Friday, December 2, 2016

Developing a Prevention Perspective: Discussing the work of Joan Tabachnick

Prior to 2009, many of us working in the field of sex offender research and treatment never considered our work as “prevention” work. In 2010 ATSA and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center joined together to present an award that recognizes people who have made significant contributions to preventing sexual violence through their work to facilitate effective partnerships between advocates working on behalf of victims and survivors and those working in the area of sex offender management and treatment. This prestigious award is in honor of Gail Burns-Smith who was a radical idealist, who believed we could have a world free of sexual violence. Gail co-founded the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence which focuses on public policy advocacy. The Alliance was instrumental in securing passage of the U.S. National Violence Against Women Act and the related funding of programs for services to victims of sexual assault and other violence. She was a founding Advisory Council member for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center from 1999-2004. While Gail has a storied passion demonstrated throughout her career, she always wanted others to continue her work, knowing that it would take all of us working together to fulfill her vision.

It is with great honor as a colleague, friend and champion in the challenge to prevent sexual violence that I introduce Joan Tabachnick as the 2016 Gail Burns Smith Award recipient in recognition of her outstanding leadership and tireless efforts in raising awareness about the necessity of preventing sexual violence, in promoting the dissemination of information about prevention strategies, and in helping every person to engage in prevention at whatever level possible.

At ATSA the term “prevention” has become synonymous with Joan Tabachnick. She is the first person who comes to mind when prevention is mentioned. She has championed all things prevention, not only highlighting for us the important contributions to prevention that we as clinicians and researchers make, but also broadening our perspectives to realize we can do more, that our work of preventing the next abusive sexual act should be expanded to stopping any sexual violence from ever occurring. She has provided us with a frame for the picture of our work that couches it in the broader perspective of prevention, encouraging us always to see that developing a prevention perspective and supporting and generating prevention programs will ultimately be the path to ending sexual violence altogether.

Joan possesses many personal and professional qualities that distinguish her and elevate her to a status comparable to Gail Burns Smith. She is warm, engaging, genuine, and passionate in everything that she does. Despite the long line of people waiting for the opportunity to engage her on multiple issues, Joan nonetheless, finds time for everyone, and when she sits face-to-face with each person she manages to communicate to each that this is the most important activity she could be doing at this moment.  She is truly supportive and helps all she encounters to hone their ideas, focus their communications, and fashion their presentations so that others will listen and hear.

Joan has served two terms on the ATSA Board of Directors and has chaired the Prevention Committee during her tenure on the Board.  It is largely because of her creative energy and tenacious efforts that this committee has been so productive. She has also been instrumental in helping ATSA develop a strategic plan, and she has mastered the ability to keep many people on track through the length of the plan. This is only a small part of the work she does.  She has worked tirelessly in the state of Massachusetts on numerous public policy issues, and as part of her work at NEARI Press she has helped us all to stay current on the best evidenced-based practices.

What is, however, most impressive about Joan is that the efforts of one person can truly make a substantial difference in addressing the need for prevention perspectives and programs. Joan has made many contributions to moving prevention into the public consciousness. In addition to all the work I  have just described, Joan has also co-authored A Reasoned Approach: Reshaping Sex Offender Policy To Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, (2011) and Engaging Bystanders In Sexual Violence Prevention, (2008, 2009).

Joan brings nearly 30 years of experience to her work in nonprofit and social change organizations. For the past 20 years she has worked in the field of sexual abuse prevention with a special focus on preventing the perpetration of child sexual abuse. Her most recent work is an NSVRC publication, Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention, and she is in the process of creating an online course of the same name. Joan’s expertise is evident in her numerous publications in peer reviewed journals, in her award winning public service announcements and public information materials, in the invitations to participate on national expert panels, and in the frequent media requests for expert advice on sexual coercion that she receives. Joan continually reaches across the aisles of victim advocacy and sex offender treatment, and between research and application. Most recently Joan was awarded a fellowship with the SMART office to develop a dialogue between treatment, supervision, and law enforcement orientations and to help frame the work of prevention that is at the core of all three. Because of Joan’s tireless work this fellowship has been extended.

