Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Is it the most wonderful time of the year?

By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D., Kasia Uzieblo, Ph.D., & David Prescott, LISCW

Christmas and the winter break have long been a time to reconnect with friends and family. This is indeed welcome, especially given the challenges that we have had with COVID-19 over the last couple of years. The fact that we are now overloaded with the typical jolly Christmas movies and uncountable pictures of family members laughing at the Christmas table in the media and in advertisements, it is always good to remember that the festive reconnect is not positive or welcome to all. When we think about the impact of seasonal holidays, we often think about Halloween and its safeguarding issues, but we don’t think about Christmas and its capacity to cause trauma; Why?

Research and practice tell us that most people who have been sexually abused are sexually abused by someone that they know. Often this is a family member, either a parent, sibling, or close relation. This means that individuals who have been victimized often must learn to navigate a new status quo in family life after their abuse experiences, often regardless of whether they have disclosed their abuse to anyone or have reported it to the police. People who have survived sexual abuse often talk about having to choose what family gatherings to attend, whether they stay at family member’s homes, who they want to be in the room with, or if they even want to be in the room, they have to explain why they are being “weird”, why they cannot just “let the past be,” or why they “can’t just put on a smile for everyone’s sake”. This means that a sometimes-stressful situation for some can be more stressful and potential retraumatizing for others.

The other outcome of festive reconnections is the possibility of increased disclosures, especially of historical sexual abuse experiences, which will be additionally stressful for the individual which is disclosing and the family unity trying to process it.

The question is how we tackle the legacy of sexual abuse during the festive season. While there is no protocol for it, there are several things we can all do:

·     Be aware of people’s engagement, or lack of engagement, in family activities. Use it as an opportunity to "lean in" and learn more about what's going on in peoples lives.

·      Approach conversations with care, in a trauma-informed way, recognizing that behaviors and actions may not be related to the immediate context.

·   Don’t force conversations, meetings, or activities - especially in respect to hugging, kissing, and physical contact. Remember that consent and understanding is essential in all parts of life.

·       Consider having more smaller, bespoke gatherings rather than single larger ones.

·       Think about the location of activities, who’s involved, and what there activity is.

·       In terms of any disclosures, it’s important to let people speak, hear what they are saying, not to judge the person disclosing it, and offer the help, and support, that they want.

·      Most importantly listen to the person in question, whether disclosing for the first time or revisiting past, known experiences, rather than “knocking it down the line” to discuss in the new year. 

These considerations may seem obvious in print, but too easily go missing in daily life. They require not only empathic action, but also an open mind and the ability to listen and not immediately judge. These are skills that are not given to everyone to the same extent and are certainly not evident in a situation where one might want to reflexively react in a defensive and denialist manner, based on the idea of not damaging the family's happiness, as well as protecting family members and/or oneself.

That is why it remains so essential that we continue to strive to make sexual abuse a topic for discussion in society and give people – including lay people – insights not only into the often-complex interpersonal dynamics present in e.g. chronic abuse, but also into the coping process of people who have been victimized and how this can be expressed in very different ways.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

NL-ATSA webinar: An update on Internet Offenders.

By Minne De Boeck, Kasia Uzieblo, Isabelle Eens & Larissa Van Puyvelde Dutch affiliation of ATSA, NL-ATSA

The virtual world is a world that is complex and is continuously evolving; so it is not surprising that different facets of this world are still unknown for many. However, this world is very relevant to our field. The online world is an attractive environment for child sexual abuse (CSA) because of its affordability, accessibility, and especially its anonymity. Online CSA has an enormous scope, though the effective prevalence is unknown. What we do know is that it has been increasing in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed many vulnerabilities in this context. In June 2020, Europol published a report on the increase in online CSA in terms of downloading sexual abuse images, (potential) perpetrators and (potential) victims active on social media, instant messaging, etc. Justice and treatment services indicate that this increase goes hand in hand with very big challenges in dealing with the issue. The main challenge is to tackle this problem at its cause: As long as there is demand, there will be supply. Reasons enough, to pay attention to the approach of internet offenders.

On November 25, NL-ATSA, the Dutch affiliation of ATSA, organized an online webinar on online sex offenders. The webinar included three plenary sessions, of which one extended session on the assessment and treatment of internet offenders which was provided by two ATSA colleagues. 

The first presenter, Madeleine van der Bruggen (the Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children), focused on the criminal processes identified on the dark web. She analysed forums where images of child sexual abuse were distributed and shared. She explained that online CSA on dark web forums often takes place in four phases: The first phase is preparation, where the actor prepares himself to participate in the activities on a forum. After this, one enters the pre-activity phase. This phase, which precedes the actual online CSA, is mainly characterized by the development of a dark web identity, introducing him/herself to the forum members, and getting to know the process of online CSA. Then the actors become active on the forum (i.e., the activity phase), and start communicating and exchanging experiences with each other. These activities -thus, including criminal behaviours- take place in an atmosphere of recognition, respect, and trust. Van der Bruggen observed a sense of togetherness, which was facilitated mainly by a common goal (online CSA). The final, post-activity phase refers to the situation when someone has been active on the forum but wants to end his activities. This is often announced, and rules of conduct are also agreed upon this, so that others would not think that these individuals had been arrested and could pose a threat for further criminal activities. In addition to the anonymity efforts the dark web offers, the social component is also an important part of online CSA on the dark web. The members engage in long-term personal relationships, which go beyond merely exchanging images and experiences. They build up a relationship of trust with others on the dark web and it makes them feel part of a specific social community. For some these online relationships may even take over the role of social relationships in real life. Van der Bruggen identified two offender profiles, dependent on their role on the forum. First, there is the ‘management’ who is responsible for maintaining the forum and also for specifying the rules of conduct. Second, there are people who are technically inclined, give advice on online CSA, and/or support others; these individuals are the so-called ‘key players’. Van der Bruggen thus emphasized the importance of insights into the organisation of the dark web and the different roles regarding online CSA to adapt the treatment of internet offenders accordingly.


