Monday, November 26, 2018

Multi-agency and multi-national approaches to sexual abuse

By Kieran McCartan, PhD

Last week Latvia, in conjunction with the EU, the Confederation of European Probation, hosted two conferences on the management of people who have committed sexual abuse. This blog is going to discuss both conferences and the lessons learnt from them.

Multi-agency Co-operation: Sexual Offending (21st November 2018)

This conference was organised and ran by the Latvian criminal justice organisations (i.e., Police, Probation & Prisons) in co-junction with related NGO’s (i.e., Center Dardedze) to discuss multi-agency co-operation in working with people who committed sexual offences, and their management, in Latvia. The main theme of the conference was co-operation and sharing best practice, which was facilitated through a series of keynotes and workshops covering a range of topics, including, (1) European perspective on work with sexual offenders (Willem van der Brugge), (2) The prevention of sexual abuse (Kieran McCartan); (3) Challenges and solutions relating to effective multiagency working (Mike Cutland; Jānis Zārdiņš, Valdis Groza & Iveta Štrausa; Māris Luste); (4) The aetiology and treatment of people who commit sexual abuse (Audrey Alards; Sanita Jakuševa & Evija Burkovska); (5) Victims of sexual abuse (Imants Jurevičius & Laila Balode; Laila Balode &Laura Ceļmale); (6) Pornography and Child Sexual Exploitation Material (Andris Šillers &Iveta Ķelle); & (7) Circles of Support and Accountability in Latvia (Jānis Nicmanis & Kristiāna Lapiņa). From the start of the conference it was apparent that all the lead organisations where on the same page when it came to understanding and responding to sexual abuse, everyone wanted the same thing – a victim oriented, evidence informed, collaborative approach to sexual abuse which was grounded and realistic. It made me reflect that we, those of us from countries with a more established approach to the management of people who committed sexual abuse, could learn a lot about the power of interagency co-operation from our Latvian colleagues. During the course of the conference, and the conversations that followed, it really stuck me that Latvia had really benefitted from collaboration with other European, as well as American and Canadian, colleagues over the past 3 years in upskilling their knowledge and practice in the area of sexual abuse. Latvia is now on a par, or close to being on a par, with other countries in terms of existing knowledge and in terms or emerging challenges as well as how to start to respond to them (i.e., online offending, the use of restorative justice, cross border issues, etc).

Reframing sexual abuse conference (22nd – 23rd November 2018)

The reframing sexual abuse conference was the 1st conference to be held by the Confederation of European ProbationExpert Group on Sexual Offenders”. The conference had 120+ attendees from 19 countries from across Europe (incl., Spain, Germany, Netherlands , Norway, Denmark, Lithuania, Ukraine, Sweden, Jersey, UK,  Belgium, Italy, Latvia) and outside of Europe (i.e., Japan, South Korea, Malta). The aim of the conference was to understand good practice in the field of sexual abuse from across Europe and to learn from each other’s good practices. The conference had 14 speakers from across 8 countries and covered topics, including (1) Circles of Support and Accountability (Mechtild Höing; Circles Europe); (2) the framing of sexual abuse (Kieran McCartan), (3) the challenges of integrating people who have sexually offended back into the community (Mike Cutland & David Briggs); (4) the risk assessment and management of people who have committed sexual abuse (Anvars Zavackis. Wineke Smid, Carla Xella, Laura Kuhle & Kasia Uzieblo; Marianne Fuglestved); (5) Online sexual abuse and Child Sexual Exploitation Material (Virginia Soldino & Maggie Brennan); & (6) the development of the Latvian approach to the management of people who have committed sexual abuse (Mr. Imants Jurevicius and Mr. Anvars Zavackis). At the start of the conference Audrey Alards (the chair of the Expert group) revealed the results of a CEP study on the experiences and practices of the management of people who have committed sexual abuse across Europe, it highlighted that there are still inconsistent practices with different countries do different things, resulting in a discussion around the need for a common framework. The conference really wanted to explore the outcomes of the expert working group data and held a roundtable with the four keynote speakers (Imants Jurevicius, Wineke Smid, Marianne Fuglestved & Mechtild Höing) which focused on their thoughts, attitudes and experiences on issues including community engagement, treatment, management, policy and practice. The roundtable emphasised the importance of collaboration, research, evidence based practice and ongoing communication. In addition to the presentations, the conference saw the formal launch of Circles Europe, which highlighted the challenges, practices and opportunities for public engagement in the integration of people who have committed sexual abuse back into the community. The Circles Europe launch demonstrated the power of adapting international good practice in countries specific ways that made communities safer from sexual abuse and sexual recidivism. The conference emphasised the importance of communication and collaboration, in the end the most important outcome was the fact that we as a community of researchers, practitioners and policy makers have to work together so that we can effectively prevent sexual abuse locally, nationally an internationally.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Rape myths are still alive and well: But abuse is still abuse

