Friday, January 28, 2022

Employment, Desistence, and Proactive Risk Management.

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

Recently one of the authors participated in an online seminar discussing the assessment, treatment, and management of people accused or convicted of a sexual offence. The seminar was based in the UK with professionals, criminal justice, and charities, that work with people convicted of a sexual offence in institutions as well as in the community. Although the aim of the seminar was to discuss the recent Council of Europe recommendations, but it also addressed prevention, harm reduction, and community integration. In the question and answers session the topic of employment and people convicted of a sexual offense came up, including the challenge how we can “safely” employ and manage their risk of people who have caused sexual harm. The challenge comes in finding the balance between community integration, harm reduction, strengths-based approaches to desistence, and protecting the public. However, the biggest challenge from an employer’s perspective, is managing their own reputation and the optics of employing people convicted of a sexual offense.

Research and practice suggest that the majority of people convicted of sexual offenses do not reoffend and are low risk.  This means that we have a body of people returning to the community that could be engaged in gainful employment. However, the public and political perception of people convicted of sexual offenses is that they are all high risk and cannot meaningfully return to the community. Therefore, we do not have the same conversations about employing them as we regularly do with respect to people convicted of other kinds of offenses. The result is a cross section of people who cannot return to meaningful employment. In some cases, this may be legitimate because of their offending behavior and risk. For instance, an individual may not be able to return to teaching if they were convicted of child sexual offenses.  In many cases, it will impact their rehabilitation and reintegration.  On the other hand, people convicted of sexual offenses may also have wide skill sets, can be educated, or have held a range of positions before their convictions.  Cutting off their return to employment potentially means that we are rejecting a skilled population that can contribute to society. It is important to acknowledge that some people were able to offend via their job, their skill set, and the access that their employment offered. For that reason, it's essential that any conversation about a return to employment is facilitated in a safe, secure, and controlled fashion.

During the online seminar probation, police, charities, and employers asked what could be done in this arena, as they recognise that meaningful employment is a central feature of strength-based approaches to desistance. Some key considerations around this area include:

-  Employers need support and education in risk management from a multi-disciplinary team before as well as during the employment of people convicted of sexual offenses.

-  Employers need to be supported in order to develop several safe working practices for all their employees and customers, whether this be in the form of risk containment through HR processes or in conjunction with state or related services that manage risk in the community.

-  Employers may need help to develop public relations narratives about employing people convicted of sexual offenses so that they are prepared for any criticism or backlash towards.

-  Employing people convicted of sexual offenses is an important part of their rehabilitation, risk management, and that it contributes to community safety. However, it must be recognised that some roles are off limits to this population.  While this may be appropriate, it’s important to recognise  what the limitations  are and where they end.

-  It is important to point out, too, that putting people back to work is not simply about keeping them occupied but also about keeping them out of debt, which is may not always be obvious, but can introduce a whole new set of problems.

-  Realising that employing people convicted of sexual offenses is not anti-victim, nor does it diminish victims’ experience or narrative.

In discussing the challenges inherent in employing people convicted of sexual offenses there are no easy answers. Clearly, employers need support in doing this. Sexual abuse is a community issue, which needs a community response that allows people to return to being productive members of the community.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Unfortunately, It’s the Same Old Story, the Same Old Song and Dance: Challenges to the Credibility of People Who Have Been Victimized.

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

The recent Jeffery Epstein legacy trials, those of Ghislaine Maxwell and the (formerly titled) Prince Andrew, have highlighted that society still does not trust victims of sexual abuse, their narratives, or their motivations.

In the Maxwell case, it turned out that one of the jurors disclosed that they were a victim of sexual abuse to corroborate the victims’ narratives and indicate that there are legitimate reasons for the complexity and seeming contradictions. However, this was seen as derailing the legal processes, mainly by the defence counsel, and the case is on track to appeal. The agreement is that this juror was a disgruntled victim looking to dispute the agenda with a personal crusade that looked to make Maxwell the unwarranted target of their fury.