Joan holds an MPPM from the Yale School of Organization and Management. Her unique background blends expertise in management, strategic planning, public dialogue, and social marketing. Over her career she has designed programs and products for children’s and women’s issues in local, regional, national and international settings. Gail Smith Burns would be proud of the work that Joan does, and I can think of no more deserving person for the Award named in her honor.
Becky Palmer, MS

Friday, November 25, 2016

Abuse is Abuse

This might be a good time to simply “rip the bandage off” and get back to the basics: Abuse is abuse. Part of what makes it abuse is that one can never know the outcome. As co-blogger Jon Brandt recently noted, research has shown a particularly challenging truth; that those who are abused don’t necessarily view their experience as abuse. He states:
One insidious characteristic of non-violent sexual abuse is that it may be unrecognized.  When people are asked why they didn’t report the abuse, they sometimes say they felt duped, perhaps complicit, but mostly confused.  And when victims otherwise liked their offender, they often didn’t report because they were afraid of the uncertainty of the aftermath – for themselves and for the offender.
This leads us to question where violence begins and ends. Does it need to be overtly and blatantly violent to be abuse? Australian psychologist James Ogloff and his colleagues examined survivors of child sexual abuse after 45 years and found:
Overcoming many limitations of previous studies, this study revealed that, in general, CSA victims were 1.4 times more likelyto have some form of contact with the police for any matter compared with other members of the general community. Although most (77%) CSA victims did not have an official criminal record, CSA victims were almost five times more likely than others to be charged with any offence, with the strongest associations yielded for sexual and violent offences and breach of orders.
These findings call to mind what many professionals have said in treatment across many decades. To paraphrase Stanton Samenow, you don’t need to shoot someone or leave them lying in a pool of blood to have committed an act of violence; “no one was hurt” is a common post facto rationalization made by people who have committed serious acts of violence. We hear this minimizing from perpetrators, victims, family members and society through the myths that surround abuse; especially historic child sexual abuse ("why complain now years later?"), rape ("why didn't they fight back?") and inappropriate/under wanted touching ("it wasn't that bad, it wasn't rape!"). Which begs the questions, how we understand, discussion and recognize abuse as a society as well as an individual? We all know the terminology, language, labels and (for the most part) where to seek help and/or justice; but do we really recognize and process abuse? So we say - "sexual abuse is a broad constellation of acts that is everything and anything"; "sexual abuse happens to other more vulnerable people, not to me and people I know"; "sexual abuse is a caused by other more deviant not by people I know"; and "well, the system isn't fit for purpose so why bother reporting". We hear so much, see so much that we become desensitized and need the extreme case to come along to enact a conversation, so not the daughter sexually harmed by her father but the football coach that abuses multiple children in their care.
Taken together, these findings remind us that:
1)      The effects of violence, including sexual violence, can be brief or last a lifetime.
2)      The effects of violence can occur beyond the awareness of the person who has been abused.
3)      Abuse poses an unacceptable risk of harm, even if it does not cause acknowledged harm in every case.
Of course, there are other implications:
·         Abuse exists at every level of society; it is in our communities and all too often in our own families.
·         Only a small minority of those who are known to have sexually abused are at high risk to be re-arrested for sexual abuse.
·         People who abuse often do so until they are caught and cautioned by an authority; Being sanctioned in some way for abuse can have dramatic effects on one’s behavior.
Why are these points so important to mention?
First, the world has watched as many of our favorite people have recently come to light as having sexually abused others (e.g., a parade of entertainers, athletes, politicians). Perhaps, more importantly, ATSA members, other professionals, and the lay public are once again challenged to re-visit not only what abuse is, but what it means in our lives. ATSA’s Executive Board of Directors recently issued a statement that caused some controversy among ATSA members; some members felt it singled out one side of the political aisle, while other members noted that sexual misconduct seems equally distributed over time across parties. Even beyond our organization, many have expressed concern about the actions of political leaders, while others have appeared to use the actions of others for their own political gain. It often seems that no one is blameless in recent world events.
2016 has been an unforgettable year in world politics, and many of us – the authors included – experience grief that there is not more we can do to influence events around the planet. Just the same, it is vital that we not take our eyes of at least one prize: the elimination of sexual abuse.
David Prescott and Kieran McCartan


Monday, November 21, 2016

The families of perpetrators of sexual harm: The silent minority

Often times we forget about a silent but impacted group of individuals related to sexual abuse, the families of the perpetrators. I spent some time on Friday talking about this with prison staff in the context of the men in their establishment and the regularity as well as reality of visitation time; but I think that it engagement between perpetrators and their families goes much further than this one issue as it impacts their rehabilitation as well as reintegration through having a support structure on the outside. We as researchers, professionals and treatment providers spend our time discussing perpetrators, victims and the criminal justice system but we can give little (or sometimes no thought) to the family members sitting on the side-lines impacted by the abuse and how it affects their lives. It is important to recognise that not all family members want to maintain contact with perpetrators, but some do and others change their mind over the course of time and reopen potentially sealed doors. However, do we really support, aid and help the families of perpetrators? The reality of the situation is, compared to other offending populations and risky populations, probably not, no. The families of perpetrators face a range of ongoing issues and live out the experiences of perpetrators simultaneously, because:

-         Dealing with the label of having a family member who is in prison, or in the community, as a “Sex offender”. Whether this be children of the perpetrator, the wire/partner of the perpetrator having to live in the community [or the house] where the abuse happened. While not everywhere has public disclosure of sex offender information the court case is often printed in local papers and the local “gossip” machine will spread knowledge. However, no one tells family members how to respond, cope and manage with this, epically if it is coupled with the idea that they were aware of the abuse and kept quiet or that they “might be sex offenders too”?

-        Tying in with the label of sexual abuse familiarise are also stigmatised by association, epically if they decide to stick by the perpetrator and work with them. Walking away in some instances garners social support and acceptability; but staying suggests that families are sympathetic and supportive. The stigma that families can face does not recognise the complexity of relationships or abuse, it reiterates a simplistic societal judgement that does not exist for other risky groups (addicts, alcoholics, etc).

-        Quite often families, like victims, blame themselves for what the perpetrator has done regardless of whether the sexual harm was in the home, community or completely unknown. Families will carry this guilt, self-blaming and annoyance (at themselves and the perpetrator) with them while the perpetrator is in prison and post release.

-        They often receive little or no support, financial or emotional, while their family member is imprison. Quiet often these families have lost a means of finical support, either because the main breadwinner has lost their job but also maybe the remaining family member has to give up work [or reduce their hours] to care for the family in the perpetrators absence.

-        Family members are dealing with their own trauma in respect to the perpetrators sexual abuse, in that someone they thought they knew well had done this. How do they process this trauma, where do they go for help and how do they vocalise. In addition, there may be other forms of abuse, trauma and dysfunction that they may have been exposed to at the same time that the sexual harm was happening elsewhere. Who can they turn to for help, support, counselling and/or advice? Some areas have resources and support but this is by no means universal or free.

-        Given the secretive nature of sexual harm and the impact that it has, this means that families carry an additional burden of not being able to discuss the abuse or its consequences; which places them under more internal and external pressure.

-        Visitation, as already mentioned, becomes an issue as the perpetrator may be sent to a prison too hard to access and/or that because you cannot bring children, or minors, with you to a sex offender establishment means that families may not be able to visit (if they wanted to). This means that often time families are divided via practicality rather than choice. Which means that perpetrators and their families are artificially, but meaningfully, separated in a way that does not happen for other types of offenders.

-        The fact that the perpetrator, whether they want them to be or not, is omnipresent in their lives; by default, by actions and by association.  The family may want to help and support the perpetrator, but they may not. If they don’t want to support the perpetrator they may share the same surname, circle of friends and may have to see/hear/discuss them through conversations that they have with family members that still contact them (parents, siblings or children).

The families of perpetrators of sexual harm are placed in a difficult and often invisible situation. We as the providers of research, treatment and support for victims and perpetrators need to think about how we can best assist and support all of those impacted by sexual harm.

Kieran McCartan, PhD

Friday, November 11, 2016

ATSA 2016 Conference Highlights

ATSA’s 2016 conference flowed seamlessly, no audible complaints beyond the usual disagreements over the best use of air conditioning. As always, old friends gathered and caught up on their work and lives, and newcomers had the opportunity to see the largest conference of its kind in the world. Many participants joked about the odd juxtaposition of our work with certain Disney characters, but once at the venue there was nothing unusual, except perhaps the utter enormity of the Swan and Dolphin resort itself. The author’s favorite memory of the facility was a seasoned professional from Northern England trying to come to terms with the loud music, warm air, and the magenta lights on the palm trees in the walkway between buildings at night.

The balance of plenaries was current and on point, ranging from campus sexual assault research to advances in risk classification. The concurrent workshops for juveniles featured recent innovations and areas of inquiry. One program reported on their use of the adverse childhood experiences questionnaire in residential treatments (in brief, the amount of adversity in the backgrounds of these youth is unacceptable). Another program reported on low-dose, high-impact mindfulness exercises to build responsivity with adolescents and their families in treatment. 

