Thursday, June 28, 2018

Her Name Was ……

By Cordelia Anderson, MA.,  and Alissa R. Ackerman, PhD.
Say your name, how your feel about being here, a hope you have for this circle of accountability, what your brought for an object of meaning to you and why you chose it for this circle…
And so begins the restorative justice circle we’d been planning for weeks. We had been thinking about what it would mean for survivors to know the healing power of telling the truth of their victimization in front of someone who had committed such an act. No, he did not rape anyone that is in this room. He raped a woman when he was in college – decades ago. He didn’t know or remember her name and there is no way he can be held accountable through traditional criminal justice sanctions; he tried. He wants to help other men speak to the truth of past harms they have done, and who want to be accountable somehow. He agreed to being part of this circle for accountability.
One of the participants, Alissa Ackerman, is a public survivor and criminologist, who has facilitated and participated in meetings with over 370 men who have committed sex offenses. She has lived the reality that sitting face to face with men who’ve committed such egregious acts of harm to other women, is healing for her. She calls this work “vicarious justice.” She also believes that part of the accountability for those who committed sex offenses– outside of and along with their criminal justice system and therapy work – is listening to her stories and the stories of other survivors. Being heard matters. In this circle she participated as a member of the circle, not as the facilitator.
The Circle Keeper, Cordelia Anderson, is trained in restorative justice and circles and has extensive experience doing circles with those who’ve caused harm and with those who have been harmed. Sometimes they are all in the same room; there are many ways to approach restorative processes and circles for healing, for intervention and for prevention. Serving as Keeper of this circle for accountability, (e.g., where the majority of the participants are survivors, and the one wanting the process for accountability has one person of support with him), was new.
For three hours and 15 minutes a talking piece was passed from person to person. When the talking piece came to the next person, they could speak to the question at hand or they could pass. After the opening pass, and rituals to set the stage and tone, participants were asked to speak to whatever it is they want to say, at that moment about:
-          Why they are here today
-          What the impact of what happened to them/or that they did, was for them
-          How they are responding to what they’ve heard
-          What they need to have happen next
-          How to keep the confidentiality discussed as part of the opening values, while also clarifying how they will talk about today’s experience with others
-          What it is they are taking away from today’s gathering
Part of the closing was the keeper reading from a piece written by Ashley Judd. In the 5/26/18 piece she wrote for TIME, about Harvey Weinstein, she said:
I was hopeful Harvey would plead guilty, that his surrender was volitional, so that in addition to carving out a singular position of disgrace, he could come forward as the predator who walks out of shame onto a new path of humility, introspection, accountability and amends, thereby leading our men and country in the necessary and inexorable of trajectory of restorative justice. It seems that Harvey, though, will not be the person to do that, as he is pleading not guilty and still maintains, in the face of so many accusations that all sex was consensual. Denial can stand for “I don’t even know I am lying,” and it appears that is where Harvey still lives.
So as these current steps of justice in New York City unfold, and the system does its necessary and important thing, we still wait for an accused who can and will embody what the #metoo movement and our society needs and wants: someone who can navigate the duality of having aggressed and address their abuse of power with culpability and integrity. Restorative justice is also dual; in order for survivor-victims and society to embrace and restore the reformed, the reformed must have been genuinely transformed, shedding layers of toxic masculinity, exiting the denial/apology tour and standing in a new and collective space where both the person is and the narrative are made whole and unified.
As ATSA members, who work very hard to treat those who’ve committed sex offenders or conduct research to better understand them or treatment process, or who work as victim advocates and/or for prevention, restorative practices and vicarious justice, offer additional opportunities for healing and accountability. Too often our work is in siloes that separates the life experiences and truth of survivors from the life experience and truth of those who’ve committed sex offenses.  We all feel the limits and the benefits of our work. These processes offer an additional way for individual and collective healing and accountability.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The importance of being ethical when conducting research

By Kieran McCartan, PhD

Recently, I was asked to speak at a research event at my university on the challenges of ethical research with high risk populations. At first I thought that this was going to be an easy presentation because all researchers should be on the same ethical and moral page, but I soon realized that there is a lot of different notions of good research vs. good enough research and the related research governance, in general, never mind with “high risk populations”.  

