Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Online pornography use during the COVID-19 pandemic: Should we worry? Part II.

By Kasia Uzieblo & David Prescott

Note: This blog is broken into two sections. This post is part 2, with part 1 having appeared previously. Kieran

In the last blog we argued that an increase of sexualized coping might be one of the knock-on effects of the current pandemic chaos. Another question that might arise is whether an increase in pornography use predicts an increase in sexual offending behavior? There seems to be no robust empirical findings to substantiate this assumed relation. A recent review by Mellor and Duff (2019) indicates that no consistent relationship exists between early exposure to pornography and sexual offending, and between exposure to pornography and offending shortly after exposure in males. Hence, the common assumption that behaviors being observed in pornography elicits sexual offending behavior seems to lack robust empirical evidence to the present. However, individual differences can still occur: the use of pornography during an offence is more common among people who sexually abuse children compared to those who abuse adults, and there appears to be a link between recidivism and pornography use in high risk offenders.

A third issue that is not depicted in the Pornhub statistiscs (but is nonetheless a major reason for concern) is the increase of online searches for child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) since the start of the crisis as observed by Europol. This rise doesn’t imply that there are suddenly more people with pedophilic interests. It might, however, indicate that there are people having trouble coping with current stressors which might motivate them to explore illegal online material. A recent study by Knack, Holmes, and Federoff (2020) found that people experiencing sexual frustration, certain sexual interests, and poor coping strategies in response to negative affect resulting from loneliness, boredom and stress motivate the use of CSEM. Schulz, Bergen, Schuhmann, and Hoyer (2017) also identified social anxiety, loneliness and problematic internet use as motivators for using the internet to solicit with minors. Hence, several similar mechanisms that underlie excessive pornography use, might also be of relevance here.

A final question comes to mind. Could there be an evolutionary component to the increase in pornography use during crises? Perhaps with the potential for loss of life, people experience a biologically based urge for procreation beyond their awareness – one aimed at helping our species to survive. Of course, in the absence of empirical study, this is simply conjecture, but it points to the idea that many forces may be at play in the current crisis.

Taken together, these increased numbers of pornography use are not worrisome in themselves. Many people now have more time to satisfy their curiosity by exploring new sexual content online. For others it may serve as an adaptive way to cope with stressors and sexual desire. In order to best prevent sexual violence, professionals can be aware that the current worldwide lockdown measures together with related job, family, and other stressors can also increase a problematic use of online pornography in people who feel distressed, anxious, lonely, powerless, and who lack adaptive coping behaviors.

The current situation poses a serious challenge to practitioners. How can we identify, reach out, and help people who are vulnerable to developing maladaptive coping behaviors? How can we provide online and/or offline help and assistance in coping with distress related to the Coronavirus crisis? It is certainly a time in which everybody, including practitioners, should be vigilant for signs of problematic coping behaviors, including excessive pornography use and the use of CSEM. It’s also a time in which prevention programs as Stop it Now! should receive more attention in practice, media and on relevant websites. The most important thing is to let people know that help is out there, even in these unseen, harsh times we are currently in.


Knack, N., Holmes, D., & Fedoroff, J. P. (2020). Motivational pathways underlying the onset and maintenance of viewing child pornography on the Internet. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 1–17.

Mellor, E., & Duff, S. (2019). The use of pornography and the relationship between pornography exposure and sexual offending in males: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 46, 116–126.

Schulz, A., Bergen, E., Schuhmann, P., & Hoyer, J. (2017). Social Anxiety and Loneliness in Adults who Solicit Minors Online. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment,  29(6), 519-540.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

D. Richard Laws

By Sandy Jung & Carmen Zabarauckas

This past week, we lost a giant in our field.  Dr. D. Richard Laws passed away in Victoria on April 13.  Although his mind and will were stronger than ever, his body finally betrayed him after a lengthy struggle with his physical health.  Sadly, his passing comes a mere 11 months after he lost his wife, Cynthia.

Richard started in this field in the 1960s. We could go on at length about his accomplishments, and we should, but you can find them easily, just google him, which even posthumous, he would really like you to do. 