The second presenter, Cyril Boonmann (University Psychiatric Clinics, Basel, Switzerland), focused on online sex offending among adolescents. H he stated that the internet is part of adolescent sexual development, with pornography having both positive and negative effects on young people. Despite several positive effects it may have, the study ‘EU Kids Online’ (2020) indicates that about 20% of the children between 9 and 16 years old has been confronted with unwanted sexual exposure. Notably, research on child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) use among adolescents is limited. The few studies suggest that adolescent perpetrators are predominantly Caucasian young men of whom a minority exhibits some other sex-offender behaviour. The adolescent CSEM offenders seem to exhibit fewer other forms of sex-offending behaviour and less traumatic experiences compared to adolescents who commit hands-on sexual offences. Sexting is also an important topic to consider. In that regard, Boonmann distinguishes between experimental behaviour or behaviour with aggravating circumstances to delineate delinquent behaviour (i.e. sending sexual content without consent) from sexual experimentation. Sexting between adolescents should only be problematized and tackled in the latter case. Next to CSEM and ‘problematic’ sexting, online CSA also includes cybergrooming. One in five minors indicates having experienced cybergrooming, with almost half of the perpetrators being minors. Boonmann concluded with some tips and tricks for clinical practice in working with adolescents committing online CSA. He suggested incorporating modern technologies in therapy and highlighting the dangers and difficulties of social media, pornography, and internet use. However, he also stressed the importance of including the positive aspects of the internet and pornography during treatment.

In the final part of this webinar, Dr. Anton Schweighofer (R. Psych., Canada) and Dr. Lyne PichĂ© (R. Psych., Canada), focused on clinical practice with internet offenders. They also observed a significant increase in the number of men who come into contact with the criminal justice system because of online CSA. As a result, treatment providers are challenged to develop innovative -and as far as possible- evidence-based treatment plans. Dr. Schweighofer and dr. PychĂ© gave insights into relevant typologies and theoretical frameworks for understanding internet offenders. One of the typologies they discussed is the division between fantasy driven and contract-driven online offenders. The former group experiences more intimacy problems exhibit more arousal to deviant sexual material watches more extreme forms of material and is more intensively involved with the internet. The contact-driven group tends to endorse and justify the sexual agency of children more often and exhibits more antisocial behaviour. Next, they reviewed assessment requirements and clinical assessment tools currently available. With regard to risk assessment, they suggested using the CPORT, which is, for now, the only instrument to map the static risk factors for online CSA, in combination with the STABLE-2007 to solely obtain insights into the dynamic risk factors and to identify the most important treatment goals. The Static-99R can’t be scored in this population but may provide additional information on any static risk factors present in the client. They further recommended the use of questionnaires to assess the clients’ attitudes and cognitions (e.g., Internet Behaviours and Attitudes Questionnaire; IBAQ). Clinicians should also have the courage to ask questions about the clients’ specific sexual fantasies and behaviours, such as probing for what the most exciting images are for the client. Based upon research and their extensive clinical experience, they suggested the treatment needs to be based on an understanding of both static and dynamic risk factors, and unique treatment elements like sexual health, internet safety, sexual self-regulation, intimacy, self-hygiene (e.g., sleep cycle) as well as the use of internet resources for treatment purposes. They also recommend involving family members in the treatment process, as they are also affected by the online CSA, and given that these members may have a significant impact on the feasibility of the treatment goals. Finally, they gave two essential tips for treatment providers for internet offenders: ‘Don’t do this work in isolation' and self-care must not be forgotten.

The fact that this symposium was attended by over 100 practitioners (psychologists, psychiatrists, probation officers to name a few) from the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the grateful feedback during and after the event, illustrates that many practitioners acknowledge this growing problem and look for tools on how to deal with internet offenders in practice. It also became clear that this target group is relatively ‘uncharted’ territory for many professionals and that there is a great need for more research and sharing best practices.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Reflections on Evidence-Based Practice in 2020-2021

By David S. Prescott, LICSW

Readers will be forgiven for taking one look at the “2020-2021” portion of the title and turning immediately away. It has been a very difficult time for many of us. Setting aside the personal toll on professionals, this era has brought trends over recent years into sharper relief. Professionals have long faced difficult challenges such as shrinking budgets, scant resources, and societal misunderstandings about the nature of our work. My concern – based solely on my own experiences and conversations with others – involves the forces exerted on our programs that often go unrecognized or unacknowledged. My intent in writing this brief summary of observations is to empower clinicians and others working at the front lines. Where other blogs might say that the opinions expressed are those of the authors, it would be better to say that the questions asked below are primarily my own. However, they may resonate with others.

