Friday, September 22, 2023

The Story of Scheherazade: A Fable for JwSO Therapists of Transformation through Care and Conversation (part 3 of 3)

 By Norbert Ralph, PhD, MPH, Private practice, San Leandro, CA

(Editor’s Note: Please click on the links for part 1 and part 2)

This is the third part of a three-part blog about the Fable of Scheherazade, the central figure and storyteller in "The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night" from classic Persian literature (Burton, 1885). The second part identified four therapeutic factors in the fable that parallel the work of JwSO therapists. This third part identifies additional factors and also cautions regarding overidentification with mythic heroism.

Relapse Awareness: For a thousand nights, Scheherazade faced the possibility that the King would "relapse" and not only kill her but continue killing other women. Presumably, this possibility would not be absent from her consciousness for a day. Likewise, the JwSO adolescent, especially those treated in the community, also has the possibility every day of committing some act of sexual aggression. JwSO therapy every week is done with awareness that the harmful behavior may recur and the importance of taking appropriate measures to prevent it.

Curriculum and Fidelity: Scheherazade had a series of stories, which is a lesson plan or curriculum to last a thousand nights, which was presumably implemented with fidelity. The fable notes that she had committed to memory 1000 stories regarding past kingdoms and adventures. Baglivio and colleagues (Baglivio, Wolff, Jackowski, et al., 2018) identified factors contributing to successful outcomes for residential and secure JwSO programs. Some of the factors promoting therapeutic outcomes included whether there was a structured, manualized curriculum administered with fidelity. This would contrast with an unstructured open-ended therapy relationship or a curriculum that was not faithfully implemented. A parallel between the story of Scheherazade and the work of effective JwSO therapists is a structured and faithfully implemented therapeutic curriculum. In working with this population while having a prosocial therapeutic relationship is necessary it is not sufficient. It also involves teaching knowledge, interpersonal and problem-solving skills, and practicing new behaviors both in therapy and outside, and critically reviewing results. Deficits in knowledge and skill areas may contribute to problematic sexual behaviors. In this respect, therapy is like learning Spanish. You have to learn information and practice skills, not just have a positive relationship with the teacher.

Termination and Self-Regulation: At some point, the JwSO therapist, like Scheherazade, expresses the faith that the youth can lead a prosocial life without a lifetime label or controls by terminating therapy. Scheherazade, at the end of 1000 nights of storytelling, told the King she had no more stories to tell. The implicit message was that the support of the storytelling or therapy she was doing was not now necessary because of the skills and transformation of the King. While starting therapy was a profound act of optimism, also stopping and saying it is no longer needed, also represents an optimistic act but one that is realistic based on the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Presumably, Scheherazade saw termination of therapy as a necessary part of the prosocial transformation of the King. Termination of the youth in therapy gives the message to the youth, the family, the courts, and the community that the youth is ready to construct their prosocial life. Taking responsibility for a prosocial life can be viewed as the last necessary step in treatment and that additional controls or management like sex offender registry or prolonged probation may not only be not helpful but counterproductive.


Lessons from this fable may be that there are commonalities across centuries and cultures regarding how people view the possibility of prosocial transformations of someone who has harmed others. The myth of Scheherazade was created in the ninth century with the premise that you could transform someone who had done harm to others by a conversation, relationship, and combination of skills. In that fable, the caring conversation not only promoted the prosocial transformation of the King but also impacted the Kingdom and promoted public safety and fear of ongoing evil. This is similar to the goal of the JwSO therapist who intends to promote the prosocial development of the youth and also public safety.

Most myths not only are parables to teach moral lessons about dealing with life challenges but maybe cautionary tales. Over-identification with the idea of acting heroically could lead to unwise optimism that would result in greater harm. The therapist can become so identified with heroic goals that they may ignore the dangers and negative possibilities. Joseph Wheelwright (1971), a Jungian analyst and teacher in the Bay Area, talked about how therapists should be cautious about "channeling" mythic images, such as the White Knight riding in to save others. The therapist who over-identifies with the hero's quest, and ignores realities, may end up like Don Quixote, in folly and misadventure, and worse, tragedy.


Friday, September 15, 2023

Pornography and age verification

By David S. Prescott, LICSW

The US State of Louisiana passed a law in 2022 requiring users of pornography websites to upload state-issued identification materials to prove that they are 18 years old or older. Pornhub elected not to conduct further business in that state. More recently, Texas adopted a similar approach. The media attention has been eye-opening. Much of the coverage has noted that only a few pornography devotees have spoken out against these laws, although there have been some discussions of the free-speech implications.

From the outset, Pornhub and other websites that provide easy access to free pornography are not sympathetic players on the world’s stage; not many would rue their downfall. In the past, Pornhub has been the subject of investigations into child sexual abuse imagery and videos shared against the will of participants in them. It is understandable that these laws have met with enthusiasm. A concern remains, however: Are these laws really as effective as we would like to believe? What’s missing?

Virtually all professionals in our field are strongly aligned with not exposing children to sexually explicit materials. Speaking personally as a father, when my own children were growing up, I made considerable efforts to keep them safe from online risks; my heart goes out to parents today. We are so far removed from my generation’s occasional brush sexually explicit materials.

The articles prompt questions:

How will they keep all porn sites from operating in these states. There’s a lot of those websites out there, including related enterprises like OnlyFans, etc. There will be a number of legal issues involved over and above the usual free-speech arguments. It seems that Pornhub is also hiring lawyers and experts for future litigation.

