Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dismantling Racism: The Relevance to Prevention

A Summary of the October 26, 2017, ATSA Conference – Evening Prevention Event

By Cordelia Anderson, M. A.

At the 2017 ATSA Annual Conference, ATSA’s Prevention Committee hosted an evening panel titled “Dismantling Racism: The Relevance to Prevention.”  The room was packed with over 40 ATSA members exploring how dismantling racism is related to the work of ATSA members and for the prevention of sexual violence. This year’s topic on race and privilege was accepted as fundamental to prevention by some, while others were not as convinced of its relevance. Indeed, part of the purpose of the event was to draw further attention to the links between prevention, race and privilege. The idea for the event evolved from the positive response to an August 2017 blog written by ATSA prevention committee member, Cordelia Anderson. The Prevention Committees desired to do more to address the intersections between race, privilege and prevention both in terms of avoiding perpetration and promoting broader culture change.
The event began with ATSA’s Executive Director, Maia Christopher, explaining why this topic was important and how it fit with other related efforts ATSA was doing.  Cordelia Anderson provided a brief background on why the committee selected this topic and how she views race and privilege as fitting with prevention. She explained, “The committee was interested in these issues out of recognition that prevention is social justice which attends to the interconnectedness between all forms of oppression and injustice. Prevention also involves work to create an environment in which all people can thrive and develop in healthy ways. It requires challenging social norms that allow any one group more privileges than another just because of their gender, race, religion, social class, orientation, abilities, etc.” She noted that, “In our field we’ve historically addressed the imbalance of power and issue of privilege more between men and women than of race.”
The panel featured ATSA members who address race and privilege in their lives and work.
Elizabeth Griffin explained that the therapeutic relationship is a fundamental common denominator to the counseling process. She said, “Culture, race, and ethnicity are often viewed as secondary in sex offender treatment, after all, what do these issues have to do with preventing the future sexual abuse of children?  I often feel as if our field is behind other helping professions in understanding the importance of multiculturalism and diversity in the change process.  I supervise clinicians new to the field and many have never considered and examined their own biases and prejudices – making it more likely for these attitudes to play an unconscious role in treatment room.” She added, “Those who have never examined their own biases will certainly fail in facilitating clients in exploring their own –isms and how they contribute to the sexual abuse cycle.  Power issues are often at the core of these –isms; thereby, having sex offender treatment the perfect opportunity to address how power, racism, ethnic bias, and privilege, play a role in both sexual offense behavior and the treatment process.  Clinicians often find these issues difficult to discuss - even more reason to find ways to intentionally address power, racism, ethnic bias and privilege.” 
Elizabeth provided more specifics about what providers could do such as “Asking a client of color what they think/feel about having (1) a white woman from (2) a privileged background (3) who can make significant decisions regarding every aspect of their life for a therapist often takes them aback.” She noted “After all, they may have never thought the conversation was possible.  Maybe it’s time they did.  Maybe it’s time we all did.”
Alejandro Leguízamo, noted “Addressing race/privilege is important in the work I do, and we all do, because it impacts directly the development and maintenance of a therapeutic relationship and/or group cohesion.” He explained, “I address cultural issues not only in my research, but also when I conceptualize cases I am evaluating or individuals I’m treating. I address ethnicity/culture as I start treatment to create a space in which the client can raise issues in how I’m approaching treatment. I ask them to evaluate my feedback/recommendations to make sure they are pertinent to their experience and context, particularly in the communities in which they reside.
David noted that “As a white person, I work with fellow white people in the movement to look at the role that we can and must play in dismantling white privilege and systemic oppression, from our positions as white people.” He added that “while people of color are leaders in racial justice, there is work that needs to be done by white people to learn about race and white privilege, and then to work together for our total liberation.” He added that only addressing ‘Cultural Competency’ is insufficient as it reinforces thinking of ending racism of a ‘set of skills’ while it is actual broader social change work we must do.
Subsequent discussion with the audience highlighted additional examples of work being done to dismantle racism and identified challenges and opportunities. The event attracted a wide range of ATSA conference attendees, many of whom had never participated in prior prevention events and resulted in a spirited discussion from a range of perspectives.  Several participants indicated that they would be interested in additional ATSA conversations about race, privilege, and oppression.
At a recent PCAR/NSVRC staff meeting during a discussion about privilege and white supremacist culture, someone said “Just like you don’t have to be a rapist to contribute to rape culture, you don’t have to be a KKK member to contribute to white supremacist culture.” Clearly, this one-hour evening session at ATSA was only a step, but it offered many perspectives, a lot of food for thought and ideas for future action. We hope that the ATSA chapters will also host similar discussions and identify related actions, post relevant articles and other information on the list serve and share information through ATSA blogs. The prevention committee will be adding to the resource list which will soon be on the website where ATSA members are encouraged to add to it.

Maia Christopher

Executive Director, ATSA

PH: (503) 643-1023


Cordelia Anderson, MA

Founder, Sensibilities Prevention Services

(612) -207-1779

Elizabeth Griffin, MA, LMFT

Internet Behavior Consulting, LLC


Alejandro Leguízamo, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Chair

Psychology Department

Roger Williams University

 (401) 254-3834


David Lee, MPH

Director of Prevention
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault
(916) 446-2520 Ext 309


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