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, & David Prescott, LICSW

A recent high-profile rape case in Ireland has reinforced the ubiquity of rape myths in the legal system. During the trial, the barrister for the defence encouraged the jury to consider the nature of the victim’s underwear, a thong, on the night in question. The clear indication was that the nature of the victim’s underwear showed that she was “consenting” and that she knew what was going to happen. This approach, in conjunction with the rest of the evidence and arguments, resulted in dismissal of the case with a verdict of no rape. The fact that it was a jury trial suggests that the case reflects beliefs held across society. The trial reinforces that rape myths are alive and well in 2018, not only in Ireland but internationally.

Rape myths are attitudes and beliefs that reinforce sexual assault as acceptable and shift the blame away from the person who perpetrates sexual violence onto the person who is victimized. (See Cambridge Rape Crisis centre for a breakdown for these rape myths.) Often by shifting responsibility into the complexity of sexual relations, these myths reinforce actions that perpetuate victim blaming. The collateral consequences of rape myths are significant and normalise social attitudes around sexual abuse and toxic masculinity. These same beliefs defy logic; looking attractive is not the same thing as wanting to be violated. It’s like saying that the ducks wanted the hunter to shoot them or they wouldn’t have been flying so close to a lake, or that someone deserves to have their data stolen because their network lacks adequate protection against hacking. There is no evidence suggesting that wearing particular clothes increases risk for assault; those who work in the field know that there is no definitive profile of either victim or abuser.

Research indicates that rape myths are still prevalent in society (Breines, 2012) as well as in the legal system (Smith & Skinner, 2017; Temkin, Grey & Barrett, 2016). This acquiescence to rape myths is worrisome given their persistence despite being challenged in recent years internationally, including through the #MeToo movement and the recent exhibition of rape victims clothing in Belgium. Each instance has shown that rape myths are ingrained in our social norms and beliefs. Changing social norms and beliefs are difficult in the best of times, but this change becomes harder when it focuses on topics like sexual violence and harassment—topics that we, as a society, are not always willing to discuss in education or in communities more broadly.

We need to reconsider how best to (re)educate communities and individuals about rape myths and how we can all push back against victim blaming. As we and many others have noted, here and elsewhere, our communities will benefit from improved bystander training and community engagement. This involves shifting our focus from a criminal-justice approach to a public health approach towards sexual abuse. This is particularly important given the recent rise in the reporting, recording and sentencing of sexual abuse cases in the UK over the last 5–10 years as a result of increased trust in the system and a belief that their case will be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the persistence of rape myths and victim blaming undermines the victim journey and damages trust in the system.

The response to the Irish trial has been varied, indicating that people are pushing back on rape myths, including MPs speaking out in the Irish parliament, protests in Belfast, as well as online condemnation via the hashtags #IBelieveHer and #ThisIsNotConsent. Our challenge is how we change the social complaisance toward rape myths so that juries have a realistic understanding of them and can make better informed decisions, and that the system —particularly judges—can challenge inappropriate outcomes.