Importantly, the conference offered an opportunity to honor three professionals involved in the prevention of sexual violence: Joan Tabachnick, Keith Kaufman, and Leo Cotter. While many people are aware of Joan’s fantastic work with bystander prevention (She won this year’s Gail Burns Smith Award) and Keith’s work as a Past President and leader of ATSA’s Prevention Task Force (He won this year’s Significant Achievement Award), fewer are aware of Leo Cotter’s incredible work educating judges and lawmakers in Florida (He won ATSA’s Distinguished Contribution Award). All three have done far more work outside the limelight than within it.  (DP)

We also heard from Dr. Sarah McMahon about an issue that is gaining societal and political significance inside and outside of the United States: campus sexual assault and bystander intervention. Sarah’s plenary was a timely reminder that we need to confront sexually harmful behavior in all its guises, regardless of who the perpetrator is or where it happens, and that this is the responsibility of us all – it’s a societal and individual issue. This tied-in well with a workshop from Maree Crabbe on sex education in schools and how we can respond to youthful engagement with pornography. 

This year we held another public engagement event prior to the start of the conference.  It was hosted by the University of Central Florida and supported by Florida ATSA and Innovative Modular Technologies. We had approximately 40 members of the public, practitioners and campus police attend to hear speakers discuss sex offender registration (Jill Levenson, Nicole Pittman), human trafficking (Sara Lynn Ard, Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force) and bystander intervention/campus sexual assault (Sarah McMahon). After the presentations there was a great question & answer session that reinforced the importance of the event and the topics discussed.  (KM)

This year’s ATSA conference offered the usual rich diversity of topics, and invaluable networking.  There were great plenary sessions, and with dozens of workshops to choose from, it has always been a challenge to pick only six workshops to attend.  But this year conference organizers provided some relief to annual agonizing over registration - attendees were allowed to go to workshops other than those for which they originally registered (space permitting).  While changes in workshop attendance requires on-the-fly logistical challenges for conference organizers, it recognizes that attendees often discover, either after registering, or at the conference, that some adjustments to their registration would make their conference experience much more beneficial.  Brilliant accommodation!

It’s always difficult to choose only a few highlights from a great conference, but I’d like to give a shout-out to some of Elizabeth Letourneau’s thoughtful plenary comments.   Elizabeth discussed some of the very challenging concerns for sexual offender management.  Elizabeth explained that sexual violations between children need to be understood as typically very different from adult sexual offending, and that, “it is appropriate and just to treat kids differently” at every stage of intervention.  Another topic was the emerging understanding of pedophilia.  Beyond the need for colleagues to support successful recovery for those who have sexually violated children, Elizabeth discussed the extraordinary challenges of supporting hope and prevention for non-offending pedophilic teens and adults.  She went on to explain how the Registry and other misguided public policies undermine recovery for offenders and their families - particularly for juveniles. 

To learn more about the challenges of civil regulations on offenders and their families, two powerful documentaries ran continuously on Thursday and Friday, in the ATSA Screening Room: “Pervert Park” and “Untouchable.”  Both featured former offenders and their families, as they bravely acknowledged their sexual offending and candidly told their stories.  Both documentaries were well produced and edited, and provided compelling perspectives on how the registry and residence restrictions interfere with recovery.  A Saturday morning plenary featured “Untouchable” producer David Feige, who discussed how he went from attorney and public defender to filmmaker. 

Michael Caldwell’s compelling 2016 research, on the low rate of juvenile recidivism, found its way into many workshops.  When fewer than three out of every 100 juvenile offenders are destined to reoffend, there are profound implications for the assessment, treatment, and management of adolescents who have sexually offended.  Changes in protocol are indicated in all areas.

There were so many great workshops, plenaries, and posters that it’s impossible to highlight all the outstanding contributions by presenters and conference organizers.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference in Kansas City.  And finally, let’s bring back the ATSA List breakfast!  (JB)

In the end, ATSA members continue to make differences in ways that are extremely challenging to measure. While there is much work to do in improving our assessment and treatment methods, this year’s conference was a reminder of the passion and purpose that ATSA members and their colleagues bring to our work.

David S. Prescott, Kieran McCartan, and Jon Brandt

Friday, October 28, 2016

Findings from a recent literature review to synthesise international evidence regarding risk and protective factors related to child sexual abuse in institutional contexts


In 2015 we (Keith Kaufman and Marcus Erooga) were commissioned by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse a literature review to synthesise international evidence regarding risk and protective factors related to child sexual abuse in institutional contexts.

Literature review methodology

The methodology for the review was built on the Royal Commission’s broad definition of institutional child sexual abuse. Working with the project team of graduate students Kelly Stewart, Judith Zatkin, Erin McConnell, Hayley Tews and Australian consultant Associate Professor Daryl Higgins the first step was to identify a wide range of relevant search terms that we then circulated among experts in the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia to solicit additional terms. A similar process was conducted to identify databases that would yield the most relevant articles for this review. We then developed final lists of search terms and databases for the review based on feedback.

