Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What Matters is What’s Missing: The Non-Persistence of Memory

Experts have often commented on the fallibility of memory, from Daniel Schachter’s classic book, The Seven Sins of Memory to Elizabeth Loftus’ TED Talk on the subject. Most of us are aware, at least intellectually, that memory can be flawed. Unfortunately, the discussion seems to end at the point where the fascination fades. Loftus’ showing us that we can’t identify which of the coins that are similar in appearance is the real penny, the convincing memory of your father driving on the right side of the road while vacationing in the UK when you were six — these are easy for us to get our minds around.

A recent internet cascade brought the problems of memory into a different perspective. This time, Reddit readers got into an extended discussion of a 1990s movie called Shazaam in which the celebrity Sinbad had played a genie. The New Statesman produced the story, which was then picked up by other media outlets. The opening of the article is where the implications for the field of assessing and treating sexual violence begin:

In the early Nineties, roughly around 1994, a now 52-year-old man named Don ordered two copies of a brand new video for the rental store his uncle owned and he helped to run. “I had to handle the two copies we owned dozens of times over the years,” says Don (who wishes to give his first name only). “And I had to watch it multiple times to look for reported damages to the tape, rewind it and check it in, rent it out, and put the boxes out on display for rental.”

Don is describing the movie that doesn’t actually exist. What is amazing is not the falsity of the memories, but the extent to which to which people cling to them:
“It feels like a part of my childhood has now been stolen from me. How does a movie simply vanish from our history?” This isn’t Don speaking, but another man – who he has never met – named Carl*. Carl, whose name has been changed because he wishes to remain anonymous, recalls watching a movie called Shazaam with his sister in the early Nineties, and has fond memories of discussing it with her over the last 20 years. 

The discussion of this movie apparently began in 2009 on the Reddit web site and escalated to the point where Sinbad had to comment repeatedly that he had not starred in the movie and had never even played a genie. Still, readers cling to the belief that he did, with confidence and vigor. This is where professionals in our field should sit up and take notice.

People providing treatment to those who have abused frequently accept nothing less than a complete accounting of a person’s sexual history. In many cases, this extends into accepting only those accounts that match the story of the person they abused. I personally watched as entire teams of clinicians insisted that a client in treatment should not move forward in treatment because his version had not matched the “findings of fact” issued by the court that had convicted him. The concern was not that he was minimizing his behavior and therefore was participating in treatment only superficially; it was that the minutiae of his story did not match those of the person he acknowledged he abused, as filtered through legal documents.

Holding someone back in treatment for the above reason is worrisome given what we know about memory; it simply doesn’t comport with the research. Also concerning is the confidence with which we professionals can assume that a client is actively lying or purposefully downplaying his or her actions. It is worth asking whether it isn’t more important to us to be confident in our certainty than it is to accept the limitations of our knowledge. In other words, no one wants to appear ambivalent or wishy-washy about their conclusions and opinions. Ironically, second-rate reports overflow with confidence, while first-rate forensic reports are written with confidence and openly acknowledge their limitations.

It is worth noting that many professionals in the US (and some other jurisdictions) also rely on the polygraph to verify their clients’ accounts, despite the scientific problems associated with it. Although polygraph advocates rightly point out its ability to elicit more information from clients, we still lack research to conclude that this information is always as accurate or useful as we would like. The fact that there is still no evidence to support the idea that polygraph examinations reduce subsequent abuse is beyond the scope of this blog post.

My point in raising these issues is not to discount the polygraph or the processes it entails. Rather, it seems important to note the many ways in which “the truth” can get lost along the way. People who are abused don’t necessarily remember every detail correctly (we’ll come back to this). People who abuse don’t necessarily recall every detail correctly. People who have been traumatized frequently have problems with memory; it’s a diagnostic criterion for the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. People writing the accounts of those who abuse and those who have been abused are not without memory fallibility either, and neither are the people who review those reports, often recycled over the course of years through evaluations and re-evaluations.

On the other hand, the accounts of traumatized people aren’t necessarily wrong either.  Memories of abuse can be vivid and profound. There may be no greater insult to a person who has been traumatized than to distrust their memories. In his recent book, The Body Keeps the Score, trauma researcher and clinician Bessel van der Kolk discusses these facts at length. Professionals who doubt the memories of abuse survivors do their clients no service. After all, many aspects of the memories indeed may be perfectly accurate, or their memory might become fragmented, with some parts dissipating while others linger on, sometimes causing decades of distress the person who lived them.