Since his start, he never stopped, quickly becoming a major contributor in our field.  His impact is easily seen over the decades regarding how we conduct treatment with individuals who sexually offend, ranging from behavioural treatments to relapse prevention, to desistance of sexual offending and historically surveying sexual offender assessment.  He easily gained and retained enormous respect and admiration by his peers for his thoughtful contributions, advancing the field and evolving our understanding and treatment of sexual abusers.  He even dabbled in newfangled sexual interest assessments for a while, leaving his mark, and again, changing the trajectory for the better. Having been past president and a constant presence at every ATSA conference along with his wife Cynthia, he was no stranger to the ATSA organization.  He regularly contributed to reviewing conference submissions, sat on the Editorial Board of the flagship journal, Sexual Abuse, and was a recipient of the Lifetime Significant Achievement Award. He also regularly connected with the ATSA office staff, whether they wanted it or not.

So, to say he was an icon in our field is an understatement. He had vision, insight, and an unwavering sense of we can and should do better.

But it wouldn’t be true to reflect on Richard without saying who Richard was.  For those of you who have had some interaction with him or for those of you who have really gotten to know Richard well over the years, it will not be surprising to say that Richard was, well, let’s just say… a curmudgeon at the best of times.  His gruff demeanour, his bluntness, his need for you to just get-to-the-point-already attitude were obvious to anyone who has met Richard.  And heaven forbid you thought you could befriend him by calling him the colloquial short version of his name...

Being his past doctoral students, we knew this all too well.  And astonishingly, we not only survived it, we have thrived.  He taught both of us a great deal; he was an unrelenting and, at times, an unforgiving mentor.  In essence, Richard was a hard-ass, who was always blunt with his words and dogmatic in his approach to things.  We say this honestly because after knowing him for well over 20 years, we appreciate that his impact on us and what we learned from him was invaluable and pivotal in our careers.  He would accept nothing less than the hard-fought truth from us. We are sure that we are not the only ones.

There wasn’t a day when Richard wasn’t his usual well-known peevish self. He made us work hard, do things on our own.  One of our common recollections is the number of times he would introduce us to someone, when we were at our first ATSA conference, and then he would just walk away, leaving us with mouths agape to do our own bidding.  Richard was never one to pamper others or spoon-feed compliments.  One of the best compliments we ever got was “hey kid, you didn’t screw up!”  And in the end, it paid off for him and for us.  We did work hard, in part because we wanted to impress him.  We did things independently, and often the hard way.  When we hit obstacles, he was tough about it, telling us to take the challenge and it always seemed to work out in the end. 

On occasion, and we do mean rare, he would show his soft side, that big but guarded heart lying underneath. He was always there for us, through all of it. He would tease, encourage, and occasionally taunt. But he never lost faith in what we could accomplish, in grad school and in our careers. He would light up when he talked about his grandson Clinton, and when Carmen was balancing three jobs, her master’s thesis, and a new puppy, he would run around the clinic with the puppy so it would stop chewing the PPG equipment.

Over the years, we heard that he said a lot of nice things about us. It was lovely to hear, but rarely from Richard himself.  Funny thing is that we didn’t mind it anymore, it actually became an inside joke we had with one another (you know you made it from the Richard Club when he eventually gives you an off-handed compliment). Many of you know how that goes.

His toughness has always paid off for him.  He’s never taken an easy route.  His career took him from Florida and California to Canada… why in the world would he move to a place that has -40C weather?  He secured a difficult-to-obtain grant for his high risk violent offender program in Edmonton and when funding ended, found himself in a new role as a clinician in Victoria, reinventing himself along the way.

There are so many things to say, but in this, we can sum it up. We loved him as a mentor, a father figure, and a friend.  It is a sad day in our field and our extended ATSA family that we have lost him; he will be sorely missed.  We truly believe he has left us and our field in a better state than when he entered, and for that we are forever grateful. 

RIP DRL. We will greatly miss you. 

For those of you who would like to sign a condolences card (it will be sent to Clinton), please follow this link. The card, where you can add pictures as well as thoughtful words, will be open for signatures until 11:59pm PST May 14th, 2020.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Online pornography use during the COVID-19 pandemic: Should we worry? Part I.