Simultaneous, independent literature reviews of each of five identified areas were then conducted using the final search terms. These were conducted by the authorial team, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (Australia), the National Child Advocacy Center (US), the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (US) and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (UK) and focused on scientific research literature as well as ‘grey literature’ such as reports, inquiries, evaluations and dissertations.  

The nature of the reviewed literature

The review yielded more than 400 relevant documents, primarily comprising research studies from professional journals. The literature was distributed across the three key review areas of victim, perpetrator and institution and further divided across six specific types of institutional setting including faith-based settings; early childhood education, care and schools; healthcare; out-of-home care; sport; and public inquiries and case reviews. The result was a series of related literature with limited integration - in particular the documents specific to victim, perpetrator and institution are quite distinct, with little overlap and minimal cross‑referencing. Articles describing child sexual abuse in various types of institutional setting are also highly ‘siloed’. The separate nature of these research sub-areas is an important dimension for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the available literature on child sexual abuse in institutions.


For the purposes of this blog we highlight the ‘big-picture findings’ regarding risk and protective factors pertinent to victims, perpetrators and institutions, as well as the role of prevention of institutional child sexual abuse.


Risk and protective factors regarding victims


Many children spend a significant amount of time in institutional settings and whilst all children are inherently vulnerable to sexual abuse in institutional settings where is a motivated perpetrator, some children are more vulnerable than others.

A majority of child sexual abuse victims overall are female (Finkelhor and Baron, 1986). In institutional settings specifically, Faller (1988) reported that 62 per cent of sexually abused children in a day care setting were female; while Leahy, Pretty and Tenenbaum (2002) found that females in organised competitive sports were at twice the risk of being sexually abused as males (for both elite and youth sports). However, there is concern that the rates of disclosure, while minimal for both genders, may be disproportionately low for boys. This may be due to male socialisation processes, males may possibly not recognising some sexual activity as abusive, a propensity to downplay the impact of abuse, and outright denial that abuse has occurred to avoid social stigma, particularly when the perpetrator is also male (Alaggia & Millington, 2008; Fondacaro, Holt & Powell, 1999; Holmes, Offen & Waller, 1997; Holmes & Slap, 1998; Love, 2016; Parent & Barron, 2012).

Age has been identified as a risk factor for sexual abuse victimisation generally, with younger children particularly at risk (Bohm, Zollner, Fegert & Liebhardt, 2014). In institutional child sexual abuse, the age at which abuse begins seems to vary according to the type of setting. This may be related to the fact that children use different types of institutions at different developmental stages – for example, childcare centres during their pre-school years, and residential camps during their teenage years.

Higgins (2010) suggested that the presence of any disability leads to a higher risk of sexual victimisation, with multiple disabilities further increasing the probability of abuse. Higher rates of sexual victimisation were associated with intellectual disabilities, behavioural disorders and communication disorders.

A number of family characteristics have been identified as risk factors for child sexual abuse. Peter (2009) suggests that children from families with a low socio-economic status are at greater risk of sexual victimisation. This may be because these families have access to fewer resources and often include parents who work multiple jobs, leaving children to spend more time in the care of others. In a sample of children who were abused in a hospital setting, Feldman, Mason and Shugerman (2001) identified risk factors including parental mental illness, parental substance abuse, legal problems and vindictiveness against medical service providers.

Research on child sexual abuse risk and protective factors has several methodological limitations. Perhaps the most significant of these relates to the limited generalisability of study findings. Another significant barrier is the overall lack of empirical research in this area due to the difficulty of studying a phenomenon such as child sexual abuse, which relies on retrospective data and involves significant ethical limitations (Hartill, 2005; Love, 2016).


Risk and protective factors regarding perpetrators

Institutional sexual abuse perpetrators are a sub-category of extrafamilial offenders who abuse children that they have access to by virtue of working, volunteering or otherwise being associated with a particular institution.

There is no ‘type’ or ‘profile’ relating to perpetrators in institutional settings, or elsewhere. However, in general, risk factors for sexual offending include deviant sexual interest, distorted attitudes about sex, poor socio-affective functioning and poor self-management (Sullivan et al., 2010).

Criminal justice staff who work with perpetrators have identified eight broad conceptual categories of perpetration motivation, some possibly causal and others contributory:
·                     developmental issues
·                     poor social competence
·                     sexual motivation
·                     need for power and control
·                     psychopathology
·                     perceived victim characteristics
·                     values and beliefs that enable child sexual abuse
·                     personality deficits (Purvis, Ward & Devilly, 2003).

