Friday, October 13, 2017

We can do better at preventing & responding to sexual abuse on college campuses: The impact of Title IX Rollbacks.

By Becky Palmer, MS, & Jenny Coleman, MA, LMHC.

The United States Department of Education (DoE) withdrew statements of policy and guidance for colleges and universities on Sexual Violence in September 2017. The DoE also issued new guidelines that substantially changes the interpretation provided under the previous administration.  These new guidelines will be available for comment in the near future.  Title IX’s intent is  to help keep all students safe by allowing them to live without fear of violence—by charging colleges and universities with providing prompt and equitable responses to sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual violence. While indeed a tall order, the use of Title IX has been remarkable as a pioneer effort to combine what we know about the impacts of violence and trauma with the ability to pursue certain rights, such as education—understanding that no one really can work or study when they are afraid or hurt. Although Title IX initially gained popularity in 1972 through its use to address gender-based discrimination in sports, it has provided a critical foundation to address other barriers based on gender that interfere with one’s equal opportunities and rights.

In 2011, the Dear Colleague Letter ( was issued across campuses, calling for adherence and timely responsiveness to Title IX’s policies. .  We’re not sure why it became important to rescind this letter’s directives for quick and equitable responses.

The Campus Advocacy & Prevention Professionals Association (CAPPA) wrote in their CAPPA Position Statement on Title IX Implementation for Campus Sexual Assault: 

“Prevention professionals have at their fingertips solid evidence-informed strategies for educating students in this realm. These are focused on what decades of scholarship tell us about what factors are associated with harming others, especially in late adolescents and young adults, who comprise the majority of our students. These include both individual-level risk factors like a preference for impersonal sex and hostile masculinity, as well as community-level risk factors like general tolerance for sexual violence and weak community sanctions for sexual violence. It is our responsibility as student affairs and allied professionals to address the full range of risk factors in order to enable our students to live safely and thrive, not just on our campuses but in their family systems and post-education lives.”

As members of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA)’s Prevention Committee we know through experience  that we can make a difference when there is accessible, and knowledgeable support and treatment – especially when problematic behaviors are identified early. We can offer help to young adults struggling with their own sexual behaviors, personal boundaries,  and troubling concerns; and campuses can become  more safe for all students.   Training is a crucial element of providing equitable responses.  We understand that it is unfair and ineffective for college administration to be held accountable to create a safe environment without being given the training, preparation, and tools to know what to look for in high risk situations, how to assess risk in reports of misconduct or assault, or how to even engage its population in responsible bystander interventions and self-care behaviors. The answer isn’t to diminish the call to action of Title IX but rather to build its capacity to actually create sustainable change and reduce sexual violence and its harm on everyone impacted.

We can do better; Secretary DeVos is right – talking about sexual assault is a difficult and uncomfortable conversation, yet one that we are morally responsible to have and to get right. It is imperative to have conversations that illuminate our understanding of what it will take to create safe environments for all students. As a society at large, and as institutions of higher learning responsible for the safety of an estimated 20 million enrolled students, we have an ethical obligation to do better than eliminate the very processes that hold us accountable for the safety and well-being of anyone seeking an education.

We can do better; as Title IX provides a map for strengthening campus’s ability to practice and support safe and healthy boundaries and behaviors. Rather than disregarding or even eliminating Title IX’s responsibilities to provide responsible, honorable and protective responses to any concern of sexual harm, officials and campus leadership need to collectively guide the creation and maintenance of  learning environments that promote respect, empathy, understanding and above all – safety.

We can do better;  through ensuring that officials conducting investigations and hearing processes are provided annual and ongoing training on evidence informed understanding of what may contribute to sexual abuse, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault and stalking.  All students do deserve a fair and impartial process.  It is important to ensure that practices pertaining to investigations and hearings are fair.  We need to respond with balance, without labeling individuals as sexual predators or "monsterizing" anyone accused of sexual misconduct in ways that they can't recover from. We need to develop resources that allow both the accuser and the accused to continue their education while the investigation continues and ensures that punishments are not administered before a finding has been achieved. Schools are already required to do this through Title IX guidance and the Clery Act. The Clery Act requires that “proceedings must afford a “prompt, fair, and impartial process from the initial investigation to the final result” – with trained and non-biased officials.

We can do better; we must use what we know about college campus life to institute proactive and protective measures, resources and responses. We know that the college campus culture is one that may lend itself to acts of heightened impulsivity and more risk taking behaviors. The youth and young adults on these campuses are still experiencing intellectual, emotional and physical development changes that may contribute to other (environmental, social and personal) risks that may lead to sexually harmful behaviors.

