Friday, November 22, 2019

The importance of international collaboration

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, & David Prescott, LICSW

Last week our blog focused on the ATSA conference and some of the interesting plenary addresses, preconference presentations, and concurrent workshops that occurred throughout it. Of course, this is not the only conference that we have blogged about this year. We have highlighted the NOTA, ANZATSA, CoNTRAS-TI, and NL-ATSA conferences as well. The primary take-home message from these blogs (as well as the conferences themselves and the people who make them happen) is the volume of work that its going on internationally in the field of sexual abuse and the potential for collaboration.

Collaboration and sharing good practices is essential to moving any field of work forward, but it is particularly important with respect to the global issue of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse does not respect borders, and everyone has the potential to be impacted by it. Therefore, it’s important that we learn from each other. The purpose of collaboration is not to use research, risk assessment, risk management, treatment and/or prevention in a way which imposes westernized, or anglophone, ideas around sexual abuse; but rather to exchange new ideas, alternative solutions and helpful suggestions.

True collaboration can be very hard to accomplish. Every program and conference takes place in a different cultural context. Understanding and appreciating this context and the people involved is crucial to the success of any collaboration. Once established, however, collaboration encourages adoption and contextually appropriate responses that help reduce the likelihood of recidivism and promote safeguarding. We have seen this at a higher level in ATSA with collaborations with similar organizations, like NOTA (UK & Ireland), ANZATSA (Australia & New Zealand), IATSO (Europe), NL-ATSA (the Dutch Chapter of ATSA), CoNTRAS-TI (Italy) and Les Centres Ressources pour les Intervenants auprès des Auteurs de Violences Sexuelles (CRIAVS) (France), as well as at a practical ground level in research and practice collaborations.

In practice this means that one country, professional, or program might see a challenge that they face from an alternative perspective forcing them to reconsider their approach. One example of this is in New Zealand, as discussed by Margret Ann Laws at ATSA 2019 and published in the recent edition of the ATSA Forum, where the register for people convicted of a sexual offence is constructed and run in a proactive fashion. In New Zealand, all police officers are trained in risk assessment, and register is conceptualized as a tool to support people in their desistance from sexual offending. Therefore, the register in New Zealand is characterised as being supportive rather than punitive, the way that it is conceptualized in other parts of the world. By flipping our perceptions of existing frameworks and ideologies we can move towards a preventive, prosocial approach to sexual abuse. 

In addition, collaboration is also about working together, as well as sharing innovative practices, and thinking about how we can push the field forward and/or redefine challenges. At conferences and related events, one often hears conversations about the start of new collaborations, research projects, replications and innovations to training/development. This is great and long may it last! We are seeing this in the newly implemented international project on treatment efficacy with leading researchers and treatment professionals coming together to develop and streamline the best approaches.

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