Friday, May 15, 2015

In 500 words (or less): Talking Trauma-Informed Care with Jill Levenson

About two thirds of American adults report at least one type of childhood maltreatment or household dysfunction, and nearly 13% experienced four or more (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). These numbers underestimate the rates of early adversity in poor, disadvantaged, clinical, and criminal populations, and in sex offender samples (Levenson, Willis, & Prescott, 2014). As adverse childhood experiences (ACE) accumulate, the risk for myriad health, mental health, and behavioral problems in adulthood also grows in a robust and cumulative fashion (Felitti, et al., 1998). Trauma-informed clinicians recognize the prevalence of trauma in the population, expect the majority of clients to have experienced early adversity, and understand the biological, social, psychological, cognitive, and relational impact of trauma on adult functioning and high-risk behavior.


Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) is a framework that is infused throughout a service delivery setting, and it embraces several crucial principles: It is client centered and provides a safe, trustworthy, consistent, validating, empowering environment, and promotes respect, compassion and self-determination (Bloom & Farragher, 2013; Harris & Fallot, 2001). TIC is not trauma resolution therapy. Rather, trauma informed therapists view presenting problems through the lens of early experiences, knowing that children often survive adversity by developing coping strategies that work well in traumogenic households but then become obstacles to healthy functioning in other (more “normal”) environments later in life. The question becomes not “what’s wrong with you?” but “what happened to you?” in understanding how maladaptive cognitive schema and behaviors evolved and became well-rehearsed across various domains of life. Trauma-informed clinicians infuse CBT models with relational interventions that utilize the counseling relationship itself as an opportunity to help clients develop attachments to healthy others, have corrective emotional experiences, and practice new skills (Levenson, 2014). Above all, TIC avoids replicating disempowering dynamics in the helping relationship, including confrontational approaches that reinforce the shame and marginalization that many of our clients endured in their own homes and communities.


TIC provides an innovative framework for facilitating change within a larger model of cognitive-behavioral sex offender therapy. TIC complements RNR principles which promote individualized treatment planning to match criminogenic needs, risk factors, motivation, and characteristics impacting the ability to embrace and engage in treatment (Andrews & Bonta, 2007, 2010). TIC also fits well with Good Lives Models that help clients attain self-actualization goals while improving affective and behavioral self regulation (Willis, Ward, & Levenson, 2013; Yates, Prescott,& Ward, 2012).


It is time for ATSA to start talking about TIC. For the past 25 years we have almost exclusively emphasized content-focused, offense-specific, skills-based relapse prevention programming. It is perhaps unsurprising that our treatment effectiveness studies have sometimes been disappointing. There are huge literatures that can inform our work: neurobiology of trauma, developmental psychopathology, ACE prevalence and impact on psychosocial outcomes, and the "common factors" of therapeutic alliance and engagement. Evidence-based practice is sometimes too narrowly defined as only those interventions which have shown effectiveness in randomized controlled trials. But EBP begins with building treatment programs that are informed by research in various areas. TIC approaches recognize the role of trauma in the development of problematic behavior, and might mitigate risk to re-offend as sex offender clients experience empowering relationships and learn to meet emotional needs in non-victimizing ways.


Jill S. Levenson, Ph.D., LCSW, Barry School of Social Work



Andrews, D. A., & Bonta, J. (2007). The psychology of criminal conduct (4th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing.


Andrews, D. A., & Bonta, J. (2010). Rehabilitating criminal justice policy and practice. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 16(1), 39-55.


Bloom, S., & Farragher, B. (2013). Restoring Sanctuary: A New Operating System for Trauma-informed Systems of Care. New York: Oxford University Press.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Adverse Childhood Experiences Study: Prevalence of Individual Adverse Childhood Experiences. Retrieved from


Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. American journal of preventive medicine, 14(4), 245-258.


Harris, M. E., & Fallot, R. D. (2001). Using trauma theory to design service systems. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Levenson, J. S. (2014). Incorporating Trauma-Informed Care into Sex Offender Treatment. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 20(1), 9-22.