Longstanding sexual interest in children is not the sole factor for choosing to perpetrate child sexual abuse. There is a useful distinction between those described as preferential offenders, who have a long-term sexual preference for children, and those described as situational offenders, who take advantage of opportunities to offend against minors. These opportunities especially arise in situations where they have access to, privacy with, and authority over children, such as when they are serving in positions of trust in institutions.

Overall, the literature presents a solid basis for identifying the background characteristics of offenders and other risk factors that may lead to institutional child sexual abuse. However, a great deal of work must still be done to further investigate risk factors that facilitate institutional child sexual abuse.


Risk and protective factors regarding institutional settings

Child sexual abuse can occur within any institution where there are children and a motivated perpetrator. Some perpetrators will actively try to manipulate institutional conditions to create an opportunity to sexually abuse. Institutions can act to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors. This involves considering the role of an institution’s policies, climate, culture and norms.

A major risk factor is that screening processes, used to exclude unsuitable people from joining organisations, are not as effective as widely believed (Erooga et al., 2012a). This is because many perpetrators either have no criminal history or their history does not include sexual offences, meaning they would pass a criminal background screening process (LeClerc & Cale, 2015).

A lack of clearly defined policies, or variability in the comprehensiveness and appropriateness of child-safe policies, also facilitates child sexual abuse in institutions. In the US, for example, each state has a different definition of ‘coercion involving the misuse of authority’, and therefore handles sexual abuse cases differently (Weiss, 2002). This is particularly problematic as there is a gap between research and policy regarding child sexual abuse prevention (Quadara et al., 2015).

Rather than focusing solely on individuals, risk management needs to address environmental factors (Beyer et al., 2005), in what is generally referred to as a situational prevention approach. Research shows that certain characteristics of an institution can increase the risk of staff members committing sexual crimes against children. These characteristics may include the physical condition of the facility, child safety policies and procedures, the training and supervision of staff, and also the less tangible risk factors of institutional culture and environment. It is also important to consider the impact of the power differential between institutional staff or volunteers and the children in contact with the institution.

Organisational culture was cited as a key contributory factor in a significant number of recent inquiries into institutional child sexual abuse in the UK. A proportion of perpetrators surveyed stated that the culture of the organisation in which they offended did not proactively promote child welfare (Erooga et al., 2012a).

Implications for policy and practice

Overall, the literature reflects the promising nature of prevention strategies and policy initiatives for enhancing child safety. Prevention strategies span the continuum from awareness training directed at individual parents or staff members to more systematic, institution-wide efforts to identify and ameliorate environmental or situational conditions that allow child sexual abuse to occur.

In a complementary fashion, the design and implementation of key safety policies foster child safety by helping to establish clear professional boundaries, acceptable practices, and mechanisms for identifying and reporting inappropriate behaviour that places children at risk.

Prevention and policy initiatives should target the types of abuse inhibitors that Finkelhor (1984) refers to in his Four Preconditions model for understanding the conditions under which child sexual abuse can occur. The literature also highlights a compelling need to increase investment in prevention and policy initiatives as well as to better tailor such efforts to the needs and characteristics of particular institutional settings to maximise their effectiveness.

A striking feature of this review is that many of the actions described in the literature aim to implement protective systems and processes more rigorously, thoroughly and consistently.

Another major conclusion that can be drawn is the need for greater attention to be paid to the quantity and quality of research related to child sexual abuse in institutions. Systematic research programs should be tailored to various types of institutions and address key areas of concern, such as identifying risk and protective factors, promoting early disclosures and improving prevention program outcomes.

At the same time, it is important to advocate for more methodologically sound investigations of child sexual abuse in institutions. This includes a greater diversity of study approaches, more quantitative as well as qualitative studies, and approaches with greater generalisability.
The most important action that institutions and those who work in them can take is to become familiar with the key literature contained in this review. They should consider their practices in light of the information contained in this literature, and act accordingly to maximise children’s safety. It is incumbent upon institutions to not only subscribe to these strategies as a matter of policy, but to ensure that their staff adheres to these principles as a matter of routine practice on a daily basis.

In summary, the literature shows the best way to reduce the risk of institutional child sexual abuse is to avoid dangerous practice rather than attempt to screen out allegedly dangerous people. Effective prevention is predicated on creating a positive, open and inclusive organisational culture in which the safety of children is paramount. This culture should be led by senior management and wholeheartedly endorsed and owned by staff at all levels.