All research presents ethical issues and dilemmas which mean that the researcher should be a reflexive and considerate person. A researcher should be thinking about the consequences of their research on the research population, related organization's/institutions and their research organization (i.e., in my instance a university, but it does not always need to be); but, this is not always the case for sometimes see that a researchers allegiance can be to their findings and publications. This is not to say that researcher’s should not be mindful of their findings and the dissemination and impact of those findings; but, rather that they should be committed and mindful of the whole process not just the end point. A reflexive and considerate researcher is a good researcher. Being a good, creditable researcher is essential when dealing with high risk, risky or vulnerable populations. I recognize that these terms (high risk, risky or vulnerable) are sweeping generalized terms, loaded terms and intertwined terms, quite often someone who is risky is also vulnerable, someone who is a perpetrator is also a victim, etc. The populations that we research with (people who have committed sexual abuse, victims of sexual abuse and those impacted by both) present their challenges to us in terms of consent, confidentiality, anonymity, disclosure, health and safety as well as researcher wellbeing (physically, emotionally and psychologically). Therefore we need to start any research in the field of sexual abuse from a place of reflection, consideration and sensitivity.

I believe that there are four main components to any research project that need to be in constant consideration, all of which become essential when dealing with high risk/challenging populations;

-        The researcher:  The researcher always needs to consider their own physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. Are they supported throughout the research process? Does the researcher have the capacity to access all the different the types of support they need? Can the researcher receive physical support if necessarily in a confrontation, who can they discuss the challenges of the research with and are they able to withdraw from the research process if it becomes to challenging or difficult? Have they considered why they are involved in the research and what that means for their own going mental health? The person conducting the research is as central to the research process as the questions being asked or the data collected, therefore we have to make sure that they are supported throughout the process.


-        The person being researched: Quite often research participants can be boiled down to numbers on an excel or SPSS spreadsheet, they can be dehumanized. Good ethical research reinforces the humanity of participants. We need to make sure that the understand the research process, the research questions, that they can consent to the research (as well as understand what that consent means), that they are not tricked, that they do not incriminate themselves or indirectly cause harm to themselves (or others). This means that we need to consider their vulnerabilities, capacity and degrees of “powerlessness” in the research process. As researchers we need to make sure that research participants are treated fairly and that the data that we obtain through them is fit for purpose.


-        The various institutions and partners: As researchers we have a responsibility to the institutions that we work for (maybe universities or research bodies, but not always) and the institutions where we research (maybe prisons, probation/parole offices, police stations, etc.) to research in an ethical fashion. We are carrying the name and responsibility of these institutions with us. On one level this means conducting all research ethically, getting the appropriate clearance, responsible data sharing, agreeing confidentiality with host as well as partner organization's and being honest about the data that you are collecting/storing/disseminating. Remember that you are representing your institution, and your field of study, and any unethical research practice not only reflects poorly on you, but them too as well as other potential researchers in the future.


-        The research itself: When conducting research it is essential to make sure that all the necessary rules, regulations and guidelines have been adhered to. Have you got ethical clearance from your institution? Does the host institution or organization need to give you approval (the police, probation, parole, prison, charity, NGO, etc.)? Do you need external body ethical clearance (the NHS, Department of Justice, etc.)? Do you have a safe and secure place to store your data? Have you made it clear to participants what you are going to do with their data? Do you have data sharing agreements with all necessary organization's, institutions and collaborators? It’s essential that your research is coherent, watertight, ethical and adheres to all aspects of research coherence because if it’s not your findings can be jeopardized.

Researching challenging and high risk populations can, and does, have rewards in that it can impact upon changes to policy and practice; but, it should be done ethically, carefully and with a great deal of reflection.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Supporting Help-Seeking Behaviors: Help Wanted

By Ryan Shields, PhD ( and Julie Patrick (

How can we make help-seeking behaviors that prevent sexual harm the norm? The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins University’s answer to this question is the Help Wanted project, an online prevention intervention to educate and support help seeking behaviors for adolescents with a sexual attraction to children who have not yet acted on their attraction.