Levenson, J. S., Willis, G., & Prescott, D. (2014). Adverse Childhood Experiences in the Lives of Male Sex Offenders and Implications for Trauma-Informed Care. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research & Treatment. doi: 10.1177/1079063214535819


Willis, G. M., Ward, T., & Levenson, J. S. (2013). The Good Lives Model (GLM):: An Evaluation of GLM Operationalization in North American Treatment Programs. Sexual abuse: a journal of research and treatment.


Yates, P. M., Prescott, D., & Ward, T. (2012). Applying the good lives and self-regulation models to sex offender treatment: A practical guide for clinicians: Safer Society Press.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Q&A with Karl Hanson, co-author of “Less is more: Using Static-2002R Subscales to Predict Violent and General Recidivism among Sexual Offenders”

Babshishin, KM, Hanson, RK, & Blais, J. (2015). Less is more: Using Static-2002R Subscales to Predict Violent and General Recidivism among Sexual Offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/1079063215569544


Given that sexual offenders are more likely to reoffend with a nonsexual offense than a sexual offense, it is useful to have risk scales that predict general recidivism among sexual offenders. In the current study, we examined the extent to which two commonly used risk scales for sexual offenders (Static-99R and Static-2002R) predict violent and general recidivism, and whether it would be possible to improve predictive accuracy for these outcomes by revising their items. Based on an aggregated sample of 3,536 adult male sex offenders from Canada, the United States, and Europe (average age of 39 years), we found that a scale created from the Age at Release item and the General Criminality subscale of Static-2002R predicted nonsexual violent, any violent, and general recidivism significantly better than Static-99R or Static-2002R total scores. The convergent validity of this new scale (Brief Assessment of Recidivism Risk–2002R [BARR-2002R]) was examined in a new, independent data set of Canadian high-risk adult male sex offenders (N = 360) where it was found to be highly correlated with other risk assessment tools for general recidivism and the Psychopathy Checklist–Revised (PCL-R), as well as demonstrated similar discrimination and calibration as in the development sample. Instead of using total scores from the Static-99R or Static-2002R, we recommend that evaluators use the BARR-2002R for predicting violent and general recidivism among sex offenders, and for screening for the psychological dimension of antisocial orientation.

Could you talk us through where the idea for the research came from?

The idea for this paper arose when updating norms for the STATIC sexual offender risk assessment tools (Static-99, Static-99R, Static-2002, Static-2002R). With the original Static-99, we used the same items to predict both sexual and violent recidivism. We knew this was not optimal, but it was close. As we explored the STATIC items further, we found that certain items may be negatively related to non-sexual recidivism.  In other words, high scores on these items were related to lower rates of non-sexual violent and general recidivism (e.g., male victims). This was surprising. With the help of Robert Lehmann, we were able to quickly replicate the effect in a new data set from Germany. This gave us confidence that the effect was real.  Then, in our factor analysis work with S├ębastien Brouillette-Alarie, we found that many of the items associated with non-sexual recidivism formed a clean factor.  Consequently, we thought it would be possible to improve the prediction of non-sexual recidivism by concentrating on items measuring general criminality.

What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?

When we started, there was a relatively small literature on the content validity of actuarial risk scales. Howard Barbaree and others had made some important contributions, but many evaluators (and more than one reviewer) seemed to have difficult thinking of criterion-referenced measures as different from norm-reference measures. We needed a framework that included both approaches. Consequently, we had to justify the conceptual frameworks as well as the specific findings.  

What kinds of things did you learn about co-authorship as a result of producing this article?

Working with great colleagues is a delight.

What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about the effectiveness of risk scales to Predict Violent and General Recidivism Among Sexual Offenders?

It is essential to understand what is being assessed by risk assessment tools, even when tools are used solely for the purpose of estimating recidivism risk.

Now that you’ve published the article, what are some implications for practitioners?

The main factors underlying sexual recidivism risk are sexual criminality, general criminality, and age.  If evaluators are interested in sexual recidivism, than all three factors should be considered.  If evaluators are interested in general or violent recidivism, then they can do better by dropping the sexual criminality items and focusing just on age and general criminality.  Less is more.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Capacity and Consent: When is Rape “Statutory”?