In past decades, programs and practitioners treating individuals who had abused (whether as adults or juveniles) often designed their work around available research as they could apply it with their specific clientele. In brief, programs were innovative, often because they had to be. In the case of inpatient programs, this was especially true. Even now, very little knowledge is easily available to those working with clients who have special needs. Virtually all programs operated within a context in which a governmental office authorized the program to practice; typically, these authorities kept their fingers on the pulse of these program, intervening only when necessary.

It’s difficult to pinpoint how and when it happened, but increasingly programs in the US have opted to gain additional forms of certification through organizations such as JCAHO, CARF, and COA. And why not? Additional accreditation can only be good, right? Likewise, programs began to bring in empirically supported treatments (ESTs), a welcome addition in virtually every respect. In some regions, systems of treatment have involved a case-management agency making referrals to treatment programs (which they often come to think of not as specialized entities with expertise, but as “vendors” for hire). While this structure is not inherently problematic, past disasters have led some case-management agencies to be authoritarian, leaving programs to make few decisions about treatment independently. While teamwork and collaboration are always welcome, the committees to review these decisions and proposals may only meet occasionally.

As is often the case, great ideas often become problematic in stages that are only barely perceptible. The onboarding of accreditation and wholesale adoption of ESTs have, in some cases, met with problems in their actual implementation. Often, efforts at implementation are stymied by the structures in which they occur and the processes surrounding them.

As one case in point, the author has watched as clinical directors who once charted the therapeutic course of their programs had to spend increasing amounts of time assisting in ensuring quality in areas such as documentation for outside review, very often at the expense of time spent ensuring that the actual treatment delivered is of the highest quality. While there is no question as to the importance of areas such as documentation, broader questions often go unconsidered, such as, “What is the best use of my time as a director to ensure the best outcomes.” For some, the race to make an agency look good has gained a higher priority than making a program actually do good. Too often lost along the way is the therapeutic alliance, which itself has an overwhelming evidence base.

In some cases, however, much time has been lost in the process of appeasing outside entities. “David,” said the Clinical Director of one program, “We had this great evidence-based program for trauma-informed care. It took us years to get it this good. But the CEO wanted (XYZ) accreditation, and (XYZ) only recognizes EMDR. The problem is that most of our clients aren’t actually good candidates for EMDR. We stopped doing what was really working and started getting trained in EMDR. It’s great stuff, but it’s not really working in this environment. So now we’ve been spending all our time doing that. I tried talking with the CEO but he wouldn’t listen.” In the end, those who once steered the ship and produced innovations have increasingly ended up managing processes imposed from outside the program, whether they help the clients or not.

Along similar lines, many programs have understandably raced to use ESTs, even when they are not the best match for clients. For example, the adolescent who, after his mother’s death and father’s return to prison, burned down an outbuilding on his grandmother’s property. A psychological evaluation recommended that he receive grief counseling with family involvement. However, the referring agency (which had not done an assessment) said that because burning a building is an antisocial act, then they would only fund Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST). On the surface, this could have worked. However, it didn’t and as implemented only made matters worse. The case-management agency demanded that the young man go through MST a second time because, “It has the strongest evidence.” Again, the author has seen treatments such as EMDR and MST produce results akin to miracles. The issue isn’t the treatment; it’s the misapplication.

Where does all of this leave us? Since 2005, the American Psychological Association has defined evidence-based practice as “the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture and preferences.” Perhaps its time to re-visit the “clinical expertise” part of this equation. Lost in much discussion about the importance of ESTs is the extensive body of research pointing to the importance of the practitioner delivering treatment. It has recently seemed that treatment programs and their practitioners are viewed by outsiders as entities to be directed and managed, often by people lacking credentials and without liability. As the saying goes, the question to ask is not, “Does nothing work?” but instead, “Is nothing implemented?”

To that end, my vote is that we never forget the expertise that individual programs and professionals bring to our work.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Restorative justice in sexual abuse cases: A lighting rod or an opportunity to rehabilitate?

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, David Prescott, LISCW, & Kasia Uzieblo, PhD

Earlier this week two of the authors, Kieran and Kasia, took part in a webinar for the European Forum on restorative Justice as part of Restorative justice week. The purpose of the talk was to discuss the new Council of Europe guidelines on the assessment, management, and integration of people accused or convicted of a sexual offence and its link to restorative justice. The recommendations were developed by a broad group of experts involving Kieran, Marianne Fuglestved, and Harvey Slade as well as members of the PC-CP and external organisations (including, ATSA, NOTA, NL-ATSA, IATSO AND Les Centres Ressources pour les Intervenants auprès des Auteurs de Violences Sexuelles (CRIAVS). The recommendations are based on the importance of delivering effective practices to people who are convicted, or accused, of a sexual offence. This involves the events and processes from arrest and conviction through to their integration back into the community. The recommendations focus on different parts of the process, including risk assessment tools and processes, the role of treatment in prison and probation (especially the importance of a trauma-informed, service user-engaged rehabilitative process), the role of supporting and working with those who have been victimized (especially in respect to restorative justice), engagement with the media when individuals are released and the need for effective, evidence-based staff training and development. The aim of this blog is not to talk through the full remit of the recommendations and their impact – we would suggest that the reader look at the recommendations (see: https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/managing-persons-accused-or-convicted-of-a-sexual-offence-council-of-europe-issues-new-guidelines) – but rather to look at one recommendation in particular, the recommendations linked to restorative justice.