By Kasia Uzieblo & David Prescott

Note: This blog is broken into two sections. This post is part 1, with part 2 appearing in the coming week – Kieran

Websites like Pornhub are part of a daily routine for more than 120 million people. What happens when our daily routines are gravely disrupted due to an unseen, frightening worldwide crisis and we suddenly have to spend most of our time at home?

Pornhub’s statisticians have analyzed changes in its daily traffic since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Traffic has increased dramatically from early February. This pattern was observed in North and South America, Europe, the UK, Russia, Asia, and Oceania; no data seem to be available for the Middle-East or Africa. Just to give an idea of the increases: Worldwide traffic to Pornhub was up 11.6% on March 17th; 13.7% on March 20th, and 18.5% on March 24th, with increases going up to even 57% (Italy and Russia) and 61% (Spain). In most countries, the highest spikes were clearly related to Pornhub’s making its Premium Services free to visitors. However, increases were also apparent before this announcement, suggesting that as both males and females were spending more time at home, they have increasingly turned to online pornography.

Online pornography, a way to manage the crisis?

#What drives an increasing number of people to visit Pornhub when confronted with the Coronavirus crisis? Interestingly, this seems to be not only specific to the current crisis; the scarce literature on this topic suggests that pornography has played an important role in other crises as well, including for instance the American Civil War (Giesberg, 2017). One explanation could be found in the stressors related to crises. People are currently experiencing many un(fore)seen stressors in their everyday life. From almost one day to the next, people have been obligated to combine full-time jobs with fulltime parenting responsibilities, with many others quarantined by themselves. Still others have been confronted with unemployment.

In addition, this virus – this invisible enemy – itself elicits fear and feelings of powerlessness in many. According to the Threat Appraisal and Coping Theory of Lazarus and Folkman (1984), people can respond with both adaptive or maladaptive coping behaviors when confronted with such life stressors. Adaptive coping involves behaviors that are linked with positive outcomes on both the short- and long- term, while maladaptive coping can create short- and long-term problems. Research suggests that the use of (online) pornography might also be seen as a way to cope with life stressors, especially in people who feel powerless (Black & Hendy, 2019).

Is this rise in pornography use a reason to panic?

No, not necessarily. Just to be clear: Pornography use itself is not problematic. Pornography use might, however, become maladaptive coping for some. In other words, these behaviors can provide a sense of relief in the short-term, while the long-term effects produce a negative impact on the individual’s psychosocial and/or physical well-being, especially when it becomes a habit in the absence of other adaptive means for coping with stress. Much depends on the individual viewer; there is no specific point where porn use becomes problematic for all.

Habitual and excessive pornography use can lead to a variety of negative outcomes. These can include a diminished life and problems with relationships and sexual satisfaction (Böthe, Tóth-Király, Demetrovics, & Orosz, 2017; Buttler, Pereyra, Draper, Leonhardt, & Skinner, 2017). Other forms of psychological distress can also result (Grubbs, Stauner, Pargament, & Lindberg, 2015).  

Of course, not everybody uses pornography excessively when confronted with stressors. Some people seem to be more vulnerable than others. For instance, a recent study in 713 Israeli adolescents shows that anxiously attached adolescents were particularly prone to using pornography. Further, loneliness increases pornography use, particularly among secure and anxiously avoidant individuals (Efrati & Amichai-Hamburger, 2019). Another study by Borgogna and Aita (2019) suggests that personality traits might play a role: Especially people with higher levels of neuroticism and extraversion seem to exhibit excessive online pornography use. Whether the increased number of Pornhub’s visitors reflect excessive or more habitual use of visitors can however not be deduced from the statistics reported on the site. 

Ultimately, while sexualized coping is a well-known risk factor for sexual re-offending, we are seeing now that it is not uncommon in times of crisis. Two ways that professionals can be helpful to others are:
1.    To be aware that increased sexualized coping is to be expected in times of crisis.
2.   To be prepared for the ambivalence, confusion, and shame that many people (not just those who have abused) can experience.
3.  To be prepared to have conversations about alternative methods for coping in a manner that is non-judgmental.
4.    To have resources for people who are anxious about their pornography use. One recent example is this article on how modeling safe behaviors can help children and adolescents at home.