Adding further insult to injury, Shane O’Mara recently published a review of the many ways that memory fails under high-stress circumstances in his book, Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation. While this may seem out of place, O’Mara draws on findings from diverse areas, including the effects of stress, sleep deprivation, anxiety, and other experiences that are common among clients in and around the criminal-justice system. Taken together, all of these points should raise concern among professionals.

As a final point, it is worth noting that my colleagues, Jill Levenson, Gwenda Willis, and I found that males and females who have sexually abused often have a higher rate of adverse childhood experiences in their histories, raising further questions about the effects of their lives on their memories.

It may be time to acknowledge once and for all that, while we are quite certain that abuse poses an unacceptable risk of harm to those who experience it, the research shows how much noise there is in our systems as we try to retrieve and understand the details. What’s missing (i.e. understanding the fluidity of memory) from our understanding of clients matters, and sometimes the most confident answer is that we don’t know the complete picture.

David Prescott, LISCW

Friday, January 13, 2017

Q & A with Sandy Jung on “Sexual Violence Risk Prediction in a Police Context”

Jung, S. (2016). Sexual Violence Risk Prediction in a Police Context. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Available from:

Adoption of evidence-based approaches by police services offers a practical and scientific solution to ensure public safety and proper allocation of resources. Advances in the field of sexual violence risk prediction have the potential to inform policing practices. The present study examines the validity of existing actuarial measures to predict the future sexual violence behavior of 290 identified male perpetrators of sexual assault against adult victims (ages 16 and older). The Static-99R and Static-2002R were coded from police documentation, and the sample was followed up for at least 1 year with an average of 3.6 years. Both measures showed large effects for predicting any offending, violent offending, and sexual offending in the form of charges and convictions. The findings suggest that existing sex offender research can extend to police practice, and criminogenic factors used to predict recidivism among convicted offenders may apply to assessing the risk posed by perpetrators of police-reported sexual assaults.

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

A few years ago, I was fortunate to be asked by the Edmonton Police Service to examine their homicide cases. In working with them, I was able to establish a mutually respectful and trusting working relationship with them. A year later, given the increased calls they received regarding intimate partner violence and sexual assault over the years, they contacted me again to carry out more research. Although their interest was focused more on examining the profile of reported cases, I was very much interested in examining the application of risk assessment in the police context, as I was already collaborating with a provincial law enforcement agency. When I pitched this idea, they became quite interested as well, and I was given the opportunity to access their police database to carry out the research.

What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?

I’m more familiar with correctional and outpatient forensic settings, so one of the things I found challenging was learning about the policies and politics in the police context—in essence, I had to immerse in the police culture at the service. I was lucky as I was eligible for a sabbatical leave and applied for one with the goal of conducting research at the Edmonton Police Service. The learning curve was huge and it was critical for me to understand how the police organization worked in order for me to truly do meaningful and impactful research.

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

It was an interesting experience for me, as I collaborate a lot with other researchers who are often friends or become good friends, or else I work very closely with my students. I greatly enjoy the collaborative process, and I also find that collaborating provides a nice safety net because I can bounce things off my collaborators or my students to ensure I’m doing the right thing or I haven’t missed something. But this particular research started as a solo project during my sabbatical leave. I was able to dedicate a lot of time to it, but I was mostly on my own in developing the coding strategy I would end up using to collect and code the data.

The fortunate thing was that the research was focused in an area that I was already familiar with. Given my research on threat and risk assessment in policing (I currently collaborate with Drs. Ennis, Hilton, and Nunes), this was an easy application to the sexual violence risk field, with which I was more familiar.

What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about Sexual Violence Risk Prediction in a Policing?

Prioritizing police-reported cases of sexual violence is necessary given the finite resources available to police. Taking from the RNR principles used in correctional psychology, it makes sense to use evidence-based practices, such as validated risk assessment tools, to prioritize resources to sexual assault cases where there is an identifiable perpetrator. The risk principles highlights that we should be aware of who should receive the most resources and such tools can be invaluable to police in their service-intensive work to reduce further sexual victimization. This research supports the use of these tools at the front line where early intervention responses can prevent further assaults committed by the same perpetrator.