In April this year, an unusual twist on sexual consent ended up in an Iowa courtroom.  It is the bittersweet story about an older couple finding a second chance for love, being robbed of their relationship by Alzheimer’s, and then having the State question their right to marital intimacy.  If Henry Rayhons had been able to care for his wife, Donna Lou, at home, instead of a nursing home, it seems doubtful that Henry would have been prosecuted for rape.  At the time they were both 78.   Even after the trial there is some uncertainty about what happened and when, but perhaps Henry’s undoing was that Donna Lou did not have a private room.  Seems when Henry came to visit one day in May 2014, there was only a privacy curtain between Donna Lou and her roommate, Polly, who apparently got an earful.

Given Henry’s status at the time as a sitting Iowa legislator, the possibility of political mischief can’t be ruled out, but regardless, it’s not clear that Donna Lou was actually harmed, or what goals of justice were served by prosecuting Henry.  To complicate this case, Donna Lou’s daughter had been granted guardianship, and apparently the extent of the daughter’s role and authority was an issue at trial.

Henry had been advised that Donna Lou no longer had the capacity to consent to sex.  But in the presence of diminished capacity, who determines that sex is making love or marital rape?  Does a married dementia patient have the right to sex, or the right to be protected from sex?  One expert said, “Someone with dementia is not incapacitated all the time for all things. If they are not incapacitated at the moment of the sex act, they have a right to have sex.”  Before the case went to trial, Donna Lou passed away and Henry declined to run for re-election.  The trial required Henry to discuss his sexual relationship with Donna Lou in open court, and after two days of deliberations, the jury found Henry not guilty.
It seems nursing home personnel might need to reconsider policies and practices to meet the unique needs and circumstances of their sexually active residents.  But this case serves as a reminder that, across the life span, clarity and capacity for sexual consent is too often not as crisp as we all want it to be, and that the responsibility for respectful sex has no age limits.

When laws governing consensual sex are overly proscriptive, it can obscure allowances that should be made for respectful sex, when capacities might be reduced.  When it comes to sex between people who might have diminished capacities because of age, intellectual disability, mental impairment, or drugs/alcohol, there are a myriad of considerations, complicated by statutes that vary by jurisdiction.  It’s entirely likely that interpersonal sex that is legal in one jurisdiction might be illegal in another.  Marriage, religion, and personal morals aside, well-crafted laws should make allowances for sexual behaviors between certain people who are developmentally compatible, and have a demonstrable capacity for consent.  The problem, of course, is that physical, mental, and social capacity for sexual consent is not as uniform as the laws that might govern such conduct.

“Statutory rape” has typically been associated with sex involving minors, but broadly, it seems, “statutory rape” has more to do with the capacity of one or both parties to consent.  Statutory rape laws have a tendency to conflate “unlawful” (because of legal capacity) with “non-consensual” (dominion over one’s body).  In the absence of actual coercion, it seems statutory “rape” might be a misnomer, or at least misleading.  Or perhaps, in reality, all rape laws are “statutory.”

The age of consent for minors in North America ranges between 16 and 18, depending on state laws, and even younger between consenting teenagers.  The age of consent in most European countries is 14-16.  We shouldn’t assume that young people understand their unique capacities, or limitations, for sexual consent.  The confluence of alcohol and sex is inherently hazardous when it comes to capacity for consent.  Alcohol should never be an excuse for sexual misconduct; but when at least half of all sexual violations are alcohol related, it should be concerning to potential sexual partners that there is no obvious demarcation for when the use of alcohol has legally compromised the capacity for sexual consent. 

Experts in this Iowa case discussed how difficult it is to determine diminished capacity to consent to sex.  Even when circumstances indicate that someone should be held accountable for misguided sexual behavior, laws are written to allow, not require, prosecution.  When sexual misconduct or capacity to consent is questionable, it sometimes calls for intervention, or diversion, not prosecution.  Just when we think we can be guided by simple models of “no means no” or “yes means yes,” we are once again reminded that both capacity and sexual consent have insidious shades of gray.

Jon Brandt, MSW, LICSW

Friday, April 24, 2015

Scientific Inquiry, Even With Its Limitations, Should Prevail Over Ideology

Nearly 21 years ago in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and handful of brave community members sparked an innovative approach to the post-release community integration of high-risk sexual offenders. Charlie Taylor was a repeat sexual offender at the end of his sentence, about to re-enter a community that was more than a little anxious about him. In Canada, offenders are ordinarily released prior to the end of their sentences, in order to facilitate re-entry and to ensure that services and risk reduction frameworks are in place before the offender is no longer subject to aftercare efforts. This was not the case with Charlie. There were no plans, no assurances, and no foreseeable future. Charlie would need to fly without a net.

