Friday, April 26, 2024

What’s New? (And What Isn’t?)

By David S. Prescott, LICSW

Recent changes involving ATSA have inspired discussions about change. Over the years, ATSA has been many things to many people, inspiring comments such as “the ATSA conference is like coming home.” Not surprisingly, some discussion has focused on changes in leadership: Our Executive Director (Amber Schroeder) and new members of the professional staff are fully settled into their roles. The office itself is primarily virtual, with ATSA staff spread through various parts of the US (and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that this kind of arrangement can be as effective as it is economical). Each of the individuals involved are getting excellent reviews by ATSA’s board of directors. And to top it off, ATSA’s leadership has updated our mission statement:

Creating a world where ending sexual harm is a shared responsibility and an achievable goal.  ATSA champions research and treatment, informs public policy, and advocates for best practice. Together, we can shift narratives on preventing sexual abuse perpetration.

It doesn’t end there, though. Every individual involved, in the office and on the board, has worked to make and adapt to the many changes necessary in the times. These changes have been as singular as getting task force reports finished and as broad as addressing the economic realities of the times. It is therefore no surprise that many would have questions about the direction the organization is going in. Indeed, there has just been a survey to inform the next iteration of our strategic plan. Some members have naturally expressed confusion, while others have observed that change is hard.

A Look Back

This all seems worth mentioning against the backdrop of our history. So much has changed. Memories of my earliest experiences with ATSA include listening to speakers such as Elaine Hatfield speaking about the history of romantic love and Dennis Doren discussing the evidence behind his approaches to risk assessment. Fran Henry, the Founder of Stop It Now! Talked about sexual abuse through a public health lens, which authors such Joan Tabachnick and Geral Blanchard were also beginning to discuss. Bill Marshall gave a plenary address in which he discussed the emerging but little-known Good Lives Model. At the time, these were all true innovations. Even the idea that sexual abuse is preventable was arguably in its infancy.

The Present Landscape

Fast forward to the present: in the past several weeks, I’ve had the privilege of attending the MnATSA and MATSA/MASOC conferences. To name just a few of the topics (and with apologies to all that are not mentioned):

·       Sexual behavior in the current era (with researcher par excellence Debby Herbenick reviewing her findings on the prevalence of rough sex and choking)

·       Treatment of clients with high levels of psychopathic traits (which was not the dominant belief at the turn of the century)

·       How to communicate with the media (in which Kelly Socia provides hair-raising examples; it is no wonder he has been asked to speak at so many conferences)

·       Sex positivity and inclusivity (presented by different people, such as Bud Ballinger and Molly Shepard in different locations, with Nikole Nassen presenting elsewhere on the topic in the coming weeks)

·       Cultural reverence, humility, and competence (with Apryl Alexander, although Tyffani Dent has spoken on this elsewhere many times in the past few months)

·       Assessments of the Impact of Race and Culture (a/k/a IRCA assessments

·       Raising awareness of the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people (multiple workshops!)

This is not to say that these newer topics have crowded out the advances in other critical areas. Andrew Brankley gave an excellent presentation at MATSA/MASOC on controversies surrounding pedophilia, and progenitors David Thornton and Robert McGrath are slated to appear at the New York State ATSA/NYS Alliance to Prevent Sexual Abuse conference next month in Saratoga. Recently, on the circuit has been Mark Olver, giving excellent talks on topics such as offense-analog behaviors and psychopathy.

Ongoing Challenges

Things have indeed changed, often very dramatically in recent years. Some of these changes have confused and even angered some professionals. What remains fundamentally important to our field, however, is that we keep talking about the issues.

With all of these changes, however, some things still really need to change. Just during this week, we have seen Harvey Weinstein’s conviction in New York overturned (readers will remember the allegations as having sparked the #metoo movement). Likewise, the US government agreed to pay a $138.7 million settlement over the FBI’s botching of Larry Nasser’s infamous sexual assaults. It is no wonder so many people who are sexually assaulted don’t wish to come forward and don’t trust the systems involved. Where the legal system once did not take sexual abuse seriously enough, it now seems we have to come to terms with the fact that our attempts to improve it are still too far from producing the results we need.

Welcome Aboard!

If you’re new to this work, welcome aboard! We need more of the innovations and conversations mentioned above. If you’ve been around a while, please stay! We need your wisdom! Our work has evolved, and yet there is still so much to be done.




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