The use of restorative justice in the field of sexual abuse, and in the processes of treatment and recovery for those who have been harmed as well as the person that has committed the sexually abusive behaviour has sometimes been controversial. In 2018, the Council of Europe published Recommendations concerning restorative justice in criminal matters and as such were committed to seeing restorative justice as part of the criminal justice process. When developing the recommendations relating to people arrested or convicted of a sexual offense, the PC-CP suggested incorporating rights for those victimized and examining restorative justice. The team went and talked with Dr. Ian Marder, who had played a role in the development of the restorative justice recommendations, and developed a recommendation linked to it. The recommendation was:

Rule 31: Where appropriate, prison services and probation agencies should liaise with other criminal justice agencies as well as with victim support services and other agencies as appropriate, to ensure that the needs of victims are met and in order to avoid continuing victimisation.

Commentary:. Probation, and related services, should work with victim services in an appropriate and professional way to safeguard and protect the rights of victims. This is particularly important in cases where the victim is part of a vulnerable or protected group, or where they have an ongoing relationship, direct or indirect, with the person accused or convicted of the sexual offence. As outlined in Rule 30, this rule aims to support victims’ journeys, rather than enabling victims to influence the sentencing or release of the person convicted of a sexual offence. In terms of restorative justice, the victim can ask for a restorative justicebased intervention if it is part of the suite of outcomes available to them upon or after sentencing.

The rule, or recommendation, indicates that restorative justice should not be taken off the table in respect to services offered people who have committed sexual abuse and those who have been victimized; rather, it should be used, where appropriate, in a thoughtful manner that considers the needs of those harmed. Kieran, Kasia and Linda Millington (from Why me?) discussed in a recent webinar. The webinar focused on the need to discuss the reality of sexual abuse and what this means for those impacted by it (both those who abuse and those harmed) and that restoration was an important part of the rehabilitative process. The webinar emphasized that restorative justice is not always about forgiveness or confrontation, but rather about an opportunity for discussion and to be heard and acknowledged, which is a central aspect of the healing process. The take-home message was that the victim’s journey is a central part of the criminal justice process and that it can be, but dies not have to be, a central part of the people convicted or accused of a sexual offences journey but it can be if all parties are open to it and respectful of it.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Is it more about the process than the outcome?

 By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D., Kasia Uzieblo, Ph.D, & David Prescott, LICSW

In the UK the NSPCC (a child protection charity) recently reported an increase in Child Sexual Abuse reports to its helpline. It stated that in the six months up to October 2021 4,735 calls about child sexual abuse or exploitation were made through its helpline. The NSPCC helpline is anonymous and allows victims and other members o the public to report and discuss sexual abuse concerns, after which the operator will decide about whether to report to pass the information to a relevant agency or offer the caller advice on what to do next. The increase in calls to the NSPCC helpline is significant; it is a 36% increase from the same period in 2020 (BBC). In many respects, this is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it shows that children and young people are willing to report and discuss their experiences of abuse, therefore helping to reveal the actual, real, lived reality of child abuse. On the other hand, it can give a misperception that child abuse is increasing (which it may be, but we can’t say that for certain). These figures and their ramifications are significant, and they really highlight to us the importance of prevention – whether it’s the prevention of first-time offending or prevention of relapse – and its need to be rooted in a community-based system that is built on trust, compassion, and understanding.

Research, practice, and policy continually tell us that sexual abuse, especially child sexual abuse, is underreported and that there are many reasons for this; it is the same internationally (although levels of reporting fluctuate wildly across the world). The question must be: why has reporting to the NSPCC (in this case, but it could be any charity or organization) increased now? Is it because we are more attuned to the reality of child sexual abuse than before? Is it because society discusses child sexual abuse more? Maybe it’s easier to report? Or maybe people, especially victims, as well as their friends and family, are gaining trust that the system will respond in their favor? I would like to say yes to all these things, but they are not likely to be the case. Certainly, in the UK there is a lack of cases being passed from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service, there is a growing lack of trust in the police to handle these cases effectively, and there is a strong voice from victims/survivor’s that they are not being heard. So, what is the answer? Why have calls gone up?

The answer may well be in the process and what NSPCC does. The NSPCC approach is about a conversation and about being heard. Sometimes talking about and processing our trauma with someone helps, and it’s not necessary to do something (immediately). We often hear in research and practice that victims want to be heard and their trauma recognized. This is true in terms of child sexual abuse, as the relationship with the person who has harmed them is often complex and nuanced (often a family member, friend, or significant other in the person’s life). In the early stages of recognizing and disclosing sexual abuse, being heard in a non-judgmental, trauma-informed way is important in processing the abuse. It’s not about getting the answer or solving the problem, it’s about being heard. This is different from taking a formal route, to approach the police, the school, a social worker given that all come with inherent expectations that something must be done and that there should be a formal response. In addition to the expectation (or the answer), there are also assumptions about how successful these outcomes will be and the way that the victim will be treated, which colour our perceptions on whether we report. Therefore, the anonymous conversation maybe – but doesn’t have to be – the first step in the road to reporting, as well as by talking with friends and family, as well as the appropriate organizations once confidence has been gained. Is the real question, then, how many of this additional 36 % of calls will result in action? Or are the victims finding a place to talk about their abuse in a safe space?

The NSPCC data reinforces that child sexual abuse is common, that it’s an everyday occurrence. It does not necessarily tell us that it is on the increase, but rather that people [especially children] want to talk about their experiences more and process them properly. To find their voice in their abuse. It reminds us that we must be open to hearing what people are saying, to believe them, and to offer a space with little expectations beyond being there. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Sexual offense registries – Norway at a crossroads?