In the Duke of York case, the victim-blaming narratives were two-fold. The first was that she was only looking for money and not justice (disclosing how much the victim received in an earlier settlement may also have been seen as a way to portray her as a money-grabber). This has since been countered by the prosecution, who have stated that their client will not want to settle out of court. The second victim-blaming narrative is that the woman was suffering from false memories and that the allegations are not true. The false memories argument reinforces a lot of the claims made by Andrew (i.e., that he never met her, he was elsewhere at the time, that the photo was faked, that he doesn’t sweat, etc.). The argument highlights that it’s the victim that is untrustworthy, in a way that suggests that she is confused, unreliable, and vulnerable. The false memory argument seems to suggest that the victim’s vulnerabilities have resulted in the duke becoming the target of her ire as he is a public figure, but not the actual culprit. The core of the duke’s argument is that she is targeting him because of his personal wealth and that she is out for what she can get from him. This is reinforced by the fact that she is pursuing a civil case rather than a criminal case without recognizing that there are very real and legitimate reasons for why this decision was made. These reasons include the threshold of evidence needed, the fact that the duke is not an American citizen and that the case is playing out in an American court, and the geographic location where the abuse took place. What the duke’s defence has done is paint a picture of a damaged, angry individual who is seeking money, not justice.

These examples continue to damage public perception of victims, their credibility, and their ability to seek – and receive – justice. We have seen this play out in the media and social media message boards with people claiming that “She went along with it!,” “No one forced her,” “She is getting something out of it,” “Well, the story does not make sense so it must be untrue,” and “Why has she waited this long to seek justice.” The result is that in the court of public opinion victims’ stories are undermined over and over again and that people often have good reasons for not coming forward to disclose abuse. In addition, these perceptions, victim-blaming tendencies, and cognitive distortions cannot be ruled out among professionals (police, judges, etc.), which can lead to inadequate treatment of (alleged) victims.

Therefore, what lessons can we learn from these cases, from the evidence, that we can use in moving forward? To start:

-  The help-seeking process is complex, consists of different phases, is different for everyone, and requires a great deal of insight, courage, and skills on the part of the victim.

-  Victims often take a long time to come forward and disclose their experiences of abuse as it takes time for them to process as well as understand it.

-  Sexual abuse is complex with victims often being groomed and manipulated by the person that is abusing them, quite often to the point that they don’t see the abuse.

-  The narratives of those who have been victimized can be complex and contradictory, which is a product of the abuse and human memory processes and not a sign of unreliability or manipulation.

-  Those who have been victimized often want different forms of “justice” and that can appear different to all. Therefore, its unrealistic to expect everyone to want the same brand and type of justice.

-  We need to recognize that false memories can and do exist (see for an interesting review, see O’Donohue et al., 2018), but it is in the minority of cases and hence must not be seen as the go-to explanation for complex victim narratives.

-  We need to realize, as professionals and certainly as a (online) community, that responding adequately to disclosures is essential to the well-being of the victim, will facilitate help-seeking behaviour in the future of that victim, and will facilitate help-seeking behaviour of other victims.

As a society we need to start recognising that the narratives of those who have been victimized are not black and white, and that this means that we need to understand how to best support them as well as the Criminal Justice System in processing these cases.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

What’s OK: A new prevention resource reaching youth with concerns.

 By Joan Tabachnick and Jenny Coleman

ATSA brings a unique perspective to sexual violence prevention with its focus on preventing the perpetration of sexual harm.  Few organizations or resources echo this important focus more cleanly than Stop It Now! USA, its international affiliations, and its newest program/website, What’s OK (  What’s OK is a new FREE resource that every ATSA members should know about and has been receiving rave reviews from many non-profit organizations, public agencies, colleges and universities who work directly with children and teens! 

Released at the end of last year, Stop It Now! USA has created a new website to bring this laser focus on perpetration prevention to adolescents and young adults (aged 14-22).  The website and resources address questions about whether not a teen or young adult may have crossed the line, or have concerns about their sexual behaviors or interests. This new resource is a safe and confidential place for youth to reach out for help if they are concerned that they are causing harm and have no one they can easily ask these heart wrenching questions. 

What’s OK was developed (with support from the World Childhood Foundation) because Stop It Now! saw an urgent need for resources for young people questioning their sexual interests and behaviors, both on their helpline and through discussions with other professionals.  The idea was to create a compassionate, accessible, practical, and helpful pathway for young people to get information and to support them to ask for help or when there is a concern about someone else’s behaviors. 

In 2021, 21% of total Helpline contacts were self-help (concerned about their own interests/behaviors) and 4%  were from children and youth asking for help with their sexual feelings and behaviors towards younger children. An example is this email from a youth at risk to abuse:

“I have noticed that I have an attraction to prepubescent girls (and) feel that their safety around me is quickly dwindling, and it has become exponentially harder for me to resist. I have told my mother, but she doesn’t know what do and is as depressed about it as I am. I’m not entirely sure what to do, but I do know that there is no cure, so what I’m asking for is ways to prevent the provocation, if it is possible. It would really help if I can receive fast help.”

