Friday, May 21, 2021

Double standards in our acceptance of sexual abuse.

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

In April a four-part documentary about the life of André Hazes, one of the most famous artists of The Netherlands, who passed away in 2004, was broadcasted in the Netherlands. This year André Hazes would have turned 70. Hence, it was deemed that it was a good moment to look back on the special life of the singer. The documentary was special in many ways. Haze was described as a man of extremes, who on the one hand enjoyed the attention, but who at the same time was extremely insecure, lonely, jealous, and self-destructive. The documentary depicted many well-known stories about the artist. But one story that was never revealed before, stood out.

Rachel Hazes, his wife, gave testimony stating that they met when she was 12 years old. When she was 15, she became the babysitter at André (34 years) and his then-wife Ellen’s home. Although it was a public secret that André and Rachel had feelings for each other when Rachel was very young, it was not known that they also shared the bed in that period. Rachel describes their first sexual experience together as follows:

“Ellen was not at home, I had gone to bed. And then André came into my bedroom at some point. Then something happened, so to speak. Then we really had sex for the first time. André was my first boyfriend with whom I made love…It caught me off guard. I had no intention of going to bed with André…When I was 15, I was not thinking about that. It really happened to me.”

When Ellen discovered that André had an affair with the 15-year-old Rachel, Rachel decided to break off contact with him. They met each other again five years later at one of André’s concerts, started a relationship. They married when she was 21 and he was 40.

When one of the authors, Kasia Uzieblo, saw this testimony, she expected outcries from the community, an avalanche of negative, angry, and condemnatory responses online. But she was surprised that this was not the case. There were a few reactions on social media, condemning André’s behaviour, calling him a pervert, a pedophile, but besides of that: deafening silence. This observation led to a discussion with colleagues from NL-ATSA, who was, like Kasia, bewildered.

Of course, it is not our intention to state that aversive reactions on stories like that should be promoted or stimulated, on the contrary. Stigmatization of people who have committed a sexual offence or of those exhibiting sexual interests in minors is a societal problem, given that it hampers their resocialization process, and it leads to their isolation with all the consequences thereof. Nor is it our intention to state that relationships between adults and minors should be approved.

But the lack of reactions, in this case, is again proof of our double standards in our acceptance of sexual abuse: Whereas we are very quick to condemn the average man when who engages in sexually violent behaviour, we do not do so, or to a much lesser extent, in the case of well-known people of social standing. In our clinical practice we also encounter men who are convicted of sexual abuse, but who maintain that it was not abuse, that the minor and he had an intimate relationship that could have developed into something lasting if he had not been arrested. One of the authors recalls, for instance, such a case in which the victim who was 14-15 years old at the time of the offence, also stated that she had a profound relationship with the ‘offender’, and that her parents approved this relationship. There were indeed indications that her ‘partner’ who eventually received a prison sentence, was regularly invited into their house and was even allowed to stay overnight.

So, this makes one wonder, what is different between André and other people who have committed a sexual offence? Does it all come down to social status? Do we have a blind spot for people who are socially significant yet who cross boundaries? Is it easier for us to dismiss this behavior as we think that we know these people, that we identify with them, and maybe idealize them? Do we want to victim blame or negate allegations because it means that we may need to look at ourselves and our values, beliefs, and/or attitudes? It is easier for us to point the finger at the stranger in the street who commits sexually transgressive behaviour than it is to condemn similar behaviour of someone with societal status because we do know and/or identify with that individual. It is simply striking that sexually transgressive behaviours committed by someone known can be easily minimized and even ignored by society, often -but certainly not always- until stark and significant evidence is presented. To illustrate, one person commented as follows in the section below Rachel’s story stated: “Everybody makes mistakes.” Why is it that we emphasize the talents, the strengths of these famous individuals but do not for anyone who commits a sexual offence? Why do we, like in André’s case, use the talents of famous people as an excuse, or justification to minimize their transgressive behaviours. We can see their strengths in a way that we do not with the “run of the mill” individual who has committed sexual abuse, which runs contrary to the goals of treatment, rehabilitation, and reintegration.

Additionally, the case of André provides us with an escape clause as he went on to marry Rachel and therefore it's easier for us to say that it is not abuse as they ended up together in the end. But the question that we need to ask about that narrative, as we would with anyone else, is that is this a case of grooming, manipulation, and coercive control/brainwashing? Or have our societal values and views regarding age differences between partners become too restrictive over time? Are we nowadays too quick to label sexual relations that do not fall within our current norms as deviant and criminal?

The truth is that we are struggling with cases like this. We do not really know what attitude to take with cases like these.

Our clients also observe these double standards and doubts, which may, in turn, facilitate or strengthen cognitive distortions (“if others do it and don’t get punished nor condemned, this behavior is OK”), and/or feelings of hopelessness, anger, and inequality (“Why me and not them”). Which can increase the likelihood of reoffending and damage community integration strategies.

Professionals need to play a role in leading the conversation that all people who commit sexual abuse have both similar risk and protective factors which do not necessarily change with social status, but what social status does is change access to victims and increase opportunities to dismiss/disregard allegations.