Marcus Erooga ( and Keith Kaufman (
October 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Inconceivable Legacy of Jacob Wetterling

If someone had told Jacob, when he was 11 years old, that he was destined to be world-famous someday, he might have dreamed that he was going to become an astronaut, maybe a pro football player, or perhaps a champion for human rights.   Millions of people know him for the latter – a posterchild for the prevention of missing or exploited children.  But fame came at a terrible cost.  On this weekend in 1989, Jacob was abducted and, now we know, murdered. 

On the morning of October 22, 1989, Jerry and Patty Wetterling could not have imagined how the course of their lives would change before the end of the day.  Perhaps not unlike 9/11, 10/22 marked a loss of innocence – families changed the way they lived.  Patty and Jerry asked neighbors to leave their porchlights on at night, with the hope that they might guide Jacob back home, or help protect other kids.  Now, 27 years later, porchlights are still on at night, in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and around the world.

I’ve often wondered, with the thousands of children that go missing every year, why Jacob’s story captured international attention.  I think there are three reasons: (1) Jacob wasn’t just missing; he was abducted, (2) the Wetterlings had great pictures of their winsome son, and (3) Patty’s undefeatable determination to find Jacob and prevent other families from a similar fate.   

New York Times writer David Brooks wrote a column in 2011, based on a commencement speech he titled, “It’s not about you.”  His thesis was that, concurrent with educational goals, people often set out to discover their calling in life, when actually, Brooks writes, a calling finds you… “Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.”

My undergraduate education was at a university in central Minnesota, just miles from the Wetterlings.  I had already been working with victims and offenders for several years, and followed this story from that fateful night.  Like many in this field, my career was influenced by Jacob and Patty.

It took nearly 27 years, but it seems that Patty’s invincible determination, and all those ‘porchlights,’ eventually led to Jacob’s recovery.  What many people don’t know is that Jacob was found as the direct result of the dogged efforts of another individual – a boy from the nearby town of Cold Spring, who had also been abducted 27 years ago, when he was 12.   Jared Scheierl, now 40, was released after being sexually assaulted nine months before Jacob.  Over the years, despite resistance from investigators, Jared believed his attacker was also Jacob’s assailant.  Jared caught a glimpse of his kidnapper’s face, and said he would never forget his voice, but his attacker remained unknown.
That changed in 2015, with a break in the case.  New technology was used to identify a trace amount of DNA on Jared’s sweatshirt, and led authorities to a known suspect.  Law enforcement executed a warrant for 52-year-old Daniel James Heinrich, and found child pornography in his residence.  The statute of limitations had run out for the kidnapping and assault of Jared.  There’s no statute of limitations for murder, but Jacob’s fate was still unknown, so authorities used child pornography charges to apply pressure to Heinrich.  After a year, Heinrich reached a plea agreement with state and federal prosecutors.
On September 3, 2016 authorities announced that Jacob’s remains had been found.   At a press conference on September 6, prosecutors said that, in consultation with the Wetterling family, they had two goals: to bring Heinrich to justice, and to bring Jacob home.  Patty said, “To us Jacob was alive, until… we found him.”  Jacob’s younger brother, Trevor and his friend, Aaron Larson who were biking home with Jacob that tragic evening, were once again gripped with survivor’s guilt.  

When Jared Scheierl got the news, he said he was overcome with emotional ironies - not only had Jared’s kidnapper confessed to also being Jacob’s assailant, but Jacob’s remains laid undiscovered for 27 years in Paynesville, where Jared had moved his young family, including his own son - now 12.   It was Jared and blogger Joy Baker who were relentless in connecting the links between Jared and Jacob.  It seems Jared’s calling had found both Jacob and their mutual assailant. 

As part of a plea agreement (20 years in prison for possession of child pornography), Heinrich provided chilling details in open court to kidnapping and assaulting both Jared and Jacob.  With the Wetterling family, Aaron, and Jared all in the courtroom, Heinrich recounted that, before he murdered Jacob, Jacob had asked, “What did I do wrong?”  Nothing, Jacob – only wrong place, wrong time.  And then you went on to be an unforgettable inspiration for a safer world for kids.

Jacob now has a date of birth and known date of death - bookends for his short but magnificent life.  A public memorial service, attended by thousands, was held on September 25.

No child wants to be the namesake for an Act of Congress to prevent child sexual abuse; and no parent expects to become a champion for the rights of missing and exploited children.  But that is the amazing legacy of Jacob and Patty Wetterling – “Jacob’s Hope.