In campus culture, there are risks of many forms of sexual misconduct, and if schools use the opportunity to intervene earlier, then everyone will benefit. Colleges and universities have the opportunity to intervene in all forms and all levels of sexual misconduct with responses that are individualized yet hold to standards of safety, well-being and equality. By taking early advantage of these opportunities, we can set a different social norm that does not wait until a sexual assault or rape is reported.   In fact, schools are responsible for understanding and addressing this, and do all they can do to "eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects”, as stated in Title IX. Prevention must be part of a school’s obligation. (Citation: .

We can do better; for courageous survivors of sexual assault seeking responses that are not only validating and respectful, but also address security needs. Sexual assault remains vastly under-reported we need to understand that there are many victims of sexual assaults both on and off our college campuses, deserving of justice and respect.

We can do better; by recognizing that medical and mental health services for students are critical for safety planning. Treatment and recovery supports for victims will only help strengthen a campus community, and for any youth or adult recognizing their own risk of harm to others and who bravely seeks out help, providing skilled resources is part of any comprehensive prevention plan. Treatment services and resources for individuals with sexual behavior problems can help individuals move forward with their lives and allow them to interact as productive members of society. 

We can do better; by having productive conversations that are informed by research, best practices and experience. Listening to every person affected by violence informs all of us of both compassionate and restorative steps to pursue, not only focusing on retribution. We know restorative justice brings about healing and change unlike retributive justice which brings only punishment.

We can do better; we know this is not the time to scale back Title IX requirements. Rather it is time to fully embrace and embed a commitment to improve our practices and dedicate our resources and knowledge to improving the safety, liberty, and well-being of everyone across all environments, including institutions for high learning.

We can do better!

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Little Bit of Sunshine, A Lot of Dedication & A Focus On Prevention: NPEIV Annual Forum 2017

By Katherine Gotch, MA, LPC
The National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence (NPEIV): Global Partners for Peace Annual Forum was held on Saturday September 23, 2017 in beautiful San Diego, California. NPEIV is a multidisciplinary collaboration of professionals, organizations and community members with the mission of making the prevention of all forms of interpersonal violence (e.g., sexual abuse/violence, child abuse, intimate partner/domestic abuse, elder abuse) a national priority and to encourage healthy relationships by linking science, practice, policy and advocacy. This was the 9th year for the Forum (formally Think Tank) and another successful coming together of people from around the world focused on ending all forms of interpersonal violence across the lifespan.
This year’s Forum began with recognition of prior leadership and the growth of the organization over the past ten years as highlighted by the addition of an Executive Board and a formal welcome to the first elected NPEIV president, Viola Vaughan-Eden.  Guest speakers Reco Bembry spoke about fundraising and philanthropy within a purpose driven economy, and Katherine Chon spoke on preventing and disrupting human trafficking victimization. The NPEIV National Plan was also highlighted, with an emphasis on the almost two hundred organizational and individual endorsements for the Plan.
NPEIV has seven actions teams (Public Awareness, Training & Mentoring, Research, Practice, Public Policy, Dissemination/Translation, Global Peace) focused on tackling all forms of interpersonal violence and supporting the mission of the National Plan, a fully referenced treatise of recommendations based in research, best practices, and common sense to further NPEIV's mission of ending interpersonal violence across the lifespan. Each action team met for the majority of the day to strategize and prioritize their agenda and activities for the upcoming year, with a final reporting of next steps to all attendees at the conclusion of the Forum.
As the Senior Chair of the Public Policy Action Team (AT5), it was wonderful to see the energy and interest from ongoing and new attendees at our meeting. In addition to continued work on proposed federal legislation focused on requiring training of all forms of interpersonal violence within undergraduate and graduate programs, development of an overarching statement for community engagement related to policy and reaching out to potential partnership organizations within each member’s community were identified as primary goals for AT5 members for the upcoming year. The intent of this community outreach is to develop stronger relationships with grassroots and community level programs and organizations directly involved with those impacted by interpersonal violence in order to facilitate mutual learning and strengthen the ability for policies to meet the needs of our diverse and unique communities. Continued work on research based policy was also an area of discussion, as well as strategies for incorporating trauma informed concepts into policy and the ongoing work on current areas of focus (e.g., corporal punishment, sexual abuse, intimate partner violence).
Activities of other action teams for the upcoming year included, but are definitely not limited to, effective linking of research to practice through the Violence Research Digest, creation of an easily accessible database of trauma practitioners to assist consumers in locating providers within their region, development of an NPEIV blog, strategies for addressing interpersonal violence at the international level, and continued work on the development of the Handbook of Interpersonal Violence Across the Lifespan.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my involvement with NPEIV over the past four years has been the networking and opportunities to learn from individuals across all disciplines, many of whom I may not have had the opportunity to connect with otherwise (e.g., medical professionals, members of the military, community members). To reach our shared goal of prevention, breaking down the silos in which we often become stuck and having dialogue without agenda across disciplines is the only way we will ever be successful – and I think NPEIV, as an umbrella partnership of numerous organizations, agencies, and individuals working to end interpersonal violence nationally and internationally, creates a safe venue for these sometimes difficult conversations, yet integral partnerships, to take place, develop and continue to grow.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Why Vigilante?