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

In this case, practitioners are law enforcement. Borrowing from intimate partner violence research, we know that police are capable of reliably using actuarial measures of risk in their work. So the implications from this research suggests that police officers can use evidenced-based practices, that are extracted from sexual violence research conducted in correctional and forensic settings, in their work to both efficiently use their resources and make defensible daily decisions with the goal of preventing further sexual assaults.

Sandy Jung, PhD, RPsych

Friday, January 6, 2017

Reflecting back on 2016 & moving forward into 2017

Welcome to the first blog of 2017 where we are going to reflect upon our favourite articles from 2016, and consider the impact that they may have, on us personal or the sexual harm field, in moving forward into 2017.
Kieran McCartan, PhD
At ATSA 2013 I saw Nicole Pittman talk, she was discussing her report “Raised on the Registry” which highlighted the impact of disclosing juvenile sex offender information in the USA. Nicole’s report struck me as it highlighted a very punitive practice with massive societal community and individual impacts; particularly as we do not publically disclosure the information of sex offenders, especially that of youths,  in the UK in the same way as the USA. I thought that the recently published article by Harris, Walfield, Shields and Latourneau entitled “Collateral Consequences of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration and Notification: Results from a survey of treatment providers” (Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 28, 770-790) was a good counterpoint to Nicole’s report. The article by Harris et al highlighted, again, the negative impact that community notification of juvenile sex offender information has on the person in question as well as their community but this time from treatment providers. The insight that that treatment providers brings to this argument is important as it can help shape policy and practice in this arena, with policy makers hopefully being more inclined to listen and support change. The Harris et al paper also reinforces the importance, as well as negative consequences, of language, social policy, risk management and politics in how we deal with sexual harm (“sex offender”, “Juvenile sex offender” etc), which was also highlighted in other 2016 SAJRT papers ( Zgoba et al; Harris& Socia; Hoing, Bogaerts & Vogelvang). The Harris et al paper refocused me for 2017, it remaindered be that there is still a distance to be travelled in getting realistic sexual harm policy and practice across the board for high profile  offenders (i.e., middle aged, white child sexual abusers), never mind  what may be considered  by sections of society as “fringe” offenders (i.e., juveniles, females, learning  disabled).
David Prescott, LISCW
For this year, I am going well outside the usual scope of our “best of” series. It may seem off topic, but I think this study by Goldberg, Miller, Nielsen, Rousmaniere, Whipple & Hoyt called Do Psychotherapists Improve with Time and Experience?”  (Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63,1-11) is very important to know about. Here’s why:
Goldberg and his colleagues studied whether therapist experience is linked to improved outcomes for clients in general psychotherapy (i.e. not abuse-related). They followed 6,591 patients seen in individual psychotherapy by 170 therapists over nearly five years. To date, no large-scale longitudinal study has assessed whether the amount of professional experience of the therapist would improve outcomes over time.
The study found that psychotherapy was effective overall. Unfortunately, therapists did not improve with experience. In fact, therapists became slightly less effective over time (although the authors note that the level of this decrease was extremely small). The authors also note that these results contrast with clinician self-reported experiences with clients. In short, therapists believe they become more effective over time; these results suggest otherwise.
Clearly, effective treatment of people who sexually abuse is a matter of public safety as well as a means to help individual clients manage their lives. This study should serve as a warning that practitioners can easily be lulled into a sense of complacency about their effectiveness; confidence can improve across one’s career, competence may not. In our work, we should always remember that getting better at avoiding mistakes is not the same as becoming more effective at developing the clinical skills that lead to successful treatment completion for our clients.
Jon Brandt, LISCW
This year, my pick for the most noteworthy journal article of 2016 is an easy one: “Quantifying the Decline in Juvenile Sexual Recidivism Rates,” (Psychology, Public Policy, and Law; July 18, 2016).  Michael Caldwell (University of Wisconsin, Madison) reviewed 106 international recidivism studies involving more than 33,000 juveniles who have sexually offended, and determined the mean five-year sexual recidivism rate for offenses committed over the last 30 years is less than 5%.  Looking at the most recent 33 studies, since 2000, Caldwell determined a mean sexual recidivism rate of 2.75%, and, “This suggests that the most current sexual recidivism rate is likely to be below 3%.”  Another important finding was that follow-up periods beyond 36 months did not significantly increase recidivism rates.  The implications of this study are significant and are the subject of a SAJRT blog 8/12/16.
Current policies and practices driving the assessment, treatment, and management of juveniles with sexual offenses are still predicated on beliefs that they are likely to sexually reoffend.  If, as a group, 97% of juveniles don’t sexually reoffend, what’s the takeaway from this research?
Caldwell’s research also indicates that general delinquency IS positively correlated to sexual reoffending, and even with sexual recidivism below 3%, the Risk-Needs-Responsivity model is still useful in determining NEEDS and RESPONSIVITY.  It is likely, that a small percentage of juvenile offenders have high needs, however, perhaps the seven out of ten juveniles who do not have concurring general delinquency, might benefit from some psycho-sexual education, and otherwise deserve a speedy exit from the juvenile court system.  For the majority of juveniles with sex offenses, intensive treatment, long periods of supervision, and onerous conditions of probation, are essentially unwarranted, and may even set them up to fail, e.g. sex offender registration and notification laws are not only unfounded, they are profoundly counterproductive.  Public perceptions and engrained practices die hard, but hopefully, professionals throughout the juvenile justice system will use this conclusive research to guide sound dispositions. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Star Wars and Sexual Abuse Treatment