Black, P., & Hendy, H. M. (2019). Perceived Powerlessness as a Mediator between Life Stressors and Deviant Behaviors. Deviant Behavior, 40(9), 1080–1089.

Borgogna, N.C., & Aita, S.L. (2019). Problematic Pornography Viewing from a Big-5 Personality Perspective. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 26(3-4), 293-314.

Böthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Demetrovics, Z., & Orosz, G. (2017). The pervasive role of sex mindset: beliefs about the malleability of sexual life is linked to higher levels of relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction and lower levels of problematic pornography use. Personality and Individual Differences, 117, 1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.paid. 2017.05.030

Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B. (2017). Pornography use and loneliness: a bi-directional recursive model and pilot investigation. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44(2), 21–32. doi: 10.1080/0092623X.2017. 1321601

Efrati, Y., & Amichai-Hamburger, Y. (2019). The Use of Online Pornography as Compensation for Loneliness and Lack of Social Ties Among Israeli Adolescents. Psychological Reports, 122(5), 1865–1882.

Giesberg, J. (2017). Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making of American Morality. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Grubbs, J.B., Stauner, N., Exline, J.J., Pargament, K.I., & Lindberg, M.J. (2015). Perceived addiction to Internet pornography and psychological distress: Examining relationships concurrently and over time. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29(4), 1056-1067. doi: 10.1037/adb0000114.

Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. NY: Springer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Community integration of people convicted of a sexual offence in Australia

By Kelly Richards, PhD, Jodi Death, PhD, & Kieran McCartan, PhD

The community integration of people convicted of a sexual offence is a challenge, as they are often not welcomed back into the community, not supported, find themselves socially and emotionally isolated as well as often being perceived as a constant threat of re-offending. This is problematic as these approaches often increase the individual’s risk of re-offending, rather than reduce it. Research shows that social inclusion and pro-social modelling helps desistence from future offending, including offending sexually.

We recently undertook research (Major report: Research to Policy and Practice report: Fact sheet on CoSA)on two community-based approaches to the integration of people convicted of a sexual offence back into the community. The research focused on Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) in Adelaide, South Australia, and the Cultural Mentoring Program (CMP) in Townsville, Queensland. The research was funded by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and was conducted in partnership with the Offenders’ Aid and Rehabilitation Service of South Australia, Queensland Corrective Services and the Bravehearts Foundation.

CoSA are groups of trained volunteers who support people convicted of sexual offending (known as “core members”) as they leave prison and re-join the community, with the aim of preventing sexual re-offending. The research involved semi-structured interviews with current or previous core members (n=3), staff who have played a role in developing, delivering or managing the CoSA program (n=5), a range of government, non-government and private stakeholders who work in tandem with either the CoSA program (n=3) and volunteers involved in the CoSA program (n=7). CoSA were shown to help participants build new identities as non-offenders, while holding participants accountable through the development of life goals, participating in treatment, accessing community and support groups, reconnecting in healthy ways with family members and taking up volunteering opportunities that supported the development of pro-social identities. Additionally, CoSA helped reduce risks of re-offending by holding core members to account for their behaviour by: (1) challenging core members’ attitudes supportive of violence against women and children; (2) reporting core members to the relevant authority in circumstances in which the core member has breached their conditions of release and/or is engaging in problematic behaviours; and (3) supporting core members to adhere to the conditions of their release both practically and emotionally. However, the research indicates that there are challenges for CoSA, including gaps in volunteer skills (i.e., understanding technology, being able to clearly identify re-offending behaviour and understanding core members’ release conditions), and the use of criminal justice professionals as volunteers, which lead to a tension emerged around the need to clarify the roles of paid staff and volunteers. The findings on the first CoSA program in Australia reflect previous research from CoSA programs internationally (i.e. Canada, UK, USA, Netherlands, Catalonia, Belgium and New Zealand), therefore reinforcing and validating the model.