A group of Mennonite volunteers led by the Reverend Harry Nigh encircled Charlie. These volunteers (aptly referred to as Charlie’s Angels), ultimately gave Charlie the opportunity to return to the community safely while also providing a possible solution to the dilemma of what to do with high-risk sexual offenders once their sentences have ended. That solution has ultimately come to be known as Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA) – a made-in-Canada solution. CoSA is now spreading to other countries with the same core premise, but via different operating models, different funding streams, and different relationships to their respective criminal justice systems. These other jurisdictions include Europe (UK, Netherlands, Lativa, Belgium, Spain, France and Hungary, with Northern Ireland potentially in the pipeline) and the USA (California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) with differing levels of interest and/or implementation from New Zealand, Republic of Ireland and Australia.

Working with people who have engaged in sexual violence is challenging at the best of times, and many practitioners recognize that their efforts may be poorly understood (and often misunderstood). We continue to live in a society that is more strongly inclined toward punitive approaches, in spite of years of research showing that such endeavors are less likely to return positive outcomes than those in which human service delivery is front and center. Imagine trying to explain to your friends and family why you choose to volunteer to assist a child sexual abuser in his return to the community? Blank stares, incredulity and, sometimes, hostility may result.

However, that’s exactly what hundreds of ordinary community members have been doing over the past 20 years – volunteering their valuable personal time to make sure that a high risk sexual offender makes a safe and secure landing in the community after release. Research published to date has looked at both the quantitative (differential reoffense rates) and the qualitative (how it works and why) elements of CoSA (link to references). Generally, significant differences in post-release outcomes have been observed for released offenders involved in a CoSA, whether the study has used a matched comparison design or a randomized controlled trial. Findings of four studies from three countries (Canada, UK, USA) have found similar effects on recidivism of approximately the same order – roughly 70% less sexual reoffending.


Admittedly, the research curve for CoSA is on the upswing, with projects only recently being able to share data and experience. What has been demonstrated so far is quite encouraging, but critics fairly note that more research is needed. However, away from the risk-based approach to evaluation, research from the UK shows that CoSA plays a practical and applied role in support to statutory sex offender supervision in the community. Some critics have questioned the methods involved in researching CoSA, but it is likely that creating rigorous evaluation schemes may be outside of the purview or capacity of many of the community based organizations that provide CoSA opportunities. To be fair, the science of sexual violence management is also quite young, with many commonly touted initiatives being far from well-supported by research. As famed criminologist Paul Gendreau has observed, social significance can sometimes trump statistical significance.

Currently, the SMART Office (through the Office of Justice Programs) in the United States has become the largest single funder of CoSA projects in the USA, while Circles-UK is well-established as a national charity, and Circles4EU supports project development in Europe.

Curiously, in Canada – the birthplace of CoSA – significant concerns remain about the long-term viability of the model. The Canadian federal government has recently decided not to fund CoSA beyond one already existing contract, which is set to end within 24 months, not to be renewed; the result being that many established projects may have to close their doors. Canadian government officials assert that there is no legal mandate to provide any service to offenders beyond the umbrella of an existing sentence; however, this was exactly the same set of circumstances that led to the creation of CoSA in the first place. In many respects, Canada is returning to pre-CoSA policy and practice – or, at least, that’s what will happen if the government continues with its refusal to fund CoSA.

Even more curious, CoSA in Canada is just coming off a successful five years of project development, using federal funding. Essentially, the government provided funding and assistance for both project development and program evaluation research, only to decide not to maintain what has since been demonstrated as an essential part of a broader sexual violence prevention movement. The evaluation completed with this funding is clear:

What CoSA does really well, is to help core members transition from incarceration to living within a community, helping to meet their basic physical, emotional, and social needs, providing role modeling of healthy, prosocial behaviors, and ultimately building social capital. Based on principles of a general personality and social psychology of criminal conduct, and social network theory, we can make clear connections between initial influencing variables (where the core member comes from, etc.), the structure and characteristics that define the circle, the circle dynamics themselves, leading to specified outcomes, which also include varying levels of integration for core members.

