offender poses to themselves and to the public, so that their behavior can be limited and controlled; therefore, the core of risk assessment is preventing future harm, which is not necessarily the same as changing the personal insights of people who have committed sexual harm. Placing a conversation about proactive factors within the context of desistence from sexual harm is important as it emphasizes the role of the individual, the capacity for the individual to adapt and grow. This article reinforces a greater move going on in the sexual harm field to change the narrative from a reactionary one to a proactive one (i.e., public health models, prevention, desistence) recognizing that the individual who has committed sexual harm to be proactive in changing their behavior, they are active agents in their own change not passive recipients directed by others (.e., police, probation, treatment providers and the wider community). What makes this article more powerful in its discussion pf proactive factors and there role in desistence is the creditability and power of the authors, leading researchers in the field giving important insights to help us prevent as well as responding to sexual harm

Jon Brandt - My pick for a noteworthy journal article of 2015 is Criminal Justice Officials’ Views of Sex Offenders, Sex Offender Registration, Community Notification, and Residency Restrictions by Mustaine, Tewksbury, Connor, andPayne.

Mustaine and colleagues reviewed existing literature, and conducted their own survey of more than 1,100 public officials across five domains: community corrections, prosecution, law enforcement, parole boards, and prison wardens, to measure attitudes about sexual offenders and beliefs about both the fairness and the efficacy of certain civil regulations for sexual offenders.  Using the CATSO (Community Attitudes Toward Sex Offenders) Scale, and a 43-item survey, the authors compiled a multivariate analysis of various domains, including the number of years of professional experience, amount of education, age, gender, race, marital status, political views, and geographic regions.  Then the authors delved into respondents’ beliefs about both the fairness and efficacy of SORN and residency restrictions.

Among noteworthy findings is an inverse correlation between how closely professionals work with sexual offenders and whether they tend to support civil regulations.  Prosecutors and police are perhaps influenced by their unique responsibilities for public safety and contact with victims. “Law enforcement officers held more negative views of sex offenders than the general public and were less likely to believe in the possibility of their rehabilitation… 83% reported that they would still support at least some SORN policies, even without scientific evidence to support the efficacy.”  “The negative and cynical views that law enforcement officers and prosecutors have about sex offenders appear to transfer over to sex offender policies.” As education and experience increased, the more that professionals questioned both the fairness and efficacy of SORN and residency restrictions.  The more contact that professionals had with sexual offenders, the more positive and optimistic were their views.  Probation agents and psychologists held the most positive and optimistic collection of views.

This research is vital to understanding how public policies are influenced by those who work with sexual offenders; “Criminal justice officials’ perspectives regarding sex offenders and sex offender policies may be especially valuable to policy makers and the public because of their direct experience with both.”  The authors also note that, “it is the sum of actions by officials across the criminal justice system that influences the criminal justice experience for sex offenders (and perhaps their rehabilitation).”    Knowing how criminal justice professionals view sexual offenders and understand the efficacy of SORN laws will help us to target education and shape more effective public policies in the future. “Education aimed at criminal justice officials that debunks misconceptions and affirms the value of rehabilitated sex offenders should not be underestimated.”

The next blog post will continue this discussion focusing on what we think some of the main issues facing the field of sexual harm will be in 2016.

Kieran McCartan, PhD; David Prescott, LISCW; & Jon Brandt, MSW, LICSW


Langton, C. M., & Worling, J. R. (2015). Introduction to the Special Issue on Factors Positively Associated With Desistance for Adolescents and Adults Who Have Sexually Offended. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 27: 3-15.

de Vries Robbé, M., Mann, R. E.,  Maruna, S.,  and Thornton, D. (2015]. An Exploration of Protective Factors Supporting Desistance From Sexual Offending. Sex Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 27: 16-33.

Mustaine, E. E., Tewksbury, R., Connor, D. P., & Payne, B. K. (2015). Criminal Justice Officials Views of Sex Offenders, Sex Offender Registration, Community Notification, and Residency Restrictions. Justice System Journal, 36:1, 63-85.  (Note: this link is to the full article.)

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