By David S. Prescott, LICSW, & Kieran McCartan, PhD
Sexual abuse is an issue that pits the public against the criminal justice system (and related professionals) like no other. There is a prevailing public view that offenders in general, and sexual offenders in particular, are not sufficiently punished for the crimes that they commit, that they do not get long enough sentences and that treatment/rehabilitation is a waste of resource (The Sun; Channel 4). The general public at times can be moved to taking action themselves in lieu or in spite of the work of professional organizations; which is what has happened in the UK over the last 10 years with the increase of community action and against suspected or known child sexual offenders (BBC).  The consequence of this is the establishment of “pedophile hunter” community groups (Channel 4). These are groups of people who go online and pretend to be children or other pedophiles in the hope of snaring other child sexual offenders. A lot of the volunteers in these organizations say that they are doing it because the police and the criminal justice system cannot be relied upon, with many of them coming from areas or social inequality and vulnerability. These groups argue that they are doing what they are to aid the police in protecting children and catching potential or known offenders. However, as we know, it is never that straightforward or one dimensional.
Previous discussions regarding pedophile hunter groups highlight emphasis their inherent problems for the system, in that they can Increase the risk from potential [or active] offenders, the potential harm to themselves as well as the fact that they maybe jeopardizing the cases that they are investigating, potentially resulting in the cases bring thrown out of courts. A colleague of ours observed what many miss. She works outside of our field, primarily in the field of treating combat veterans and road accident victims. Her response was, “Why aren’t we just helping people?” The world needs more of this kind of unvarnished truth-telling.
In the present situation, there is juxtaposition in the debate: these communities do not like or want the police in their communities and feel that they are better able to handle the issue with their own brand of justice. There was some work done by NIACRO in Northern Ireland a few years ago (Base 2) where they worked with paramilitary organizations to get them to stop targeting sexual offenders because of the impact that it was having on the communities in question and the victims (McLean & Maxwell). The issue is that while we may balk at the ethic, morality and consequences of this vigilante action the communities themselves see it as being fit for purpose and know the courts and the police are starting to soften their attitudes. Over the last three years there has been an increase in the use of evidence from these groups in court 20 out of 176 cases in 2014, 77 out of 256 cases in 2015 and 114 out of 259 cases in 2016 (BBC). Which has lead Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the national lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs' Council has stated that the Police may have to work with these groups to prevent and catch child sexual abusers (BBC). This is a problematic statement because in the same breath he is stating that these groups are putting themselves, communities and children at risk.  This is not the first time Simon Bailey has caused controversy in his statements around sex offender management for in March 2017 he suggested that internet only offenders should not be prosecuted (The Telegraph). The driving force behind his belief that internet only sex offenders should not be prosecuted was access to resources, finances and time for the police to deal with the volume of offences and offenders; it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to see that resources would be a driving force in working with pedophile hunters. The main issue is that there is growing interest and support for working with pedophile hunters from the courts, media and professionals; however, if you really want to engage communities and aid them in reporting and preventing child sexual abuse is this really the best method? We should be engaging with communities around education, around safeguarding and around child protection. We should be encouraging communities to work with the police and representatives of the state, to give these professionals information and allow them to do their jobs effectively. What we don’t want is people taking the law into their own hands and causing untold harm (Death of a man confronted by pedophile hunters in Northern Ireland).
On one hand, citizens throughout history have tipped off the police to wrongdoing. On the other hand, entrapment can be an abuse of police power. When even the Chief Constable believes this to be a problem, however, it’s time for society to take a closer look at its response not only to crime, but to sexual attraction to children. At what point do we give police the tools to do their job as ethically as possible and set limits on vigilantism? And how can we as citizens do more to aid efforts in prevention and treatment? At what point do we look at efforts such as Project Dunkelfeld and other prevention-focused organizations, figure out what works best about them, and move forward? At what point do we accept decades of scientific findings and conclude that punishment-only responses might be effective at punishment, but not at prevention?