A final point that too often goes undiscussed in media accounts is that those who perpetrate abuse and society at large aren’t the only ones internalizing these myths. All too often, in our experience, people who survive sexual assault come to believe that they didn’t deserve better. And, of course, everyone deserves to be free from abuse.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Better Together – Address Race & Privilege

By Cordelia Anderson, MA

The theme of ATSA’s 37th Annual Conference, “Better Together” felt desperately needed against blatant hate speech, and acts of racial bias that has become more prevalent, and supported, in our neighborhoods, as well as in our social media, news media, civil discourse, and politics.  I had all this in mind as I listened to Elder Gerald Oleman, one of the 2018 ATSA Conference keynotes. He drew from his personal experience and Indigenous history to address why racism is so important to understand, especially in our work that is so linked to treating trauma. Elder Oleman pointed out that Europeans have a different culture and explained, “when it hit ours, it was a tsunami that flattened us, and we are still trying to stand back up.” He described colonization as “complete political and economic control over indigenous people and their land”. He gave several examples of how this shows up with so many “images of indigenous people as less than.”

In May of 2017, the ATSA Prevention Committee started to discuss various ways that addressing privilege and race fit with strategies to prevent sexual violence.  The discussions included the research showing that entitlement and dominance are core contributors both to sexually aggressive behavior (e.g., Knight & Guay, 2018; Malamuth, 2003) and to the maintenance of privilege and the continuance of racial prejudice.   Given the conversations in the public domain, ATSA has a unique voice to contribute to this conversation.  We also discussed that we may not be fully addressing this issue within our own work and that ATSA should be concerned with considering privilege and race not only as they impact the exacerbation of sexual harassment and sexually coercive behavior, but also as they affect ATSA’s therapeutic and prevention focus. (adapted wording from ATSA Executive Survey Summary, 2018).

At the October 2017 ATSA Conference, the Prevention Committee sponsored a well-received panel to discuss these issues.  During this past year, as a follow-up to this discussion, the Committee developed a survey to learn how ATSA members view these issues and their interest in ATSA taking further action. With 375 ATSA members responding, this is what we learned:

Ø  87% of survey respondents endorsed either “agree” or “strongly agree” to statements indicating that race and privilege had an impact on perpetration, survivors’ healing process, and prevention of sexual violence.

Ø  Surprisingly, respondents suggested that race and privilege had less of an impact on various areas of their own work (i.e., an average of 76%). This merits follow-up to determine if it reflects resistance to addressing this issue in their own work.

Ø  The majority of survey respondents affirmed the overall need for ATSA to address issues related to race and privilege (76%).

Based on the outcomes of the survey, the Prevention Committee made recommendations to the ATSA Board to explore ways that ATSA as an organization and in our membership can address issues of race and privilege in our work. Alison Hall, co-chair prevention committee and ATSA Board of Directors member, reported that ATSA’s Board of Directors has formally “recognized that race and privilege impact ATSA’s work, and the work of ATSA members. Furthermore, the board voted to ensure that ATSA commits to incorporate privilege and race issues into all its strategic goals.”  Each of ATSA’s committees will be looking at how race and privilege affect their work.  The Prevention Committee is further exploring member responses through a series of interviews that were conducted during the recent ATSA Conference.  We hope to be able to provide some of the resources that were requested during these interviews and through the surveys. 

The interest and ATSA’s Board of Director’s response are essential to shine a light on the intersection between entitlement, privilege and racism and the work needed to prevent sexual violence. Going back to Elder Oleman’s keynote, he explained that “People that lose their way start to harm people.”  He asked the audience “What can we do for the children to prevent this from happening?”  Part of what we can do is to continue to understand the privileges we each have and how they can be used in constructive rather than destructive ways. Prevention involves working to overcome the “othering” that allows people to be treated as objects or commodities that are less than. As we struggle to not be hooked by our fears, but instead to understand to build on our connections between prevention, research, policy, and treatment, between the voices of those harmed and those who created the harm and across races, cultures, genders, and sexual identities religions. We can bring depth and action to the conference theme; we are indeed “better together:”

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Changes to the blogging team...

