Friday, November 17, 2023

Bridging Science and Various Practices: Insights from NL-ATSA Symposium

 Kasia Uzieblo & Minne De Boeck

An essential goal of the Dutch-speaking affiliation of ATSA, NL-ATSA, is to bring science closer to local professionals, and thus, strengthening the bridge between theory and practice. In our countries, professionals traditionally attend fewer international scientific conferences due to limited budgets and language barriers. Often, our researchers travel abroad to share their insights, having limited chances to connect with local professionals.  Therefore, NL-ATSA provides a platform for individuals who have spoken at the annual ATSA conference. This year, NL-ATSA organized a 'Best of ATSA' symposium with a specific focus: offering Dutch-speaking colleagues who presented at the ATSA conference in 2022 the opportunity to share their insights with local professionals. Additionally, we invited Russell Pratt from Australia as our international guest speaker.

Russell Pratt's Insightful Lecture

Forensic psychologist and D. Psych, Russell Pratt delivered an online lecture titled 'Treating Youth Engaging in Harmful Sexual Behaviour: Considering Developmental Trauma and Pornography Consumption.' Pratt emphasized the importance of approaching minors engaging in sex offenses from a developmental perspective rather than an adult one. He explored how developmental trauma impacts adolescent behavior, including harmful sexual behaviors, through its influence on attachment and brain development. Pratt expressed concerns about easy access to pornographic material and its impact on the well-being and sexual behavior of minors. He stressed the need for addressing such issues from an early age through educational programs, preferably starting at age 6. He discussed The SAVVY CONSUMER Model, a simple, effective framework for professionals and parents to assist children and young people to critique pornography as well as assist in developing their understanding of healthy sexual practices.

Insights from our Dutch Professionals

Minne De Boeck (criminologist and program manager Stop it Now! Flanders) and Kelly van den Heuvel (Stop it Now! the Netherlands), presented The Stop it Now! model of perpetration prevention. On the occasion of its 30th anniversary in 2022, the following three questions were discussed: Where are we now? What innovative projects are currently being implemented? And where do we need to go from here? They described how CSA can be approached using the comprehensive framework for the prevention of child sexual abuse (Smallbone et al., 2008), and demonstrated how specific preventive initiatives (e.g., helpline services, online self help tools, conversation guides, support groups for relatives…) fit in this framework and contribute to the prevention of CSA. By means of the framework, they discussed what is needed for effective prevention of offending behaviors according to Stop it Now!. Furthermore, they presented a case study to illustrate how Stop it Now! helplines work and how prevention can be achieved. They concluded with current common challenges, like the extensive grow of CSEM material, uncertain funding and difficulties with professional secrecy and the rules of mandatory reporting. Furthermore, they formulated suggestions to move forward in offender-oriented prevention, emphasizing the need of social awareness, research, and a public and political shift.

Nina ten Hoor, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at De Waag, a forensic outpatient service in the Netherlands, shared her research on utilizing EMDR treatment for individuals who have engaged in sexual offending. Her exploration included restructuring distorted implicit cognitions and personal vulnerability factors, reducing emotional responses associated with offending, and addressing deviant sexual arousal. In addition, she looked at how EMDR can also help our clients with processing one’s own trauma as well as offending-related trauma. She presented a case study of a man convicted of child sexual abuse, highlighting the application of EMDR therapy to directly address one’s deviant sexual arousal. A 5-year follow-up conversation with the former client revealed that although his interest in young girls seemingly returned, this client to avoid letting these feelings overwhelm him.

Eveline Schippers, project manager and researcher at the Forensic Care Specialists (the Netherlands), presented her doctoral research on understanding the origins of deviant sexual interests. Defining sexual deviance proves challenging, and Schippers emphasized that we mainly tend to consider its impact on the individual and/or others, and not the nature of the sexual interests/behaviors itself. Despite acknowledging the risks associated with deviant sexual interests in our clients, theoretical explanations for their development remain limited. Still, it is vital to gain insights into how these develop so that we could implement more targeted interventions. Schippers discussed factors such as the excitation transfer between emotions and sexual arousal, highlighting how emotions like dominance/aggression and fear can contribute to stronger sexual arousal. In addition, she presented her study in which she found evidence for four overarching themes within unusual sexual interests, being "forbidden-extreme," "light BDSM" and "BDSM-heavy" and "fetish-forbidden, emphasizing that these interests occur in the general population. Finally, she discussed her meta-analysis showing that child abusers with pedophilia exhibit stronger sexual interests in children than control groups, but at the same time exhibit less sexual interests in adults, suggesting that the latter may be a meaningful factor in treatment.

Promoting Collaboration across Work Fields

The symposium served not only as a meeting ground between theory and practice, but also as a successful meeting ground for professionals working with offenders and those working with victims of sexual offenses. This cross-pollination of ideas, insights, and experiences between the two fields is encouraging and should be stimulated. It became for instance evident that professionals working with offenders may not fully appreciate the many questions those working with victims often have regarding the underlying mechanisms of sexual violent behavior and prevention, amongst others. Encouraging further collaboration between these fields is crucial in our collective effort against sexual violence.

In conclusion, the symposium highlighted the importance of bringing together science and various practices. The engaging lectures underscored the need for ongoing collaboration and the sharing of knowledge to enhance our collective understanding of and response to sexual offending behavior.



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