Friday, March 24, 2023

What does ATSA’s name change mean for prevention?

By Joan Tabachnick and Judith Zatkin

We believe that ATSA has always been a leader in the fight against sexual abuse and continues to offer unique insights into the world of prevention.  The unique lens we offer is a deeper understanding into preventing the perpetration of sexual abuse. 

In 2014, ATSA’s prevention committee wrote an important framing document that helped to clarify that all of ATSA’s work is about prevention – meaning that the treatment and management of adults who have sexually abused as well as our work with children or adolescents engaging in problematic sexual behavior is about protecting victims and preventing future harm.  This framing document suggested that we always talk about our work as prevention.  It goes onto explain that a well framed response to the question “What do you do” needs to address WHAT we do as well as HOW we do our work in a way that incorporates our values and WHY.  This helps our audience see a more complete picture.  So, the framed answer is: 

I work every day to prevent sexual violence and to keep children and other vulnerable people safe. The way I do my work is by preventing the perpetration of sexual violence. I work with (adults, teens, children, women, kids with learning disabilities, or others) who are at risk to sexually abuse others or who have sexually abused in the past. Through a variety of professional approaches, I  work to ensure that no one is sexually abused again. It is difficult work, incredibly rewarding, and my successes mean a safer community.

If what we all do is prevention, why did we need to add “prevention” to our name to become the Association for the Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Abuse? 

The name change offers us an opportunity to more clearly focus a part of our work on primary prevention – preventing sexual abuse before anyone is harmed.   According to the CDC, primary prevention is defined as:  Approaches that take place before sexual violence has occurred to prevent initial perpetration or victimization.  A few years later, the Stop SV Technical Package focused on CDC’s “emphasis on the primary prevention of perpetration, or stopping SV perpetration before it starts”.

What these documents demonstrate is that when one truly wants to prevent sexual abuse before anyone is harmed, one needs to look at preventing the perpetration of sexual abuse and preventing the development of these behaviors in children, youth and young adults.  ATSA envisions a world without sexual abuse, and we believe ATSA can do more to increase our work in primary prevention to move toward this vision.

The important work of ATSA members involved in the assessment, treatment and management of individuals who have caused harmed is considered secondary and tertiary prevention – interventions that take place after someone is harmed.   The assessment tools that have been developed look at the Risks, Needs, and Responsivity of those who have already harmed to ensure that they do not reoffend. This work, at its core, shares values with primary prevention work.  

With this name change, ATSA is now offered the challenge and the opportunity to look at the risk and protective factors for first time perpetration.  How can our collective knowledge be used to inform prevention programs and use what we know for primary prevention?  Our name change gives us a chance to embrace primary prevention work as a central part of our organization, alongside the incredible treatment and prevention our members do already.  By taking on this more comprehensive look at sexual abuse, we continue our commitment to create a safer and more respectful works for everyone.   We look forward to seeing our organization work together in innovative ways as we create ATSA’s future together.

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