Dear Blog readers,

We have recently had some changes here at the Sexual Abuse Blog with Alissa Ackerman deciding to step back from active blogging. David and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alissa for all her hard work on the blog over the last year. Alissa's blogs have always been insightful, critical and pertinent; she has brought a victim focus to the blog and insightful edge through her contributions. We wish her luck for the future and will always positively receive any future blogs that she would like to submit. So farewell, rather than goodbye!
Talk soon,
Kieran & David.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Even Folks in Our Field Get the Blues: When Implementation of Best Practices Goes Wrong, Part 2

By David S. Prescott, LICSW

This is part 2 of a 2 part blog, part 1 can be found here – Kieran

This post picks up where the last one left off. The context is that a participant in a training recently described frustration with implementing Motivational Interviewing in their practice.  This echoed a concern I’d seen expressed in social media. As the discussion progressed, another participant expressed similar experiences. Although small in number, their concerns were important: There can be side effects when adjusting to the use of positive, collaborative, strengths-based approaches such as Motivational Interviewing (MI) and the Good Lives Model (GLM). How can this be? What can we do?

Beyond the considerations mentioned earlier (context, status of working alliance, etc.), a factor that has often gone under-appreciated until recently is the effect of early trauma and other adverse experiences. From the outset, clearly trauma and adversity can be difficult concepts to work with. What is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to the next, while many people (including professionals in our field) appear to develop extreme strength and resilience in the aftermath of abuse.

Further, what can appear as traumatic to the person who experiences it may not be in the eyes of others. This becomes especially difficult to understand when the experience(s) took place at an early age, when the client had not yet developed the necessary language skills to describe his or her experiences. As one person once stated it, “From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand, and from the inside looking out it’s hard to describe.”

Finally, in some cases, the uncertainties involved in sexual development can combine with mental health conditions to create unusual situations. For example, one ATSA pre-conference workshop several years ago focused on a person on the Autism spectrum who had somehow been deeply affected by watching cartoons while masturbating, with the end result being a very rare form of sexual disorder in early adulthood. Although a statistical outlier, a deep understanding of how the events in his life had affected his development was critical to understanding him and providing treatment.

Any of these scenarios can combine to make clients appear challenging, unmotivated, or written off with such language as, “He just doesn’t get it.” Consider the following statement from a person in a community-based residential program. He has a history of trauma who was found not quite competent to stand trial. When asked to describe a seemingly innocuous event from the preceding week, he says: “I can’t… Ummm…. It doesn’t matter… Look, never mind.” Imagine that this has actually been similar to past responses to questions about his current status; discussing his past behaviors has been virtually impossible, and when it occurs ends in his experiencing shame and hopelessness.

In this client’s case it can be easy to assume that he is unwilling to participate meaningfully in treatment despite his statements that he wants to do what he needs to complete the program and return to the community. It’s easy to think that his statement translates directly into “I don’t want to talk with you, and I am not going to let you know that. Instead, I’m going to feign being upset.” While this translation may be partially true, it likely isn’t the entire story in this case. This pattern of responding might also translate as, “The only reason I’ve survived my life up to this point is because I am constantly evaluating my environment for evidence of threats. Now you are asking me to look inside my own experience, and I’ve never developed meaningful skills for that. Also, my words have been used against me much of my life, and I don’t understand how you can expect me to trust you so quickly. On top of that, I’ve never developed the kind of language skills to express to you how hard it is for me to view the world as anything but a dangerous place. You want me to talk. I can’t do that safely right now. The only option I can see is to shut down. If you keep pushing, I may need to become violent.

Ultimately, the move to trauma-informed care is not about helping people feel as though they are passive victims of a cruel world. It’s about understanding how events shape people at the individual level, one client at a time, and designing interventions that they can respond to, in adherence to the responsivity principle of effective corrections.