Weary from many long hours of assessments, treatment, travel, and training, I went with my family to see the new Star Wars movie. I’m a dreadful Star Wars fan; most of the time I smile my way through these movies because I don’t know what’s going on. They are pleasant to look at though, and remind me of when I waited in line for an hour or more to see the very first one in the theaters in the late 1970s, probably wearing the fashions of the times: an oversized down jacket and light-colored Frye boots.

Four decades on, I found myself resentful. Why are these characters considered heroic when my colleagues aren’t? After all, the people I work with may occasionally make mistakes or become misguided, but every one of them puts their all into a shared mission of healthier lives and safer communities. As many have observed, the beneficiaries of our work will never know to say thank you because they won’t have been abused. My colleagues are not, as one defense attorney in Wisconsin once said to me, the “Death Star.” The vast majority of people working from all perspectives towards the goal of eliminating abuse are all over-worked and under-paid. Maybe it’s that our costumes and transport aren’t as cool as the Star Wars characters. I’m quite certain I would not look as lithe climbing up the ladder of a spaceship as some of the figures in the movie.

Then I realized the difference: These characters don’t have to do case notes. They don’t know from DAP and SOAP formats, and couldn’t formulate a SMART goal if Princess Lea’s life depended on it. To my knowledge, there are no ethics-codes considerations around the use and misuse of protocol droids… or any robots for that matter. These characters have never done paperwork, nor worked with someone whose job involves cracking the whip on therapists to submit their documentation. It’s no wonder they’re all so attractive and confident. They’ve probably never had to write or review an incident report after a long shift!

Meanwhile, while we are working, no one who observes us is moved to eat popcorn. When we solve problems, we don’t know if they are actually solved until the researcher (probably from Canada) with the statistical-analysis package says it worked. But that is only 15 years into the future, and even then the final report will say that “more research is needed.” It’s deeply unfair; Star Wars doesn’t have a meaningful control group… and I don’t even get to have a John Williams soundtrack! All I get is the occasional Survey Monkey request for a research project studying PTSD symptoms of professionals in our field. And worse, no one is studying the dirty little secret of our work: the most piquant symptoms of trauma often come not from vicariously reliving the worst moments of others’ lives, but from our interactions with state licensing audits.

Although I have known some professionals who might be deserving of an award for their ability to bring drama into the workplace, I have to conclude that my colleagues are people whom few know to thank for their efforts. My neighbors and family long ago learned to be very careful about asking me how things are going at work, as the answer might cause them to dissociate. As I have joked many times, describing our work to an outsider often “makes their face go straight to screen-saver.” Indeed, we often forget how much work goes into protecting the sensitivities of those around us. Thanks to our professional boundaries and ethics, there is no room for anything that sounds like “Rogue One” in our field.

We may give up some dreams going into the work of eliminating sexual abuse, but I would argue that our dream is better and in some ways already coming true. The ordinary heroes that work in our field can point to a track record of reduced violence across the time since the first Star Wars movie came out. We can’t always prove that it was our efforts, but we are definitely part of the trend.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday Season… and then gets back to this excellent, meaningful work.

