Thursday, May 9, 2019

Good things are happening in Italy

By Carla Maria Xella, PhD  (CIPM & President of the Scientific Committee of CoNTRAS-TI)

Among European countries, Italy is one of the few lacking any public action regarding the treatment of people who committed or are at risk of committing sexual abuse. In Italy, projects for the treatment of sexual offenders, both in detention and in the community, do exist, but currently, depend on uncoordinated personal initiatives. Consequently, treatment programs are aleatory and insufficient. 

The Public institutions’ approach to the issue of sexual abuse is focused only on punishment. Approximately one month ago, the new Italian Government issued a new so-called Security Bill, increasing the length of sentences for sexual abuse against children from 5-10 years to 6-12 years, and to 14 years for gang rape. Not a word about risk assessment! The translating and validating STATIC-99-R and STABLE plan, approved by the former Government, has been canceled. The new Security Bill does mention “treatment programs for sexual offenders”, but… with no funds established to carry them out!

So, indeed, no treatment is currently provided by law to sex offenders, either in prison or in the community. Sex offenders serve their long sentences restricted in special wards, they are rarely admitted to probation or parole for community management/reintegration. Post-release they have no registry, no treatment, no follow-up. In Italy sexual offense prevention, not to mention recidivism prevention, is non-existent in policy and practice.

If you are wondering what the good news is, the answer is that professional practice is starting to change in Italy, slowly but surely. Several treatment programs are now in place, often with European or private funds, and they follow or try to follow, the best international practices. The common need of the providers of these programs is, anyway, sharing common experiences and practices. In October 2017, a national association, named CoNTRAS-TI (in English: National Coordination of Treatment and Research about Sexual Offending – Italian Experiences, and the acronym can be translated in Pathways to stop it) has been founded. The aim of CoNTRAS-TI is to share research data and best practices among its members and with members of other similar international associations, and to foster collaboration with public Institutions, to promote a climate of sensitivity towards sex offender treatment and reintegration in the community.

Last year CoNTRAS-TI and ATSA have signed their affiliation and I, as the President of the Scientific Committee, had the chance to attend the Board of Directors and the Conference in Vancouver. A precious collaboration has been established, with our ‘elder siblings’ offering us their help to spread scientific evidence about sex offender assessment and treatment.

Building upon the development of CoNSTRAS-TI on May 20th  our first National Conference is taking place in Milan, Italy. The main aim of this first Conference is to promote exchange among those who are concerned with sexual abuse at various levels. The conference will be opened by Fabian M. Saleh, from Harvard University, who will discuss the assessment and treatment of paraphilic disorders in sexual offenders. Col. Antonio Manzi, Carabinieri Force, will speak about the importance of training in scientific risk assessment for those concerned with the safety of the community; Judge Annamaria Gatto (Surveillance Court) will speak about the lack of any system of monitoring and control for high-risk sexual offenders in Italy currently. Most importantly, we will have Gloria Soavi, president of CISMAI (the network of Italian association and stakeholders concerned with child protection against abuse and neglect) speaking as well. Her presence at the Conference can be hardly underestimated: she will highlight the importance of a strong collaboration between professionals who deal with victims and those who deal with perpetrators in the prevention of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, often the services dealing with victims are unwilling to share information and to build a net for taking charge together of complex cases, like family sexual abuses. As a member of the International Committee of ATSA, I will close the morning conference with a review of international approaches to sexual offending.

In the afternoon, two roundtables are planned. The first roundtable will propose some Italian Experience of Research and Treatment regarding Sexual Offending with (1) Andrea Scotti speaking about the C.I.P.M. model of treatment (now ongoing in Milan and in Rome Region); (2) Maura Garombo speaking about the Vercelli Program; Dante Ghezzi (TIAMA) will discuss the issues of youths who sexually abuse; (3) Davide Dettore will explain his model for the treatment of people who sexually offend online; (4) Georgia Zara will speak about the Italian validation and translation of the CID-SO, a tool for denial assessment in sexual offenders developed by Sandy Jung; & (5) Amelia Ciompi (Prison Administration Department) will speak about the need of a review of recidivism rate in Italian sexual offenders, which is lacking at present. The theme of the second roundtable is the public perception of sexual offending, and the participants will be journalists of various Italian newspapers. The roundtable will be moderated by Paolo Giulini, Secretary of CoNTRAS-TI.

The Conference is the first attempt to publically share experiences and research results about sexual offender assessment and treatment, to prevent new offenses and make the society safer.  We hope that spreading scientific information can hopefully lead Public Institutions to listen!

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