 By Ingeborg Jenssen Sandbukt, MSc

Three years ago, then Norwegian Minister of Justice, Sylvi Listhaug, appeared in the media stating that “In my opinion, if you rape a child, you are a monster”. This statement created discussion and social media exploded with comments, many in support of her frankness. A fair amount of the comments held negative attitudes towards people convicted of sexual offenses and served as examples of how they are a stigmatized group that most people would hate having as a neighbour. Recently, Norwegian media has broadly covered how an independent vigilant organization (“Nabovarsel”) is systematically notifying neighbours of persons previously convicted of sexual offenses toward children about their presence in the community. Instagram accounts, Facebook groups, and signature campaigns are among the measures the organization uses to spread its message; namely that a public “sex offender” register and mandatory notification of neighbours are necessary measures to make neighbourhoods around Norway safer.

At the same time, we must not forget that Norway has long tradition of penal moderation and a system aimed at facilitating reintegration for convicted people. Right-wing political parties are however in favour of stricter penalties for sexual offenses. The farthest right mainstream party has several times proposed that Norway introduces a register for people convicted of sexual crimes against children to prevent recidivism, and are right now preparing a new proposal. This of course creates debate. Without denying the harm of sexual abuse, my question is: are registers necessary? Recidivism numbers in Norway are in fact lower than in most countries, both generally and for sexual crimes. Sandbukt et al. (2020) found that only 3.4% of persons serving prison sentences for sexual offenses and released in the years 2010-2014 recidivated to a new sex offense conviction within a mean observation period of 6 years. This indicates that the inclusionary penal approach the country is known for somehow works. Secondly, it means that extremely few sexual offense cases would be prevented because of a register. In this blog post I will argue not only that introducing registries in Norway is a bad idea, but also that it will undermine the values that Norwegian penal policy is built upon.

If we picture a penalty scale, we find Norway and the US at different ends. Norway has a prison population rate of only 54 per 100.000 (WPB, 2021) and is considered to have “exceptional” prison conditions and penal practice compared to countries outside Scandinavia. The country’s penal control system inherently aims to reinforce membership in civil society after release without creating any systemic barriers after release and several measures have been put in place to make reintegration more likely. One example is that people’s criminal history and prior sexual convictions are strictly confidential and inaccessible to the public, including potential employers. Only for jobs where one is responsible for law and order, security, or the safety of vulnerable people (e.g. in the police, military, health, or social services), is a clean/restricted record required. It is the applicant himself, however, who will have to provide the employer with this information by obtaining the necessary police documentation. Such privacy protective measures have been introduced to ensure that persons with a criminal record have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else who lives in Norway upon release. According to John Pratt (2008), the roots of “Scandinavian exceptionalism” are in fact “to be found in the highly egalitarian cultural values and social structures in these countries” (p. 120). This Norwegian culture of equality and the rehabilitation-oriented foundation is seemingly so strong that it has so far contributed to resist all proposals of introducing registers and more punitive control measures. That does not mean that the mechanisms that once led to sex offender registration and notification laws (SORN) in the US are not present in Norway. Public reactions after severe child sexual abuse cases have common features across the two countries.

In 2000, two girls aged 8 and 10 years were found raped and murdered after going for a swim in a nearby lake in an area called Baneheia in Norway. Two men were convicted for the crimes. One admitted to one count of rape and one count of murder and was first sentenced to prison for 17 years, and thereafter to 19 years in the Court of Appeal. The other did not plead guilty to either rape or murder of the two girls, but was nevertheless convicted of two counts of murder and two counts of rape, and sentenced to Norwegian law’s most severe punishment; preventive detention for 21 years (for the record, this man has ever since claimed his innocence and is now having his case resumed). The “Baneheia case” made headlines in every national newspaper and TV channel because of its brutality. During the trial it became known that one of the men had also sexually abused another young girl on several occasions years before (which he admitted to in court), a fact that was an additional shock to the public. Similar to e.g. the Jacob Wetterling and Megan Kanka cases, the Baneheia case led to public debate on how to protect children from such crimes. The mother of one of the murdered girls soon became a well-known figure in Norwegian media, and later founded a foundation to help victims and spread awareness of child sexual abuse. Although not necessarily as a direct consequence of the Baneheia case, but in the wake of the case and during the following debate, three parliamentary representatives initiated a proposal to tighten the control. They suggested a range of measures to prevent and combat child sexual abuse, including the creation of a register where perpetrators ought to be portrayed with name, address and information about previous convictions on a separate website. The background of the proposal referred to both UK and US SORN laws, and the importance of public access to the register was underscored. An almost identical proposal came the year after and similar proposals for legislative amendments have been raised periodically since.