David S. Prescott, LICSW

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Child Sexual Abuse in organisations and institutions

Over recent years we have seen a growing recognition of the problem of child sexual abuse, both historically and non-recent, ranging from  sexual abuse by celebrities, institutional child sexual abuse and sexual abuse within the criminal justice system (i.e., the police & prison service); which have resulted in a series of Inquiries in to institutional child sexual abuse in England and Wales (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Office for the Children's Commissioner's report into CSA in the Family Environment), Scotland (Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry), Northern Ireland (Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry) and Australia (Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is not surprising given what these inquires have suggested, especially the historical ones, that there may be more revelations to come, and indeed three weeks ago with had the revelation of historical Child Sexual Abuse at the heart of Football in the UK.

Continuing revelations, disclosures and conversations of cover up raise a host of questions about the reality of Child Sexual Abuse, the locations of the abuse and the reality of safeguarding in these places. Whether it be about institutions (i.e., Care Homes, etc.) or organizations (i.e., the Football Association [FA], BBC, etc.) there are a number of commonalities that need to be considered:

-          Safeguarding: All organizations should have safeguarding in place, those working with children and other vulnerable groups; but this must be more than documentation, it needs to be the lifeblood and within the culture of the organization. The issue is often not that there are not any safeguarding policies or procedures in place, but rather that they are not upheld or badly managed. With regard to the FA they indicate that safeguarding and policy conversations are harder to monitor, as well as uphold, at the amateur levels and we hear that policies are not always put into practice at grassroots level. This results in some institutional recognition of guilt, which is often after the fact, and a recognition that practice needs to change.


-          Prevention: Tied to ideas of safeguarding is the need for work to be done in organizations and institutions to prevent, as well as respond, to child sexual abuse. Quite often the discovery of child sexual abuse results in an institutional response, a change in policy, a criminal conviction and/or an inquiry; however, if we are thinking about prevention being part of the fabric or organizations and institutions then some of this best practice should already be happening. The prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a growing field but it has clear benefits for organizations and institutions in terms of workforce, development, policy, and practice.


-          Communication: We know from years of research and practice that child sexual abuse thrives in cultures of isolation, where there is poor communication and little transparency. Perpetrators often convince victims that no-one will listen to them, victims are sometimes vulnerable and do not believe that they have anywhere to turn and society thinks that the state (police, social work, prison system and government) do not do enough and when they do engage it does not go far enough. Therefore, theoretically, this means that the more that we talk about child sexual abuse and neglect the more we become aware of it and are better able to navigate, prevent and respond to it. However, it’s not that simple as we do not talk about child sexual abuse consistently and when we do it can be in  pejorative terms that reinforces social norms (i.e., “offenders -  bad, mad or sick”; “victims -  vulnerable, at risk or at fault”; “the state not doing enough for victims and too much for perpetrators”; and “it’s not societies fault or responsibility”) and pushes the blame away, which we have seen not infrequently in the historical child sexual abuse scandals (“there is bad practice and poor safeguarding, but it’s really down to a few bad apples”). We need to think about how we discuss child sexual abuse in our homes, schools, institutions, organizations and society so that the narrative is evident and available there and people feel more free to talk.


-          Disclosure and discussion: The recent FA historical and non recent abuse allegations and disclosures are, as with the care home and institutional ones, particularly salient as they focus on boys and men. Research and practice has indicated that boys and men find it harder to disclose sexual abuse as it impacts their sense of masculinity and may indicate weakness in arenas, like football, were weakness is not tolerated. We need to work with young players to help them realize that disclosure is not a weakness and that they need to come forward and disclose abuse; there have been  recent campaigns around this, since the FA allegations came to light a few weeks ago including a helpline and two video campaigns one lead by Wayne Rooney and another by David Beckham. The FA’s quick response to the allegations and historically cases enforces the need to make itself an organization that puts preventing and responding to child sexual abuse at its core; similar to what the NFL has done around domestic violence and sexual assault. 