The CMP works with released Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander men convicted of sexual offending and seeks to connect them with traditional cultural practice and knowledge. The research involved semi-structured interviews with current or previous participants in the CMP (n=14 interviews with 11 individuals; i.e. three individuals opted to be interviewed twice), staff who have played a role in developing, delivering or managing CMP (n=6) and a range of government, non-government and private stakeholders who work in tandem with CMP (n=12). The research found that the program helped the men to build strong and positive non-offending cultural identities with a focus on connections with family, culture and Country. The CMP manages risk through minimising risk focused on mitigating and managing the emotional distress and life stressors that participants commonly experience (such as anger and frustration relating to the imposed conditions of release), in order to minimise the risk that participants may pose to the community. The CMP also encourages and helps participants to meet the conditions of their orders as well as fostering honest and trustworthy behaviour in a broader sense. CMP participants experienced additional barriers to successful reintegration. Most participants were from remote communities and had little experience outside of their home communities. In the CMP, some participants saw developing respect for women as a strength of the program; however, others expressed views that gave women responsibility for the violence committed against them. This study confirmed findings from previous research that highlighted the importance of addressing gender equality as a fundamental tenet of perpetrator intervention programs.

The research team also conducted a study into victim/survivors’ views about the reintegration of people who have sexually offended, this part of the study comprised of semi-structured interviews with 33 victims/survivors.While victim/survivors’ views were diverse, in the main they supported programs such as CoSA, particularly on the grounds that such an approach could prevent future offending.

The ANROWS research highlights the importance of pro-social community engagement in the integration of people convicted of a sexual offence back into the community. Sexual abuse is an individual and community issue and therefore needs individual and community responses. The striking outcome of the research is not that CoSA or CMP work in their contexts, but rather that victim/survivors of sexual abuse were largely sympathetic towards these programs and that they view social inclusion as an effective way of preventing future sexual offending.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Advice for people at risk of committing a sexual or violent offence while in social isolation

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, David Prescott, LICSW

In recent weeks we have all considered social distancing and the need to stay at home.  We know, however, that home is not always the safest place for everyone. Some of our previous blogs have looked at managing isolation and our wellbeing, as well as advice for practitioners (from our sister organization NOTA) on how to support our clients effectively in the community. Today, we explore management techniques for people at risk of committing sexual offences, either potential first-time offences or possible relapse offences, because we know that social isolation can lead to offence-related and pre-offence behaviours.

Recently, there have been reports of how instances of sexual abuse, online and in person, and domestic abuse is going to increase during the COVID-19 crisis along with concerns of potential victims and related individuals being put at risk. In the UK we have seen our first COVID-19 related domestic homicides. Therefore, if we want to prevent sexual and domestic abuse at the minute, what support can we offer people at risk?

Maintain a daily routine – as much as possible try to keep to a structured, “normal” routine of work and other activities. It’s important to keep structure in your life. In addition, you should continue to take medication, if you are on any, as well as moderate your alcohol and food intake. 

Maintain pro-active, positive self-care techniques – whether this be exercise, yoga, mediation, exercise, or other relaxing activities, these are important to keep up as they balance our mood and behaviour.

Be aware of your mood and behaviour – You should pay extra attention to your mood and responses to situations around yourself. Being aware of how you are interacting with others, your attitude and behaviours towards others, and what current and emerging triggers might influence you.

Frank conversations – if you are socially isolating with other family or friends, have honest conversations about how you are feeling, so that they (and you) can manage the situation more effectively.

Find a “quiet space” – It’s important to have space and time to yourself, especially if you feel more at risk. Carve out some time and space for yourself at home so that you are able to process your triggers and issues more effectively. Make sure that others know what and where this is.

Seek external support where necessary – if you feel that you are losing control and that your regular management plans are not working, then please look to external sources for support and advice. These may be members of your household, your extended network, or professional support if necessary. Although we are being told not to venture out, a lot of resources are still available. Whether these are through an established relationship with a therapist, anonymous phone lines (Stop it now UK, Stop it now USA, StopSO), or even webpages (Lucy Faithful Foundation, Safer Lives, Safer Living Foundation, Upstream, Global Prevention Project) please use them. As just one example, Stop It Now! In the US recently produced a column at their website on how parents can find safe child care in emergencies.

·         One place we can take heart is that although none of us knows exactly how we are going to get through this, we do know that we will.