Friday, May 14, 2021

‘It hasn’t had much effect on me… social contact has been limited since arrest’: part 2

 By Kirsty Teague

Please note that Kirsty Teague, Lecturer in Criminology and Doctoral Candidate at Nottingham Trent University is supervised by Dr. Nicholas Blagden, Professor. Belinda Winder, and Dr. Paul Hamilton. This is part 2 of a 2 part blog, part 1 can be found here. Kieran   

Parts 1 and 2 of this extended blog post provide reflections and realisations as a result of conducting face-to-face (F2F) data collection over a 6-month period during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst Part 1 focused specifically on participant recruitment and participant vulnerability, Part 2 explores barriers to engagement with meaningful others experienced by men with sexual convictions during the pandemic. The latter part of the post looks at the impact conducting f2f research had on the researcher during this time.

Restrictions preventing engagement with meaningful others

Have you even lived through the COVID-19 pandemic if you haven’t had to participate in a video call and/or online quiz with family and friends?

Video calls and quizzes have been elevated to lifeline status over the last 12 months and considered a key source in maintaining social connection. However, for those with a sexual conviction (regardless of offence type), licence restrictions can prevent (i) access to the internet; and/or (ii) ownership of a smartphone which can take or download photographs/video and have the ability to live stream. This has meant that throughout the pandemic there has been a proportion of individuals effectively cut off from the new virtual world we find ourselves in. Something that has received little to no attention or consideration by those who craft such restrictions and policies.

As such, initiatives such as the Corbett Centre have become even more valuable than ever before; a physical place where everyone is safe, respected and not judged. As someone who belongs to the LGBTQI+ community, the role and value of ‘safe spaces’, I appreciate all too well. Having allies is also important. This leads me to Ben’s March 19th blog post titled: ‘reflections on the challenges of “true” community integration post-conviction’, where put forward the following:

‘The solution is still to humanize sex offenders and tell their stories of trauma and childhood adversity, as often and as loudly as possible, so that they are no longer feared. As the fear goes away, so will the hatred and the othering. Creating empathy for sex offenders, in wider society, will not be easy. You will be accused of being soft on crime, but it must at least be attempted’.

As researchers and practitioners, this is something that we must be committed to doing to reintegrate those with sexual convictions back into their communities. The pandemic has meant that men with sexual convictions feel like outsiders, more so than they do usually, not just due to the pandemic, but due to structural barriers in place to prevent their reintegration. These barriers send messages of difference, fear and risk to society, creating a sense of hostility.

The vulnerable researcher

Conducting f2f research during the pandemic has been energising and de-energising in equal measure.

Hearing and promoting the voices of those who too often don’t get to tell their stories has been energising, and something which I’ll do until there is tangible and meaningful change for the better in how society and criminal justice agencies respond to those who have sexual convictions.

However, there has been emotional and psychological strain in conducting this research. Something which I’ve reflected on more so in recent months is the role that gender plays in conducting research with men who have sexual convictions. As a female researcher, I wonder about the extent to which there is parity with researchers of other genders in the nature and extent participants offload both general and specific wellbeing related issues, but more specifically in a COVID-era.

However, sensitivity and receptivity to issues of exclusion and isolation on my part is also likely to be impacted (and be perhaps elevated) as a result of the pandemic. My partial experiences (by comparison) of exclusion and isolation have made me more sensitive to my participants experiences of such. However, this begs the question, do we need to have experienced something in order to understand it? There are some parallels here to other realms of social life. For example, people now likely have a greater understanding of the difficulties associated with teaching since home-schooling children during the pandemic. One thing that transcends most issues, however, is that during challenging times, socio-economic status insofar as access to resources and support goes, can either perpetuate or protect against structural disadvantage.

On a related note, many discussions in the interview context related to social isolation, and the idea of becoming ‘socially inept’ - de-skilled from building social connection due to a lack of opportunities for relationship building. This often led to concern for the participants given the exacerbating nature I knew the pandemic was having on this issue. Reminded of the trust and hope placed in research to help make positive change, this was often a mitigating tool not just for me, but for the participants undoubtedly too.

Participant 11 diary entry: ‘April 30th: This started as recording something to be grateful for each day and I appear to have moved away from that.

So today I am grateful for the great people at the Corbett Centre. Helping with the research is so interesting, I always find out something about myself’’


Whilst social distancing, sterilising of surfaces, lateral flow testing and face masks mark a sign of the times, not least in research and educational contexts, they shouldn’t be seen as barriers to meaningful connection. Occupying the same physical space is more so important, especially in eliciting people’s life stories and lived experiences.