Monday, September 25, 2017

NOTA Annual Conference 2017

By Kieran McCartan, PhD.
The annual NOTA conference took place from the 20th – 22nd September in Cardiff. The conference was a real mix of research, practice and engagement with colleagues from across the UK, Ireland and internationally (with attendees and speakers from a range of countries including the USA, Sweden and Spain). In this blog I am going to take you on a whistle stop tour of the event.

The 2017 plenaries combined research, practice and innovate approaches from a very international group of speakers. The conference started on the Wednesday with two keynotes addressing sex offender treatment, there was a discussion around the sex offender treatment evidence base and how it links to the effectiveness of treatment outcomes (Friedrich Losel) followed by an overview of the current state of sex offender treatment programs it the UK, with special reference to the development and roll out of Horizon and Kaizen (Mark Farmer). These keynotes offered us the opportunity to really reflect and consider the evidence base of sex offender treatment and how it fits into ideas around desistence, management and public protection. The second day of conference (Thursday) had keynotes that talked to current research and practice in Wales with young people who have committed sexual offences (Sharron Wareham & Sophie Hallett) as well as presentation of how sexual abuse is a public health issue, and how sexual abuse ties into the wider public health literature and debates (Emily Rotherman). These keynotes really emphasized the need to reframe and reconsider sexual abuse as an issue as well as the groups/sub-groups of perpetrators that it encompasses in a non-criminogenic/criminal justice only light; therefore by thinking in a health and life course informed way we can open up the range of debates and resources available to us. The last day of the conference (Friday) started with a really informative keynote on developments around the assessment of risk in Child Sexual Exploitation (Sarah Brown & Phil Ashford), which is important given the confluence of child sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation that exists (especially in frontline criminal justice) and needs to be better understood as well as streamlined. The closing plenary was on sexual, physical and psychological abuse in sport (Mike Harthill & Melanie Lang) which was particularly informative as it guided discussion around what was already available, what has been done previously and the impact of historical allegations on sport; which was useful for a NOTA audience that may not have been aware of all of the policies and practices in place. All of these plenaries really enforced the need for us to pull together what resources, tools and evidence that we have in accessible and fit for purpose way to be able to prevent as well as respond to sexual abuse.

The workshops spanned a full range of topics including: Circles of Support and Accountability (Nadia Wager & Chris Wilson; Micheal Sheath); public health approaches to sexual abuse and prevention (Kieran McCartan, Hannah Merdian, Derek Perkins, Danielle Kettleborough; Stuart Allardyce & Tom Squires); online offenders (Hannah Merdian & Derek Perkins; Roger Kennington); youth who sexually harm (Elisabeth Archer & Melanie Turpin; James Jackman; Jacqueline Page; Kathryn Lawrence & Wendy Steer; Stephen Barry & Ruth Archer); female sexual offenders (Andrea Darling); treatment (Siobhan Smith & Sam Slater; Anette Birgersson & Marie Wassberg; Jacinta Guilhermino & Lindsay Dickinson), as well as  risk assessment (Phil Brown; Emma Belton; Kieran McCartan & James Hoggett). The workshops were a good mix of research, evaluation, practical working, professional learning and knowledge exchange.

In addition to the traditional conference activities NOTA 2017 also had a public engagement event. Unfortunately, as with NOTA 2016, the public engagement event did not have many members of the public, a real learning point and a debate for the conference planning as well as prevention committee in planning for NOTA 2018,but instead welcomed 30+ conference attendees and local stakeholders to discuss how we can prevent Child Sexual Abuse. The session heard from national (Ceri Evans, Jon Brown, Claire Short & Kieran McCartan) and international (Emily Rothman & 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.
Also, NOTA 2017 acted as an opportunity to celebrate the work of Professor Anthony Beech who has made a long term, substantial and significant contribution to the sexual abuse field internationally, who is retiring this year.

NOTA 2017 fitted a massive amount of material in across three days, which left me informed, refreshed and looking forward to next year’s meeting in Glasgow (19th – 21st September 2018).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Author Q & A with Kristen Budd discussing "Deconstructing Incidents of Campus Sexual Assault: Comparing Male and Female Victimizations2.