The reasons the Norwegian Justice Committee’s majority gave for not supporting the introduction of a register back in 2002 were the well-known negative effects SORN laws could have on rehabilitation and reintegration (see e.g. Harris and Levenson, 2021). In short, they argued that SORN laws challenge individuals’ right to privacy and point to stigma and loneliness as risk factors of new sexual offenses. They further argued that aggression and condemnation of the perpetrator seldom is helpful and acknowledged the fact that registers might actually work against their intended purpose. Later registry proposals have been met with the same response. Seemingly, imposing additional punishment is simply not in line with the very high-standing thought of rehabilitation and reintegration in Norway, demonstrating the importance of penal culture in this issue. In stark contrast to Norway, US has tradition of being “tough on crime,” demonstrated by measures such as harsh parole restrictions and the “three strikes and you’re out” policy. While the development of SORN laws in the US by some has been attributed to the systematically biased picture painted by the media in the wake of high-profile child sexual abuse cases and how it feeds public fear, I believe that penal culture also plays a central part. Because of the US’ “tough on crime” tradition, the public opinion growing out of this fear has had the opportunity to influence policy. In other words, this cultural backdrop may have contributed to the fact that the introduction of SORN laws was not perceived as radical or harsh, but rather as a welcome and suitable measure to fight the problem of child sexual abuse. In contrast, Norway has a long tradition of penal moderation where equality, rehabilitation and reintegration are important cornerstones, and where SORN laws do not fit into the bigger picture.

Despite these cultural differences, the Norwegian society’s concern with sexual offenses has seemingly grown and some have argued that Norway is already moving in a more punitive direction (see e.g. Shammas, 2015). Partly as a response to the perception of increasingly punitive sentiments in the population, stricter punishments for several types of sexual offenses were introduced in 2010. National prison registry data shows that the average prison sentence length for people imprisoned for sexual offenses increased from 606 days in 2010 to 867 days in 2019, a 43 % increase in nine years, and the proportion of prisoners serving a sexual offense conviction grew from about 5 % in year 2000 to about 20 % in 2020. This means that Norway is slowly moving away from their “exceptional” position, and we do not know what the consequences might be. A qualified guess, however, is that we will see the same results of registries in Norway as we have seen in other countries that have chosen to introduce them. Therefore, Norwegian authorities should think twice before they adopt these policies and continue down a potentially slippery slope. Considering the ongoing debate and call for stricter sexual offending policies in Norway, it is important that authorities continue to recognize that SORN laws do not enhance community safety or aid in the prevention of sexual abuse. Instead, public education, prevention, and a continued focus on reintegration are highly recommended measures.


Harris, D. A. & Levenson, J. 2021. Life on “the List” is a Life Lived in Fear: Post-Conviction Traumatic Stress in Men Convicted of Sexual Offenses. 65, 763-789.

Pratt, J. 2008. Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part I: The Nature and Roots of Scandinavian Exceptionalism. The British Journal of Criminology, 48, 119-137.

Sandbukt, I. J., Skardhamar, T., Kristoffersen, R. & Friestad, C. 2020. Testing the Static-99R as a Global Screen for Risk of Sex Crime Recidivism in a Norwegian Routine Sample. Sexual Abuse, 1079063220951194.

Shammas, V. L. 2015. The Rise of a More Punitive State: On the Attenuation of Norwegian Penal Exceptionalism in an Era of Welfare State Transformation. Critical Criminology, 24, 57-74.

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Defining Sibling Sexual Abuse: Challenges and outcomes

 By Kieran Mccartan, Ph.D., Amelia Anning, MSc, and Emma Qureshi, BSc

Recently the authors have been involved in a research project funded primarily by the Home Office and overseen by Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCEW) that examined, in part, the experiences of adult survivors of sibling sexual abuse (SSA) in childhood. In the course of time the publication of reports and journal articles from research will emerge, but over the next few months we will be posting blogs relating to some of the key questions and challenges that this area of sexual abuse presents. For if sexual abuse as a topic area is complex and nuanced, this is particularly true of the area of Sibling Sexual Abuse (Yates and Allardyce, 2021). This blog will discuss some of the complexities that we faced in determining the remit of the study and the challenges of defining what Sibling Sexual Abuse was.

The first main challenge was the definition of sibling sexual abuse, especially because both core terms, Sibling and Sexual abuse, are debated with different professional, practitioners, and policies seeing them in different ways. If we start with the term “sibling” quite often, and historically, that means a direct blood relative that you live with (i.e.., a biological brother or sister), but in the modern era with changes to life and family dynamics this definition is no longer meaningful. We had started to see the term sibling broaden in its meaning to include adoptive siblings, foster siblings, and step siblings (either through the blending of existing families or the emergence of new children through a blend of families). In addition to this some participants stated that they counted non-family members as siblings, it certainly closer than existing siblings, like teammates or roommates at boarding school. This threw up another issue, that of location, for not all siblings resided in the same house at all, never mind for part of the week. This presented a challenge as, if we let participants determine their own definition of sibling then the study would start to lose meaning. Therefore, for the purpose of the study we defined siblings as individuals related to each other, through blood or other means, through a common caregiver that may or may not be a blood relative.  

The second main challenge was understanding and defining what was meant by “sexual abuse”. Sexual abuse is a wide and varied term, and this has an impact on the way that different forms of abuse are recognised and responded to. Research shows that sexual abuse is varied and that experiences of sibling sexual abuse reflect this (Yates and Allardyce, 2021), which was what our research and scoping work found as well with victims stating that they had experienced penetrative abuse, inappropriate touching, coercive control, as well as exposure to pornography and viewing as well as creating child sexual abuse material. However, interestingly the research study suggested that in a lot of sibling sexual abuse cases there was a broader family sexual, emotional, and psychological dysfunction in their everyday life.  And, that it was not until they were teenagers, or adults, that they saw the sexually abusive behaviour for what it was. Unlike the definition of sibling, we thought that the definition of sexual abuse needed to be as broad as possible to really include the full scope and range of sexually abusive behaviour and its outcomes; thereby, including penetrative abuse, inappropriate touching, coercive control, as well as exposure to pornography and viewing as well as creating child sexual abuse material.

