By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D., David Prescott, LICSW, & Kasia Uzieblo, Ph.D.
ATSA’s legacy and recognition are important to the overall health of our organization and its place in the world. So, too, is accurately describing our activities! ATSA has always been an ever-evolving organization within a constantly changing field. This means that it’s important every so often to stop and take stock of where we are at and what we are doing. This post focuses on the recent organizational name change from “Association for the Treatment of Sexual abusers” to the “Association for the Treatment and prevention of Sexual Abuse,” the logic behind it ,and what it means moving forward. It is the result of nearly two decades of discussion by members and various boards of directors.
ATSA was originally established to provide support and insight to professionals who worked in the field of providing treatment for people convicted of a sexual offense. It began at a time when research was scant and few resources existed. ATSA was created to champion, as well as nurture, evidence-based practice in the field and develop good practice. This is still one of the central tenets of the organization, as evidenced by submissions to the journal, the ATSA Forum newsletter, and the annual conference; but it has evolved beyond these activities with an increased focus on policy, prevention, international collaboration and diversifying research, trans-disciplinary and multi-agency teamwork. To a certain degree, ATSA has been a victim of its own success. It evolved to a position where it leads the field in North America and is a growing player internationally. ATSA is seen as one of the main go-to organizations for people working in the field, and the most important conference for academics to showcase their work. All this success begs the question of why we need to change the name. This was a question that the ATSA board struggled with, but ultimately thought that it was important so for several reasons, including:
- A lot of the work that ATSA now does is oriented towards the prevention of sexual abuse, whether that is preventing first time sexual abuse or preventing people from committing sexual abuse again. We have had a committee focusing on prevention for approximately 20 years.
- The relevance of terminology, as the field is moving away from the blanket use if terms like “sexual offender” and “sexual abuser.” Many have argued that a less stigmatising and pejorative terminology can be used. This is significant, as the international landscape is stating to change, especially in westernized and anglophone countries, towards person- first language and away from a labelling approach. A couple of years ago NOTA, the sister branch of ATSA in the UK and Ireland, changed its name from the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers to National Organisation for the Treatment of Abuse for that very reason.
- A recognition that ATSA addresses abuse as a broad concept, and does not focus on just one aspect of it. Where ATSA once focused just on the assessment and treatment of individuals who abuse, we now also focus on the impact of abuse on individuals and/or the community’s reaction to it. This broader use of “abuse” in our name means that the full remit of ATSA and its partnerships are incorporated. This expanded focus is also reflected in the increasing attention paid to these three target groups at the annual conference, in scientific research and in the weekly blogs.
- There is an additional dimension to the name change as well: there can be certain funding or partnership opportunities that would otherwise be closed to ATSA because we might be seen, incorrectly and from a distance, simply as an abuser charity/organization. While the work of ATSA is still mainly oriented in the direction of those who abuse, it is to reduce and individuals’ risk of abusing and therefore it’s about community protection, safeguarding, and victim support as well as helping people to establish lifestyles that are incompatible with harming others. Making it clear from the outset what ATSA stands for in the name is an easy way to avoid these complications.
- There is also another, significant but understated reason. ATSA frequently advocates trauma-informed, person-centered and strengths-based approaches that recognize how people who commit sexual abuse may also be the victims of other forms of abuse or trauma. Since individuals who abuse have often been victimized themselves, it’s therefore important to recognize their dual status in our name as one would in practice.
Having received positive feedback from the membership and making the decision to move forward with the name change and put it to a vote, the members of ATSA’s board had to decide upon what the change would be. Would it be a complete overhaul or an adaption? The board felt that an adaption would be best, as many felt strongly that ATSA was a strong brand with clear messages. Therefore, the role of the name change would be to strengthen and clarify this, not to undermine it. The board decided that the word prevention should be added to the name that that abuser should be replaced with abuse. However, it was decided that the acronym should remain as ATSA and not be changed to ATPSA, as that would be too confusing and, ultimately, unnecessary. Additionally, it was felt that the twitter handle “make society safe” was also fit for purpose.
Yes, the official name of ATSA is changing but the core principles, although evolving and diversifying, are the same at heart – to provide a clear and evidenced approach for working with people impacted by sexual abuse, including those who abuse.