Ultimately, returning to the days of high-risk sexual offenders re-entering the community at the end of their prison sentences without the support of people to whom they can be accountable or with whom they can plan for the future is unconscionable. Human history is noteworthy for the fact that people helping others is always preferable to punishment in the long run. We hope and trust that, setting ideological beliefs and arguments aside, common sense – aided by the best available science – will prevail.

Robin J. Wilson, Ph.D
Andrew McWhinnie, M.A.
David Prescott, LISCW
Kieran McCartan, Ph. D

Friday, April 17, 2015

Discussing sexual abuse prevention: Jane Theriault talks to Keith Kaufman

As part of the prevention series, I spoke with Keith Kaufman, a professor of Clinical Psychology at Oregon State University and former ATSA president, about his newest prevention project, a self-assessment tool using the Situational Prevention Approach.

Keith started doing prevention work in the mid-1980s, motivated by his clinical training and his work supervising a treatment program for offenders at Ohio State University. He says that he spent a lot of time treating offenders, and there saw a lot of children who were victimized as well. He was encouraged by the potential to help – in his words, “Prevention works with other medical diseases, so why not here?”

His focus has changed over time to situational prevention. Situational prevention has existed for over 60 years as a tool to create safer housing worldwide, and for more than 20 years as a method of crime prevention, but its application to the prevention of sexual violence is relatively new. It began when Smallbone (2006) edited a book encouraging its use there, and it has moved to a more applied method, the Situational Prevention Approach, when two children’s hospitals found offenders in their midst. Since then, it’s been used at at least 2 other hospitals and also by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The Situational Prevention Approach is based on the idea that many of the most vulnerable organizations and communities are the least able to pay for a consultant to come in and do prevention work, or even to purchase expensive tools or a curriculum. For the Boys and Girls Clubs, this led to a self-assessment tool that staff can use themselves to identify risks, learn about prevention and risk reduction solutions, and draw on the protective factors and strengths that they have to help with prevention. Data collection has begun, and the preliminary results look good – clubs were able to identify 7-10 times more risks in their environment after using the screening tool, and also prevent those risks. Additionally, they described it as easy and simple to use.

Keith believes that the program works well because of this simplicity, as well as how practical it is for the clubs that are using it. Because it’s process based, it tailors itself to the organization that is using it. They only see risks that are related to them, and the only solutions that they see are practical – they don’t see steps that won’t fit their organization.

You can read more about the Situational Prevention Approach and the partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of America in a 2012 issue of the ATSA Forum.  (Click here for more information).

Jane Harries Theriault, Ph.D., adjunct faculty in psychology at the University of Massachusetts – Lowell and Middlesex Community College.

Friday, April 10, 2015

In 500 words (or less): Talking Online Sexual Offenders with Michael Seto, Ph.D.

Online offending encompasses a range of crimes, including crimes involving child pornography or other forms of illegal pornography, sexual solicitations of minors, and the use of internet technologies to facilitate sexual assaults, sexual trafficking, or sex tourism (see Seto, 2013). The most commonly prosecuted and clinically identified online crimes, however, involves possession, distribution or production of child pornography (United States Sentencing Commission, 2014). Clinical and research interest in this form of offending has blossomed in the past decade, reflecting the increasing numbers of prosecutions for online sex crimes and clinical referrals.

There is an emerging consensus from research evidence that online offenders are a distinct population from offline offenders who commit contact or non-contact sexual crimes. Babchishin, Hanson and VanZuylen (2015) conducted a meta-analytic review of 30 comparison studies and found that online offenders were less antisocial (as indicated by criminal history, substance use, and personality traits) than contact sex offenders, but were more likely to be pedophilic and to have specific problems with sexual self-regulation. Online offenders also differed by having more psychological barriers to offending, endorsing fewer positive beliefs about sex with children, reporting less emotional identification with children, and greater empathy. Reflecting the role of opportunity in offending, online offenders had more access to the internet, whereas contact offenders had more access to children.