-          Vulnerability: The conversations that have started to emerge from historical institutional child sexual abuse discussions have highlighted the degree of vulnerability of the victims. This vulnerability can be deeply ingrained in them because of their social class, culture, mental health of mental capacity; but it can also be situational, as has been seen in the recent FA disclosures, were victims talked about wanting to progress, to succeed and to move on and getting close to (as well as pleasing) the coaches was a way of doing this. The vulnerability that children experience can make them a target, or at least more susceptible to child sexual abuse by individuals who recognize and want to use that vulnerability. This reiterates the need for confident, trained and responsive organizations and intuitions that are able to identify, prevent and respond to signs of child sexual abuse when they present themselves at the earliest opportunity.

Although, the focus of the conversation is currently centered on football it seems like it may be only a matter of time before this crosses into other sports, nationally and internationally. We as a society need to recognize that we have to be able to work to prevent child sexual abuse, as well as respond to it, in a proactive way that sufficiently safeguards children,  and opens up communication in a proactive fashion to discussions about how can all play a role in protecting children and in preventing abuse and exploitation. We could say that “child sexual abuse in football, just another example of a few bad apples slipping through the net” or we have the opportunity to be more proactive and recognize that child sexual abuse is a more endemic problem in all our communities and in many of our institutions and we have now have the opportunity to refocus our efforts on prevention and early intervention and on ensuring that the victims, survivors and those who have caused the harm get the help they need.

Kieran McCartan, PhD, & Jon Brown, MSc.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A milestone: Our 200th blog posting

Let me first say that I am extremely honored to be making this 200th post to the site.

In the fall of 2010, I was approached by then-editor James Cantor of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. In tandem with Sage, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers was establishing a blog site and I was asked to be the inaugural blogger, as it were. I was all too happy to accept.

The original intent of the blog was to highlight and discuss findings in the published research – as a way to bring the science to the masses. However, it was not long before the perspectives reflected in posts transcended this initial focus. Indeed, became a place where applied issues could be raised and, to some extent, debated. Although generally in response to or highlighting of research findings, the blog became less about hardcore research and more about what we should do about research, or where more research was necessary.

I received my initial training in this field as a researcher and, somewhat romantically, I still consider myself to be a researcher – even though the nature of my work has become progressively more applied as the years have gone by. As the nature of my work changed, so did the degree of attention I could pay to the blog, as well as the topics I thought I could responsibly handle. This led to the invitation of two associate bloggers: David Prescott – with his keen understanding of the application of research to practice, and Jon Brandt – who has consistently demonstrated a unique talent for highlighting the intersections between research, practice and, most importantly, policy.

With the addition of these two key contributors, the breadth of topics the blog could tackle increased considerably. Further, the periodic invitation of guest bloggers contributed to even greater breadth of perspective. During my tenure, I was privileged to contribute to or sponsor posts addressing controversies in diagnostics, best practices in working with juveniles who sexually offend, and hard-hitting examinations of social policy in sexual violence prevention. I believed that we were making real contributions to these important discussions. However, my professional practice continued to change – the unfortunate consequence being that I could no longer retain my role as the Chief Blogger. Enter Kieran McCartan...

I first met Dr. McCartan when he was a first time ATSA presenter at the Atlanta conference. Dressed in a light blue suit, sporting a heavy metal-esque beard, and speaking in a thick Irish brogue, he immediately impressed me with his discussions of the impact of media and public perceptions in sexual violence prevention. He was clearly the best candidate to succeed me as Chief Blogger. This was recently revalidated in his appointment to Associate Editor for Social Media for our parent journal SAJRT.

Over the past couple of years that Kieran has headed the blog, in collaboration with David and Jon, posts have been regular and consistently of high quality. Indeed, many of the most thoughtful and hard-hitting perspectives in our field have been reflected in posts. I am proud to have gotten the ball rolling, but these three fellows have done a much better job than I ever could have in fulfilling the promise of this blog site.

And, it is on that note that I commend Kieran, David, and Jon on their continued high quality product. I am a strong believer in knowledge transfer and I am frequently reminded by my children that there are other ways to learn things than by reading books and journals. Even an old guy like me has had to concede that social media plays an increasingly important role in our quest for true sexual violence prevention.

Going forward, the challenges we face as a field are ensuring true adherence to evidence in establishing practice guidelines, getting further upstream in our prevention efforts, and inviting greater participation by ordinary citizens in the community safety endeavor. Here’s to another 200 posts!!

Dr. Robin J. Wilson, ABPP

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