This American Life

The impetus for Help Wanted came from an April 2014 interview by reporter Luke Malone with a young man named “Adam” who identified as a “non-offending pedophile” on his experience seeking help on NPR’s This American Life . The segment illuminated how the stigma of pedophilia and the fear of criminal consequences keep these adolescents from seeking help. The fear of being turned away by professionals, or difficulty in finding the right professional with appropriate expertise, leaves many to struggle alone with the collateral consequences of their attraction.

Malone also spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Given that approximately half of child sexual abuse cases in the US are committed by other youth, more must be done to address prevention with youth. Letourneau, Dr. Ryan Shields and colleagues conceptualized a prevention program to advance the healthy and safe development of adolescents attracted to younger children.

Phase 1: Help Wanted

The team conducted a qualitative study with young adults (aged 18-30) who identified as being sexually attracted to younger children on how they successfully managed their attractions when they were younger. Study participants commonly noted a sense of isolation and hopelessness during adolescence and wanting access to better information, treatment services, and role models.

The project team concluded that a prevention-focused intervention for youth recognizing an attraction to younger children was critically needed and must meet youth where they are – online. A web-based model helps reduce fear of requesting help in person and reduces difficulties with transportation, geographic dispersion, availability, cost, and stigma. To be sure, some youth will undoubtedly require more intensive services than can be provided via a web-based platform.

Of note, the Help Wanted intervention focuses on primary prevention of child sexual abuse and in this respect differs from Prevention Project Dunkelfeld (PPD) and related efforts to address youth sexually abusive behavior. As described in several publications, PPD provides an intensive treatment to men and, more recently, adolescents who are formally diagnosed with pedo- or hebephilia and who have acted on their attractions without being caught or who have not acted on their attractions but need assistance. The PPD intervention typically lasts one year and consists of a formal diagnostic assessment followed by weekly in-person group treatment sessions (Beier et al., 2015). Such an expensive and intensive intervention is incompatible with the diffusion of primary prevention interventions (Rohrbach, Grana, Sussman, & Valente, 2006). Moreover, as Letourneau and others have demonstrated, there are well-validated treatment interventions for youth who have engaged in sexually abusive behavior and been identified in formal systems (e.g., juvenile justice, mental health, child welfare) (Letourneau et al., 2013; Letourneau et al., 2009), but very few resources for youth who are sexually attracted to children but have not engaged in harmful behavior.

Phase 2: Support from Raliance

To build this online tool, the Moore Center sought additional funding from Raliance, a national partnership among leaders in the prevention of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse. With seed-funding from the National Football League, Raliance is dedicated to ending sexual violence in one generation and supports an impact grant program with a specific funding category to prevent primary perpetration.

A collaborative process ensued uplifting the expertise of consultants in the field to create 5 key foci for the online intervention tool. Such consultants include: Ms. Karen Baker, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape/National Sexual Violence Resource Center; Ms. Maia Christopher, Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abuse; Ms. Geraldine Crisci, Geraldine Crisi & Associates; Mr. Gerald Hover, INTERPOL Crimes Against Children; Dr. Jill Levenson, Barry University; Dr. Michael Miner, University of Minnesota Program in Human Sexuality; Dr. Daniel Rothman, Forensic Psychological Services; and Ms. Joan Tabachnick, DSM Consulting. Project consultants also include non-offending young adults with a sexual attraction to children.

This group prioritized five foci: 1) access to information about child sexual abuse and why it is harmful; 2) disclosure and safety skills; 3) practical advice for self-management and coping techniques; 4) building self-identity and developing positive narratives; and 5) skill building for healthy sexuality. The curriculum for these online modules is being created and tested by those with proven success using online therapeutic and mental health interventions.

Raising awareness about supporting help-seeking behaviour is also vital to the project. Dr. Letourneau’s December 2016 TEDMED talk: Child sexual abuse is preventable, not inevitable brought this information to a wider, mainstream audience. And Dr. Shields presented to sexual violence professionals at the 2017 National Sexual Assault Conference.

Advancing to Phase 3

No project is complete without piloting, revising and evaluation. More will be shared as those exciting developments unfold.