Though there are fewer studies, there is also evidence to support the idea that different types of online offenders are distinct populations as well (Seto et al., 2012). Compared to child pornography offenders, online solicitation offenders had less relationship stability and were less sexually preoccupied. Seto (2013) suggested that child pornography offenders are more likely to be pedophilic than online solicitation offenders, wherein identified child pornography offenders predominantly seek out content depicting prepubescent or pubescent children whereas solicitation offenders predominantly seek out young adolescents.

There is some overlap across different sex offender populations. Seto, Hanson and Babchishin (2011) found that one in eight online offenders (most being child pornography offenders) had an official record for contact sexual offending. In the six studies with self-reported offending information obtained through treatment disclosures and/or polygraph interviews, half of the online offenders admitted having committed contact sexual offenses. Some child pornography offenders have also committed online solicitation offenses, and vice versa, but cumulatively this evidence suggests there are distinct online and offline offender populations.

Reflecting both similarities and differences between online and offline offenders, efforts have been made to translate knowledge from contact offenders to online offenders. In the arena of risk assessment, early work suggested much of what we know about risk factors for sexual recidivism applies. For example, offender age, criminal history, and evidence of pedophilic sexual interests have been shown to predict sexual recidivism among child pornography offenders (Eke, Seto, & Williams, 2011; Faust, Renaud, & Bickart, 2009; Seto & Eke, in press; Wakeling, Howard, & Barnett, 2011). An important predictor is whether child pornography offenders have committed other offenses as well, particularly contact sexual offenses.

For intervention, many practitioners have attempted to adapt contact sex offender programs, for example, creating less intense versions (fewer treatment hours) that emphasize online behavior and sexual self-regulation and de-emphasize generally antisocial attitudes, beliefs and behavior (Beier et al., 2015; Middleton, Mandeville-Norden, & Hayes , 2009). Whether these online offender programs are effective needs to be determined.

Michael C. Seto, Ph.D.


Babchishin, K. M., Hanson, R. K., & Vanzuylen, H. (2015). Online child pornography offenders are different: A meta-analysis of the characteristics of online and offline sex offenders against children. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 45-66.

Beier, K. M., Grundmann, D., Kuhle, L. F., Scherner, G., Konrad, A., & Amelung, T. (2015). The German Dunkelfeld Project: A Pilot Study to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and the Use of Child Abusive Images. The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Eke, A. W., Seto, M. C., & Williams, J. (2011). Examining the criminal history and future offending of child pornography offenders: An extended prospective follow-up study. Law and Human Behavior, 35, 466-478.

Faust, E., Renaud, C., & Bickart, W. (2009, October). Predictors of re-offence among a sample of federally convicted child pornography offenders. Paper presented at the 28th Annual Conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, Dallas, TX.

Middleton, D., Mandeville-Norden, R., & Hayes, E. (2009). Does treatment work with internet sex offenders? Emerging findings from the Internet Sex Offender Treatment Programme (i-SOTP). Journal of Sexual Aggression, 15, 5-19.

Seto, M. C. (2013). Internet sex offenders. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Seto, M. C., & Eke, A. W. (in press). Predicting recidivism among adult male child pornography offender: Development of the Child Pornography Offender Risk Tool (CPORT). Law and Human Behavior.

Seto, M. C., Hanson, R. K., & Babchishin, K. M. (2011). Contact sexual offending by men with online sexual offenses. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 23, 124-145.

Seto, M. C., Wood, J. M., Babchishin, K. M., & Flynn, S. (2012). Online solicitation offenders are different from child pornography offenders and lower risk contact sexual offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 36, 320-330.

United States Sentencing Commission. (2012). Report to the Congress: Federal child pornography offenses. Retrieved April 10, 2015, from

Wakeling, H. C., Howard, P., & Barnett, G. (2011). Comparing the validity of the RM2000 scales and OGRS3 for predicting recidivism by Internet sexual offenders. Sexual abuse: a journal of research and treatment, 23, 146-168.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Q&A with Franca Cortoni Guest Editor of a Sexual Abuse Special Edition on "Female Sexual Offenders".

Sexual Abuse: A journal of Research & Treatment
Special Edition (edited by Franca Cortoni, PhD)                on “Female Sexual Abusers”
To Be Published – June 2015

What Is So Special About Female Sexual Offenders? Introduction to the Special Issue on Female Sexual Offenders
Cortoni, F.