In 2021, after an extensive review of the literature, conversations with young people about what they might want, including a newly established youth council, and many meetings with experts from around the country, the NOW! staff used these insights to create a website, facts sheets, texting as a new communication vehicle, social media ads and other resources for a campaign to target youth ages 14-22. 

A social media/digital marketing campaign was launched and piloted in the fall with the goals of increasing youth awareness of the helpline and What’s OK resources as well as increasing youth use of the helpline.  The following ads were launched on TicTok, Snapchat, and Instagram.  Here are the links to four different approaches:

·  Addicted (Stock):

·  Addicted (Emoji):

·  Harm:

·  Am I OK?:

In just the first month, the pilot far exceeded its initial goal of 50K and reached nearly 175,000 young people.  These generated nearly 3,000 clicks/swipes and nearly 500 shared the posting with a friend.  And young people have responded.  From a 16-year-old who found this resource through Instagram and contacted Now! with concerns about frequent masturbation: 

thank you it's been really helpful to talk to someone about this and it has let some steam off my chest.


And from a recently turned 15-year-old who chatted in that they were reaching out because,


I’ve been having sexual thoughts and feelings towards children (ages 7-12 ), but not in real life, I found videos and photos but only those, I never want to harm a child and sometimes I can’t even control my thoughts and I’m scared.”


At the end of the consult the caller said, “Thank you so much! I appreciate you making the time to speak with me! I’ll definitely take your advice” and the caller said they planned on speaking with their therapist about setting helpful and clear boundaries.

Given the success of this initial pilot, Stop It Now! received funding for a second year to further develop the materials on the website and expand this digital marketing campaign.  Stay tuned! 

For further information, contact Jenny Coleman, Director, Stop It Now! at 

Friday, January 7, 2022

New Year, New you? Or New Year, New Us?

 By Kieran McCartan, PhD, Kasia Uzieblo, PhD, & David S. Prescott, LICSW

The new year is often a time of reflection where we consider our thoughts, actions, and behaviours. The tradition is that people make new year’s resolutions (usually based around changing problematic or unhealthy behaviours) or start new behaviours and activities. As we all know, these resolutions often diminish over the course of the year either because life gets in the way or because we stumble on the way. Change is hard and change takes time. We see this with the client group that we work with and – as we are often reminded – the psychology of behaviour change is similar across all people. The major difference in terms of success is often engagement and motivation – both are individual factors embedded in a social context that may obstruct or facilitate these changes. In thinking about behaviour change and new year’s resolutions, it is important to note that the vast majority of these are individual and personal, but the question must be asked: what if they were community-based or societal in their motivation?

Sexual abuse is as much a communal and social issue as it is a personal issue. However, the level of change needed to improve narratives and behaviours at a community or societal level are vastly different compared to those involved in changing personal attitudes and behaviours. Sometimes it feels too vast, too challenging, and ultimately unsolvable. Is there a way to navigate this in a different way? Simply saying that we must change community and social beliefs surrounding sexual abuse and expecting it to happen overnight is unrealistic. So, what is realistic? Behaviour change involves negotiating the steps and goals along our path. Why does this not work with the community and social change? Well, it does, but it looks different. It’s more complex and more difficult to evidence. What should be done? We need to set realistic goals and set them with respect to the social, political, and cultural context that we find ourselves. What does this look like?

-  Make the resolution that you will think differently about sexual abuse and be open to different conversations about it.

-  Read, view, consider and inform yourself about the issues central to sexual abuse as well as what some of the barriers and challenges are.

-  Consider how you might have an informed, proactive and considering conversation around it – especially with community members, and peers, that may disagree with you.

-  Set realistic and achievable goals, which may just be “I will be more considered” or “I will strive to challenge problematic beliefs and attitudes when it’s safe to do so”.

-  Recognise that you are not going to invoke large scale social change overnight while recognising that the more conversations that you have the more that you ebb away at problematic beliefs and attitudes.

-  Realise that changing social values and norms is a team effort and that you need to work in partnership with other community members, all of whom move at different paces, and therefore we should realise that engagement and participation look different for different people. Therefore, it’s important be understanding and inclusive.

 As we move into 2022 with the world going through major social, political, health, and cultural changes, it’s important to be realistic and the place to start is that we should keep trying to do better and recognise the journey that we need to make and the distance we have already travelled.