We defined Sibling Sexual Abuse for the purpose of the study as, “any form of sexualized behaviour or action, contact and non-contact, between siblings” which led to the third and final challenge the context of the abuse. In some ways this was pre-determined for us by the funding stream, which wanted us to look at the experiences of people who were sexually abuse by a sibling during their childhood. This made the research design easier, but it created other issues in that often, as demonstrated by research (Yates and Allardyce, 2021) and our experience, that while the sexual abuse started in childhood too often it continued into adulthood and on some occasions, it starts in adulthood. It’s important to state this as often as sibling sexual abuse is seen as a form of child abuse, which it is much broader than that. Which lead to the debate - what was a child and where, if at all, we should draw the definitional boundary. It was decided that as childhood is an ever more contested term, that we would look at official terms and legal definitions of children. Definitions of childhood seem to draw the line at either 16 or 18; we decided to use 18 as the cut off as it was the most inclusive and it’s the legal definition laid down by the UN and the most internationally recognised one. This meant that we were going into our research project with the definition of Sibling Sexual Abuse being “any form of sexualized behaviour or action, contact and non-contact, between siblings when they were under the age of 18”.

Although we thought that this was the most inclusive definition that we could use, and in the main it was, the research started to show up other definitional factors that would give us pause for thought;

- The gender and age of the siblings involved in the sexual abuse.

- The role of external forces in the Sibling Sexual Abuse, including peers, parents, and other family members.

- The role of professionals in recognising, defining, and responding to Sibling Sexual Abuse and their impact on what was “officially” recognised.

- The victim/survivors’ perceptions of their own abuse and what was deemed “worthy” to be counted as sexual abuse such as non-penetrative incidents.

- The overarching family dysfunction linked to the Sibling Sexual Abuse and context it created whereby sexual abuse was seen as normal or completely secretive behaviour, which impacted disclosures and help seeking behaviour. But also, the recognition that the person committing the Sibling Sexual Abuse may be a victim of sexual, domestic, emotional, or psychological abuse themselves.

Some of these issues will be further explored in future blogs, articles, and/or reports but the main thing to take from this blog is that Sibling Sexual Abuse is complex issue that due consideration needs to be given to terminology and definitions surrounding it when planning research, practice, or policy.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Preventing Human Trafficking.

Kirsti Mouncey, LISW-S, LCDCIII                                                                                                      Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, President & CEO

What images come to mind when you hear the words human trafficking? Maybe a young woman kidnapped and held captive by a stranger? Children forced to make clothing in a foreign country? Chains and truck stops?

This is often the way this crime is portrayed in the media and how we can compartmentalize that this human rights violation is rare in our society and can’t possibly be happening in our own back yards. What if I told you human trafficking happens in our communities, right under our noses? It is the single mother trying to make ends meet who is pressured into sex trafficking while working at a strip club. A domestic worker coerced into working 15-hour shifts, receiving no pay, no time off, and no living space of their own. A teenage boy betrayed by someone he trusted and forced into sexual exploitation under threats of harm to his family. The young girl sold for drugs or rent. In this guest post, I’d like to introduce readers to a broader discussion of human trafficking and offer resources on where to go to obtain more knowledge. All of this is in the spirit of exchanging resources and ideas towards the goal of ending and preventing human trafficking.

Human trafficking victims most often are individuals with vulnerabilities: runaways and homeless youth; Black and Brown women and girls; young people from the LGBTQI community; children in and out of the system with traumas of neglect and abuse; and those with substance abuse, mental health concerns, and disabilities. Traffickers target vulnerable populations who have little social or legal protection. Choosing victims from marginalized communities contributes to a minimized “risk” for traffickers. There is no community outrage when there is a perception that those harmed are frequently to blame for their circumstances.

Traffickers exploit their victims by using deception, fraud, manipulation, or coercion. They may offer things their victims need, such as shelter, food, clothing, protection, emotional support, or the false promise of love to lure them in. Many victims are trafficked by an intimate partner, friend, or even parent or guardian. Not all traffickers use violence but most do to strengthen the emotional bonds with victims that arise from a recurring, cyclical pattern of abuse perpetuated by irregular reinforcement through rewards and punishments (trauma bonds).

At its core, human trafficking is a financially motivated system of crime, all about exploiting humans for profit. Like other financial crimes, it involves a triangle of activity: supply, demand, and distribution. Human trafficking can include sex trafficking, labor trafficking, or a combination of the two. Forced labor, also referred to as “labor trafficking,” encompasses the range of activities involved when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to obtain the labor or services of another person. Sex trafficking encompasses the range of activities involved when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act or causes a child to engage in a commercial sex act. Both can happen to the same individual when they are exploited through forced labor and sexual activities by the same trafficker.

Few crimes are more detestable than human trafficking, and few crimes are more challenging for communities to confront. Yet, communities are beginning to take proactive action in identifying, responding to, and preventing human trafficking; Cleveland/Northeast Ohio being one of them.