Thursday, May 6, 2021

‘It hasn’t had much effect on me… social contact has been limited since arrest’: Reflections on conducting Face 2 Face research with men who have sexual convictions during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Kirsty Teague

Please note that Kirsty Teague, Lecturer in Criminology and Doctoral Candidate at Nottingham Trent University is supervised by Dr. Nicholas Blagden, Professor. Belinda Winder, and Dr. Paul Hamilton. This is part 1 of a 2 part blog. Kieran  

Participant 10 diary entry: ‘Sunday 27th December, just spent my worst Christmas on record and Covid did not help. Since last Thursday I have not spoken more than ten words to anyone, I am beginning to hate it here, and I think not being aloud to speak to my next-door neighbour is rather pathetic, and the persons who agree with it need to get a life. It must go against everything equality stands for. I very rarely get angry and I’m not angry now but I do get emotional and at the moment I feel emotionally drained, tired and for want of a better word unloved, not that I wish to be loved but it would be nice if someone actually cared’

In England, March 23rd, 2020, October 31st, 2020, and January 4th, 2021 will be remembered for marking three distinct national lockdown phases resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst for many, we were entering unchartered territory of social isolation and reduced autonomy, for some of the most vulnerable in society this was not new. For men with sexual convictions, life post-prison is too often marked by isolation and restrictions.

Whilst we were shielding the clinically vulnerable, those who were vulnerable as a result of their offence history were becoming more isolated than ever before. For many men with sexual convictions, relationships with family and friends are too often replaced by professional relationships, not least with probation services. However, in March 2020 even face-to-face (F2F) meetings were replaced by digital supervision, with only probationers deemed high-risk warranting a doorstep visit. Whilst of course this was deemed necessary to control the infection rate, the impact of a lack – and for some a total loss of – human contact has been evident, especially in a research setting.

My PhD research is exploring how men with sexual convictions construe and relate to ‘community’ by looking at social cure and social curse processes that help or indeed hinder, reintegration post-prison. This is done through a combination of methods including interviews, repertory grids and diaries. From November 2020 through to April 2021 I commenced face-to-face data collection. Below I outline my reflections and realisations throughout.

Participant recruitment

The new and innovative Corbett Centre provides the hub for this research, including participant recruitment. From the outset, many service-users of the centre were keen to participate. However, with the rapidly changing nature of the virus and responses to its control, I anticipated engagement would dip, no matter how well-intentioned service-users where, to begin with.

What followed, however, was an unbridled enthusiasm to engage with the research. Fourteen participants engaged with two interviews (one semi-structured; and one repertory grid), with the opportunity to maintain a diary as well. Throughout the pandemic, the centre has been COVID-secure and risk-assessed, making it a place of safety, in its widest interpretation. During the pandemic, ‘community’ and being ‘together apart’ have been critical for social connectedness. The necessity to understand the bearing of these concepts on men with sexual convictions provided plenty of discussion at a time when they felt somewhat disconnected. In practical terms, this led to lengthy discussions which often meant that it was sometimes difficult to round up discussions and prepare for subsequent interviews. There was often a conversational spillover which warranted a coffee and a chat after, or the need to switch off from an emotive discussion on lacking social belonging (which featured a lot) to then learn a card game before they left the centre. It was at these junctures I reflected on Prof. Belinda Winder’s, take on research ethics being an ‘iterative cycle of ethics and care’. 

Participant 3 diary entry: ‘Saturday 16th January – ‘… had my interview at CC and it made me realise how much I enjoy being there. With work and not living too close it isn’t somewhere I get as often as I would like but it is one place I feel truly relaxed as myself ‘warts and all’. Ok Kirsty’s company, coffee and mini-egg chocolate do have a bearing on that but even so it’s nice to have a proper conversation without being guarded about my past…’ 

Participant 7 diary entry: ‘03/02/2021 – Wednesday – ‘I went over to the Corbett Centre today… I had a chat with Dave and Kirsty too. It was nice to have a bit of social time. I did some shopping on the way home too’

Vulnerable participants

Any researcher will be familiar with the banal and ritualistic (but, yes necessary) providing debriefing sheets to participants following a research encounter. However, conducting this kind of research, during these times, required humanistic and relational encounters. Many participants commented on how few people they’d had a meaningful interaction with, in the preceding days and weeks before engaging in research. Taking the time to have a chat about the mundanities of life, but also to discuss how they were coping was incredibly important.

Participant 10 diary entry: Friday 18th December, staying in and being sort of isolated for the last four days and not speaking or seeing anyone, a few thoughts came to mind, one being, if I never speak to or see anyone in my life, do I really exist. I sometimes feel like I’m in sort of a ground-hog day, not moving forward like I should be, sometimes it even feels like I’m moving backwards

The pandemic has provided fewer opportunities for us all to have meaningful encounters with people, and those with sexual convictions sometimes more so. It was also often during a research encounter that issues were presented that perhaps wouldn’t pre-COVID. One participant hadn’t slept the night before coming to the centre due to him finding out his mother was too scared to leave the house as a result of neighbours learning of her son’s offence history. For this reason, we spent much of the morning discussing the next steps and wellbeing-related issues. Whilst for many, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for reflection on what is important in life, violence (symbolic, structural and bodily) continues for those who have a sexual conviction, and those they are close with. Being there to listen and provide moral support (scaffolding appropriate practical support) throughout the pandemic has been essential.

Part 2 will discuss barriers to engagement with meaningful others experienced by men with sexual convictions during the pandemic and the impact conducting f2f research had during this time on the researcher.