Patty is well-known to ATSA members.  For 27 years, she has poignantly spoken at numerous state, national, and international conferences on the prevention, treatment and management of sexual abuse.  Most people are surprised, and often tearful, to discover how Patty has turned her tragic loss into both responsible accountability and compassionate treatment for those who have sexually abused.  It’s one thing to be a champion for missing and exploited children; it’s another to be an advocate for sound public policies to effectively address child sexual abuse as a public health initiative.  Patty explains that ‘Jacob’s Hope’ for a better world would include not only prevention, but support and recovery for victims, abusers, their families, and friends.

Patty says that she gets her boundless energy from the indomitable spirit of Jacob, and the vital support of family, friends, and colleagues.  It would be difficult to find anyone who works in the field of the prevention of sexual harm that has not heard of Jacob Wetterling or found inspiration in Patty’s resolute determination.  Sometimes we don’t find a calling in life – a calling finds us.

Jon Brandt, MSW, LICSW

Cordelia Anderson, a colleague and friend of Patty Wetterling, wrote her own tribute to Jacob & Patty.

Friday, October 14, 2016

NOTA Annual Conference, Brighton 2016

The annual NOTA conference took place from the 28th – 30th September in Brighton, this year’s theme was "Sharing Practice and Research: Coming together to become more effective"; however, the underlying theme and narrative of the conference was about the prevention of sexual abuse. The conference was a real mix of research, practice and engagement with colleagues, as well as the general public. In this blog I am going to take you on a whistle stop tour of the event.

The 2016 plenaries combined research, practice and innovate approaches from a very international group of speakers. The plenary sessions covered a range of topics including from online behaviour and Child Sexual Abuse (David Delmonico, Andy Phippen), mental health and sexual offending (Jackie Craissati), the treatment of sexual abusers (Gwenda Willis; Clark Baim), the work of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) (Stephen Webster) and international approaches to sexual abuse prevention (Maia Christopher). Although these plenaries were on different topics, and from a national to an international viewpoint, they all talked to the reality of child sexual abuse and how we as individuals, professionals and a society could prevent it.

The workshops spanned a full range of topics including: Circles of Support and accountability (Martin Clarke and Kerry Earnshaw; Tracey Blackstock; Kieran McCartan Rebecca Milner); public health approaches to sexual abuse and prevention (Stephen Smallbone; Gwenda Willis; Kieran McCartan; Jon Brown); child sexual abuse material and online offenders (Danielle Kettlebrough; Daryl Mead and Mary Sharpe; David Delmonico; Vicky Young and Tom Squire; Marcella Leonard); youth who sexually harm (Pat Brangan; Susannah Bowyer; Simon Hackett; Valerie Sheehan and Eileen Kilpatrick; Helen Whittle; Kathryn Lawrence; Carlene Firmin); female sexual offenders (Andrea Darling); treatment (Clark Baim and Lydia Guthrie; Jacqueline Page), as well as  risk assessment and policing (Marcella Leonard; Duncan Sheppard). The workshops were a good mix of research, evaluation, practical working, professional learning and knowledge exchange.

In addition to the traditional conference activities NOTA 2016 also had a series of special interest activities and bespoke sessions. The conference hosted NOTA's second public engagement event which did not have many members of the public (a real learning point for NOTA 2017 and a different experience to NOTA 2016) but instead welcomed 30+ conference attendees (academics, stakeholders, professionals and therapists from across the UK and beyond to discuss how we can prevent Child Sexual Abuse. The session heard from national (Nina Burrows; Kieran McCartan) and international (Maia Christopher) speakers about the work that they were involved with in preventing child sexual abuse and their ideas for where NOTA and professionals in this arena go next. Interestingly, in the Q & A afterwards there was not consensus between the audience and panel, or even the audience themselves, that we have got prevention correct, that we are using the right language, hitting the target audience and that we as a professional body main need to do more amongst ourselves before moving into working with communities.

NOTA also had a session on the systematic review that the organisation was involved in around the development of the new NICE guidelines (Fiona Campbell and Simon Hackett) relating to assessment and treatment of youths with involved in sexually harmful behaviour. The conference also had the head of research from the IICSA (Stephen Webster) come and talk about the progress of the research strand and talking about some of the early projects and rapid evidence reviews (especially on the church, sex offenders with Learning Difficulties), in closing Stephen though that there was a lot more research to do and had a desire to link the IICSA work to that of the Royal Commission into institutional responses to sexual abuse just concluding in Australia. Last but not least NOTA held its first student event, which was an opportunity for students to meet there contemporaries in the field to discuss their research.

NOTA 2016 fitted a massive amount of material in across three days, which left me informed, refreshed and looking forward to next year’s meeting in Cardiff (20th – 22nd September 2017).

Kieran McCartan, Ph.D