As with other forms of violence considered to be a public health crisis, deeply rooted and connected to poverty and inequality, power and control; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a comprehensive frame work and multilevel approach to the prevention of human trafficking. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes multiple, complementary, evidence-based violence prevention strategies which are meant to be carried out across various systems and levels of organizations. The primary or universal tier involves creating environments and fostering skills in children that prevent victimization in the first place. The second tier focuses on identifying victims and offering early interventions to prevent further harm. The tertiary tier addresses long term support for those victimized. The complexity of this model makes it apparent that no single organization or system has the capacity or ability to handle all the aspects of responding to human trafficking alone. Each organization has abilities and limitations. For example, a school system might have a program for primary prevention but no intervention and treatment capabilities if a child discloses trafficking. While a law enforcement agency has immediate response capabilities to identify victims, it may lack long term service resources to link these victims to. Frequently, task forces or coalitions, such as Greater Cleveland Coordinated Response to Human Trafficking, convened by the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking here in Cleveland, are the catalysts for this collective impact. Through the creation of a network of member organizations, everyone involved in anti-human trafficking work can identify the capacity of the other members and work together to create a coordinated response and prevention system.

Collective action can go even further in preventing and comprehensively serving victims: the greater task is to collectively address the systemic challenges that human trafficking exhumes. This means working together to shift paradigms in each community about how marginalized populations are seen and treated, and addressing the root causes such as racism, poverty, and inequities. This also means leaving egos at the door, breaking down organizational and systemic silos, and digging deep into overarching discriminatory practices and policies.

Other avenues, equally important to consider, are the disruption of demand and supply such as through demand reduction efforts with the Five S’s framework: sanctioning soliciting, second chance schools (Johns Schools), sting and reverse sting operations, social media campaigns, and standards. Demand reduction efforts reduce the demand for trafficked sex and labor using prevention, treatment, and research. Supply reduction aims to make these illegal activities scarcer, more expensive, and less socially tolerated. Similar to US drug policy, hope lies in the combination of both demand reduction (law enforcement) and supply reduction (treatment, prevention and research) to also bring success to the efforts of eradicating human trafficking. More research and conversations are also needed about the men who buy sex and their motivations. Understanding that they are closer to sexual predators than “sexually frustrated, nice guys” could help identify the predictive ability of men at risk for purchasing sex.

And what about the treatment of sex traffickers charged with sexual offenses? Since traditional sexual offender treatment may not be appropriate due to the different motivation for committing the crime, is it possible to rehabilitate and prevent that way?

Regarding labor trafficking, efforts have been focused on monitoring the production processes in order to discourage businesses from engaging in or supporting this crime. Many goods are produced through exploitative labor, and the process is often concealed from purchasers. How do we shift the paradigm in what and how we purchase goods? How do we hold corporations accountable to ethically examine their operations and profits?

The reality of human trafficking is difficult to comprehend and it is even more difficult to envision a comprehensive prevention model that includes all approaches described above: the public health approach; supply, demand, and distribution; and bringing together all the systems necessary to tackle this complex problem: victim service organizations, law enforcement agencies, sex offender treatment providers, law and policy makers, researchers, and businesses and the financial sector. We all need to come together at the same table to put our collective impact into action.

The anti-trafficking community emphasizes that learning about these issues and collaborating to deliver a continued and improved response to combating trafficking are major considerations aimed at mitigating the impacts of this crises and guide the path forward. There is also a call and a need to incorporate anti-trafficking efforts into existing responses in other contexts. Everyone and every sector has a role to play in the fight against human trafficking.

I am leaving you with a call to action to do just that - learn more about human trafficking and incorporate what you have learned into to your sphere of influence, your context. For those of you already engaged in anti-human trafficking work or planning to do so in the future, my call to action for you is to apply equity based approaches and to relentlessly seek collaboration!

Anyone can join in the fight against human trafficking. Here are ideas to consider:

Learn more about national Human Trafficking Statistics, Indicators, Policy and Legislation:





Take a Human Trafficking Training or learn more about how to be an Advocate:



Be conscious of the power your purchase holds. Support companies committed to taking a stand against human trafficking. Be an informed consumer.





Volunteer with and support anti-human trafficking efforts in your community



 Become a mentor to a young person or someone in need. As a mentor, you can be involved in new and positive experiences in that person’s life during a formative time.

 Meet with and write your local, state and federal elected official to let them know you care about combating human trafficking and ask what they are doing to address it.



 Be well-informed. Set up a web alert to receive current human trafficking news. 



Encourage your local schools or school district to include human trafficking in their curricula and to develop protocols for identifying and reporting a suspected case of human trafficking or responding to a potential victim.



Parents and Caregivers: Learn how human traffickers often target and recruit youth and who to turn to for help in potentially dangerous situations. Host community conversations with parent teacher associations and community members regarding safeguarding children in your community.



Visit our website for more information and resources: www.collabtoendht.org


Kirsti Mouncey, LISW-S, LCDCIII currently serves as the President & CEO at the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, and is an experienced and innovative non-profit executive. Driven by a vision of a world fee of violence, she takes pride in driving organizational transformation and multisystemic collaboration. As a women with a vision, her goals include catalyzing enduring positive change, and identifying and strengthen existing assets in her community and beyond. In addition to her primary job functions Kirsti has been recognized by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center with the Visionary Voice Award in 2016 and was inducted into the as Case Western Reserve University Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences Hall of Achievements in 2017. Kirsti holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from Cleveland State University, and is a Licensed Independent Social Work Supervisor and a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor in the State of Ohio. She lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio with her husband, two sons, a goldendoodle and a hedgehog.