An Incident-Based Comparison of Female and Male Sexual Offenders
Williams, K. S., & Bierie, D. M.

Adverse Childhood Experiences in the Lives of Female Sex Offenders
Levenson, J. S., Willis, G. M., & Prescott, D. S.

Characteristics of Females Who Sexually Offend: A Comparison of Solo and Co-Offenders
Gillespie, S. M., Williams, R., Elliott, I. A., Eldridge, H. J.,  Ashfield, S., & Beech, A. R.

An Ecological Process Model of Female Sex Offending: The Role of Victimization, Psychological Distress, and Life Stressors
DeCou, C. R., Cole, T. T., Rowland, S. E., Kaplan, S. P., & Shannon M. Lynch, S. M.
Women Convicted of Promoting Prostitution of a Minor Are Different From Women Convicted of Traditional Sexual Offenses: A Brief Research Report
Cortoni, F., Sandler, J. C., &. Freeman, N. J.

Group Sexual Offending by Juvenile Females
Wijkman, M., Weerman, F., Bijleveld, C., & Hendriks, J.

Could you talk us through where the idea of the special edition came from?

The idea that ‘there is no information on females so we must use male information’ is now out-of-date. While nowhere near the level of knowledge on male sexual offenders, there is now enough evidence that women and men sexual offenders do differ in significant ways in terms of gender-specific characteristics, offense patterns, and recidivism rates. However, it is unclear how well these issues are understood in the field since most researchers and clinicians will seldom deal with female sexual offending issues. As a special issue on female sexual offenders had already been published in 2011 by the Journal of Sexual Aggression, we (James Cantor, then Editor-in-Chief of SAJRT and I) felt the time had come for SAJRT to officially acknowledge, via this special issue, the fact that research on female sexual offending has its rightful place in the field of sexual aggression.

What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?

The biggest challenge was sorting through the large number of manuscripts submitted for the special issue and having to turn down quite a few of these submissions. The issue of female sexual offending appears to have become quite prominent in the field, with a large number of people attempting to conduct research on what are essentially very small samples of women. I find the increased recent research interest on women very exciting after too many decades of neglect. However, it is rarely acknowledged that this research area is fraught with difficulties that are not just due to small samples. Gender-specific research is much more than simply testing male-based theories on female samples; the knowledge building exercise must be built from the ground-up on women. Only then can it be compared to that of men to clearly establish differences and similarities. As a result, it will be some time before we gain a sound understanding of the factors that lead to sexual offending behavior among women.

What kinds of things did you learn as a result of pulling this edition together?

Based on my observations, the most recurrent problem with the research on female sexual is its reliance on male-based theories and data points (e.g., psychometric instruments validated for males; assessing factors present in males but not validated for women). This type of approach is classic in the area of forensic/correctional psychological/criminological research in that male-based knowledge is assumed to be gender-neutral (i.e., the crime matters – not the gender of the offender) and therefore applicable to women. The problem with this gender-neutral approach is that it fails to acknowledge that other –gender-specific – factors may be at play when women sexually offend. A simple example will help illustrate this problem: Williams and Bierie (2014) found that while 2% of men committed their sexual offense with a female co-offender, 32% of women commit their sexual offense in company of a male co-offender. Not surprisingly, there is nothing in the male literature that helps explain this gender-specific aspect of female sexual offending. Other examples of differences between men and women that require gender-specific explanations include the differential impact of childhood victimization, the important differences in sexual recidivism rates, and gender differences in offense-supportive cognitions or sexual arousal patterns. It is only by directly studying the women themselves that we will understand these issues.  

Now that you’ve pulled these articles together, what are some implications for practitioners?
The research presented in the special issue will help clinicians better understand prevalence issues, victimization and offense process issues, differences in solo versus co-offending among women, factors that differentiate subgroups of women all considered to be sexual offenders, and juvenile girls who are involved in group sexual offending. This new knowledge will provide practitioners with a stronger empirical basis for their differential clinical evaluation, treatment and management of women who sexually offend. Most importantly perhaps, I hope that this special issue will help clinicians understand that sexual offending is not “worse” or “less worse” when committed by a woman instead of a man but that the explanations for it that might differ - hence the importance of adopting a gender lens when working with female sexual offenders.

Franca Cortoni, PhD