Also, there is so much sexually explicit material in social media (one app actually advertises that it introduces strangers to one another), it’s reasonable to wonder about the intellectual honesty and long-term effectiveness of these laws. Pornhub will go elsewhere, but the issues will not. Much of the material will simply find another host. Are these laws closer to a bandage than a cure? Are our lawmakers doing the best that they can?

Further, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and similar end runs around technology allow users to mask their location. One implication of these technological loopholes is that while these laws may appear to restrict access, the question remains as to how well they actually protect children. Will we ignore the responsibility of adults to be aware of their children’s online activity? To what extent do these laws create a false sense of security? Will some kids simply borrow their parents’ ID?

There is a strangely amusing quality to the restriction.  It’s not just any verification process, it’s uploading a government-issued ID… to a porn website! Anyone should think twice before uploading any government-issued ID anywhere, even to a governmental entity! The risks for identity theft are simply too great. Any reasonable person would be wondering who is monitoring my activity, even as we know that websites such as Facebook, Amazon, and numerous government agencies already possess frightening amounts of personal information. Who is storing this photo ID? Further, many government agencies actually discourage sharing government-issued identification online.

Given some recent activities, such as one state’s legislature’s subpoena of the medical records of transgender patients seen at a hospital, one has to wonder where all of this is headed. What sorts of over-reach into people’s private lives may result, including in the name of child safety? It’s not clear that there are any answers at this time.

Finally, if it’s really about the best interests of kids, perhaps legislatures should take other measures as well, such as funding abuse prevention, boosting child welfare agencies, improving education funding, ensuring the wellbeing of people who have abused, and making sure kids in their state have enough to eat.

Friday, September 8, 2023

A review of the International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders (IATSO) conference 2023

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

Apparently, it’s never too late to try new things! Or so they say. At least in Kieran’s and Kasia’s case, this is true. For the first time, they both attended the IATSO annual conference. David is an older hand at this and was a keynote speaker. Last week saw the 17th bi-annual IATSO conference, which took place in Trondheim, Norway. IATSO has been affiliated with ATSA for many years, and their conference is one of the big 5 conferences that focus on the prevention, rehabilitation, and integration back into the community of people convicted of sexual crimes (with the other four being NOTA, ATSA, NL-ATSA, and ANZATSA). Despite the common focus concerning sexual violence, we experience time and time again that each conference has its own accents, brings different insights, and other opportunities to get acquainted with colleagues as not every expert can attend the big 5. The entire experience made us more enthusiastic about attending ATSA in a few weeks.

This year the IATSO conference had well over 100 papers across 3 days of keynotes, pre-conference workshops, and parallel sessions with over 400 attendees from no less than 20 countries, including Greenland. The range of choice in the parallel sessions was rich. It included talks on – among others – desistance, risk management, trauma-informed practice, compassion in treatment, staff development, risk assessment, and public and professional perceptions. The conference focused on all forms of sexual abuse (including child abuse, rape, multiple preparator abuse, online sexual abuse, sibling sexual abuse, and incels) relating to an array of characteristics (incl. gender, race, learning difficulties, neurodiversity, and age); there was a topic or area for all researchers and/or academics. The sessions also had various angles: some speakers shared their most recent research results, while others delved deeper into specific practices and cases. This way, the participants were offered a diverse mix of science and practice.

There was a wide range of engaging pre-conference workshops. Several workshops were provided by well-known ATSA, NOTA and ANZATSA speakers such as Liam Marshall, Jayson Ware, Carol Carson, Mark Olver, Jennifer Allotey, Keira Stockdale, David Prescott, Brian Judd, and Maaike Helmus. But local experts (i.e., Svein Øverland) from Norway were also given a platform. This approach was the common thread throughout the conference: local professionals and academics were given ample opportunities to share their clinical experiences and scientific insights with the public. This way, the participants not only got acquainted with the rich Norwegian culture, food, music, and nature before, during and/or after the conference, but they also gained insights into local practices and experiences regarding efforts to end sexual violence.

The keynotes also presented a mix of national and international speakers, with a strong focus on Norwegian policy and practice over the years from Knut Hemstad, who started the conference, Oddfrid Skope Tennfjord, talking about working with young people who have committed harmful sexual behaviour and presenting the tool they developed to facilitate sexual education in schools. Anja Kruse (ending the conference) talking about the role of trauma and harm, partly caused by how society and justice treated them, in the lives of men who have sexually offended. The other 4 keynotes where a mix of Canada, USA and UK speakers with Liam Marshall talking about effective treatment practices, Keira Stockdale talking about Offence Analogue and offence replacement behaviours, Mark Olver talking about the role and relevance of protective factors in risk assessment and risk management, Simon Hackett talking about harmful sexual behaviour in young people, and David Prescott talking about reflective professional development and treatment effectiveness. Although at first glance the 7 keynotes seem quite dispirit, in fact they were not, they all talked off compassion, service user engagement, desistence, and professional reflection and engagement.

IATSO was a great, engaging, and intriguing professional conference that enforced the international aspects of working in sexual abuse prevention and response. Although it was the first time that Kieran and Kasia attended, and like David, it won’t be his last. For those interested: the next IATSO conference is scheduled for August 26-29, 2025, and will take place in Poznań, Poland. All information and updates can be found on their website: .