Budd, K .M, Rocque, M., & Bierie, D. M. (2017). Deconstructing Incidents of Campus Sexual Assault: Comparing Male and Female Victimizations. Sexual Abuse. iFirst.

Research on campus sexual assault (CSA) has almost exclusively drawn on self-report data, examined undergraduates (i.e., students aged 18-24), and focused on female victimization. The few studies which included male CSA victims generally had fewer than 100 male subjects, which makes important statistical analyses difficult. To build upon prior literature and expand knowledge on male CSA victimization, we analyzed more than 5,000 incidents of CSA that were reported to police from across the United States using National Incident-Based Reporting System data (NIBRS; 1993-2014). We expanded victim age ranges to include those 17 to 32 years old and investigated more male CSA victimizations than prior work to date, approximately 350 incidents. Comparisons of male victim versus female victim CSA incidents, estimated via multivariate logistic regression, revealed several important patterns. Although both male and female victims were approximately 19 years old on average, perpetrators who assaulted females tended to be 23 years old while those assaulting males were on average 29. While 1% of CSA perpetrators offending against female victims were themselves female, 17% of perpetrators offending against male victims were female. Finally, CSA incidents with male victims were more likely to include multiple offenders, but less likely to involve stranger or Black perpetrators and also less likely to result in injuries relative to CSA incidents with female victims. Implications are discussed in terms of policing practices, and we pose new questions to the field regarding the study and prevention of CSA.

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

The idea for this project emerged from two recent events.  The first was a high-profile sexual assault from 2015 that was reported broadly in the press.  In brief, a student at an Ivy League school was convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault committed against an intoxicated and unconscious female student on campus.  Two courageous and fast thinking graduate students stopped the assault, apprehended the perpetrator, and then held him as they waited for law enforcement.  Knowing we had published on sexual assault, friends and colleagues asked us whether this type of sexual assault was rare or common on college campuses.  In short, we did not know the answer.  Although the victimization of college students is frequently studied, we noted only a small number of studies had isolated and focused on the campus setting itself in relation to sexual assault.  

The second event was a realization which came from casual conversations we had with other researchers.  Some colleagues mentioned they had uncovered a substantial number of female offenders in their studies of campus sexual assault (CSA).  However, each researcher also said something akin to “but we never reported those findings.” One reason for their omission(s) was that this finding was atypical (i.e., no other study had reported such a pattern) so each presumed it must be a statistical anomaly. There was also concern that emphasizing female CSA offenders in reports could distract policymakers from male-on-female sexual assaults or even lead to backlash (i.e., given society’s resistance to recognize that females do sexually offend).  However, because we had heard this from multiple researchers, we were in a unique position to realize that this likely was not an anomaly at all. 

We pondered and discussed these two distinct events while working on other projects.  After seeing the call for the special issue in Sexual Abuse about institutions in relation to sexual assault, we knew we had a great opportunity to move beyond discussion and really dig in on CSA by focusing on the campus location itself.  We used the National Incident-Based Reporting System data (also referred to as the “NIBRS”) for a few reasons: (a) it had a clean measure of location, college and university, (b) it drew data from a large number of states and over many years, and (c) it had a relatively large sample size to use.  We then contacted Michael Rocque, a fellow colleague, who had some experience thinking about crime within school contexts.  He agreed to join the project.  This led us to our next challenge: designing the study itself.

What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?

In regard to the research process, we wanted to ensure that we had strong logical arguments that supported using the NIBRS data.  Given that most sexual assault is vastly underreported, and that the NIBRS data are based on police reports, we had to think through how the NIBRS data added to the discussion on CSA.  Ultimately, we decided it had unique strengths, such as the ability to speak directly to a subset of cases that law enforcement and university officials would respond to.

A related challenge with the NIBRS was that although we wanted to explore different university roles (e.g., student, teaching assistant, professor, coach) in relation to CSA, we could not.  While the NIBRS data provide more than 20 victim-offender relationships, our “ideal” relationships were not included.  Therefore, we began to shift toward age as inherently interesting and also, perhaps, a proxy for these other roles.  Hence, we did a lot of investigating in regard to college populations (e.g., graduate and undergraduate) and how they have changed over time (e.g., sociodemographics, like minimum and maximum age of entry into college, average age of graduate students, and so on).  We also investigated retirement age for faculty.  This research on age was an important facet that laid the groundwork for the study.  With that said, we knew we had to be inherently mindful about our language-use in the manuscript to ensure we did not suggest age reflected roles and relationships that we simply could not measure and analyze.

