Monday, September 26, 2016

Sexual Harm: Multifaceted Problems, Interdisciplinary Solutions

Welcome, to our special 100th blog as a team. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Journal, ATSA, the blogging team [thanks David and Jon] and all contributors, as well as everyone who reads the blogs. Here's to the next 100 blogs. Thanks. - Kieran

It was a little over two years ago that Robin Wilson handed over the reins of the SAJRT Blog to Kieran, who along with David and Jon have continued to shine a light on the challenges of mitigating sexual harm.  Since then, this blog marks number 100; so we thought it would be a good time to reflect on ‘the big picture,’ if you will – how the etiologies, treatment, management, and prevention of sexual harm are a multifaceted, interdisciplinary matter.  The links in this special, 100th blog are to selected SAJRT blogs that have been published over the last two years.

The SAJRT blog has offered discussions, broadly, about ‘sex offender’ research, risk, treatment, management, prevention, policies, and practices.  Guest bloggers have included researchers and practitioners from across the field of sexual harm and from around the world. The blog has highlighted how a multitude of voices (including victims, advocates, professionals in many fields, media, even perpetrators…) are central to understanding how to mitigate or prevent sexual abuse.  
Sexual harm is often discussed in the stark, polarizing terms of ‘victim’ and ‘offender’ (abuser or perpetrator), which is problematic for many reasons.  Not only does every incident of sexual harm reach far beyond the two individuals involved, the language of sexual harm tends to reduce two people to their regrettable ‘roles’ – a “victim” of sexual abuse, or a “sex offender.”  At a minimum, sexual harm involves victims, perpetrators, families, friends, peers, institutions, and communities.  Broadly speaking, sexual harm is never about just two people – it involves all of society, and therefore prevention requires public engagement on a global level. 
Sexual offending is a generic term for a continuum of mismanaged sexual behaviours.  Typically we think of sexual misconduct as being criminal behaviour, but sometimes it is a muddled breach of social rules – nearly always it is a violation of relationships.  Sexual offending between juveniles is often categorically different from sexual misconduct by adults.  Not all sexual abusers are male.  Sometimes, sexual misconduct calls for a measured response, while the most egregious cases of sexual violence force difficult discussions about the use of civil commitment, or perhaps even euthanasia.  Non-contact sexual offenses are among the most perplexing.  Getting the right messages to juveniles is imperative.    
The origins of sexual harm are multifaceted, cross all races and cultures, and is a world-wide problem.  Because the etiologies of sexual harm are multidimensional, solutions must be interdisciplinary.  For example, in the UK, the Multi-Agency-Public-Protection-Arrangement (MAPPA) helps to ensure coordination between many stakeholders.   While, historically, ATSA focused more on the research and treatment of sexual abusers, it evolved in understanding the interdisciplinary need for many professionals to work together toward a common goal – the prevention of sexual harm. 
It’s important to recognise that understanding and mitigating sexual harm requires social policies that draw on perspectives from (at least) psychology, sociology, criminology, health (mental-physical-public health), and even economics.  Each of these disciplines deserve a place at any table where sexual harm is discussed.  While some professionals are concerned primarily with perpetrators of sexual harm in clinical and treatment terms, colleagues in other areas may be more involved with victims, or the economics of treatment, maybe the practicalities of housing sex offenders, or perhaps the political ramifications of sexual offending.  Although these are somewhat different matters, they are all valid perspectives on the same broad issues – multiple stakeholders, nationally and internationally, coming together, sharing information, developing a more complete picture of sexual abuse, enabling us to provide the best responses – preventative or reactive. Multiple disciplines and professional perspectives all bring something different, and important, to the table - they open our eyes to different ways of developing and applying best practices to the effective intervention, treatment, and prevention of sexual harm.  
Over the last 100 blogs we have tried to spotlight the professional, social, and practical issues of mitigating sexual abuse, by promoting new research, challenging colleagues to think outside the box, to consider new approaches to treatment, broaden our understanding of ‘interventions,’ and be aware of the consequences of misguided public policies.  Reducing and resolving sexual harm not only requires collaboration between many professions, but more engagement with the public.
By understanding the history, evolution, and politics of sexual misconduct, knowing the latest research, sharing information, and working together between disciplines, we can develop a ‘big picture’ about sexual abuse, more effectively balance competing concerns, and promote best practices that truly lead to both better lives and safer communities.   
100 Blogs, and counting…
From the SAJRT Bloggers - Kieran McCartan, David Prescott, and Jon Brandt

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