We also faced challenges that many other collaborators face.  Two of us work in academia and the other in federal law enforcement.  Given our different obligations and workloads, many drafts were shared over evenings and weekends.  We also have three unique perspectives that span from translational criminology to sociology of law to criminological theory and neuroscience.  We debated language often and constantly re-wrote each other’s work.  This was a challenge, but also a strength.  It maximized the number of ideas both analytically and in terms of communicating those ideas in a way each other could understand. 

What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about campus sexual assault?

Our study specifically examined differences between male and female victims of CSA.  For a variety of reasons, CSA studies have focused almost exclusively on female victims.  In addition, most previous research has used survey approaches, given the known underreporting with sexual assault in general and even more so on college campuses.  Our use of the NIBRS over an extended period of time allowed us to obtain a sizeable sample of events to specifically compare males to females.  This comparison research had rarely been done due to small sample sizes of male victims of CSA.

We learned that when males were victims in CSA incidents, they were more likely to be victimized by older perpetrators.  Given the focus on undergraduates and sexual victimization, our expanded age range made it possible to see, that at least for reported incidents of CSA against male victims, while on average male victims were 19-years-old, perpetrators were on average 10 years older.  Although female victims were also on average 19-years-old, their offenders were on average only a few years older.  In addition, we found that while males were the most likely perpetrator of both males and female victims in CSA incidents, females were the perpetrators of male victims 17% of the time. 

So, given our conversations with other colleagues about female perpetrators of CSA, these findings in particular were something important that we learned and could disseminate to academics, law enforcement, school administrators, and the like. 

Another important thing we learned, or had reinforced, was that it is really important to identify and then challenge methodological or theoretical assumptions pervasive in a field of study.  We learned a great deal, and offered new facts and puzzles to the field, because of the inclusion of male victims, female offenders, and considering those below age 18 and above age 22.

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

We believe an implication of our work is that school officials need to recognize that males are victims of sexual assault a non-trivial amount of time.  Since our data relied on reported events, it is likely that there are even more unreported male victims that are in need of attention.  Prevention and response programming on campuses need to ensure that prevention services are targeted toward female victims and male perpetrators, but also targeted toward male victims and female offenders.

Second, practitioners need to pay attention to the differences in CSA between female and male victims, including age of perpetrator--that the average age for the perpetrators of male victims was 29 indicates there may be a different sort of relationship than the standard party/hook up culture that has been the focus of much work on CSA.  In addition, a non-trivial percentage of males were victimized by females, which is an overlooked area of potential intervention.  

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Cure Violence Program: If there is a “cure” for violence, where does it lie?

By Kieran McCartan, PhD and David S. Prescott, LICSW

Many of us recall the confusion of early attempts to prevent, treat, resolve, and grow beyond the harm of sexual violence. Early observations that there was “no cure” for sexual violence often led to misunderstanding rather than deeper knowledge about assessing, treating, and preventing it. Over time, many of us worked tirelessly to remind the world that the act of sexual abuse is a behaviour that can be changed and not simply an incurable disorder; at the individual level, our clients are human beings who change over time and not simply immutable monsters. At street level, the “no-cure language” has changed in statutes. However, the search for the societal ills that result in violence continue – and yes, at that level of abstraction, many believe there is a cure. Many organizations have championed efforts at reducing sexual violence; this blog focuses on one that is seeking to prevent all violence.

Recently, Kieran travelled to the University of Illinois at Chicago and met with staff from the Cure Violence program. The idea behind Cure Violence is that the world has been looking at the idea of violence from a problematic perspective for many years, and that we can prevent – and not just respond to – violence. The Cure Violence program has operated for over fifteen years and across nine different countries. Traditional responses to violence are rooted in notions of criminal justice, with a punitive and reactive response; communities punish and rehabilitate violent offenders after the fact. Therefore, you need to become a perpetrator of violence, have a victim, and be involved with the criminal justice system in some capacity before you can learn how to prevent future violent acts. People who perpetrate sexual abuse commonly experience this, despite the emergence of support groups and organizations whose mission is to help those who are afraid that abuse may occur and are seeking help.

The Cure Violence program, however, looks at violence from a more holistic perspective, stating that society needs to view violence as a health issue and that we can use a public health approach to respond to it. The core idea underlying the program is that violence operates like an epidemic: it spreads across neighbours (through social learning) infecting people socially, psychologically, and culturally, resulting in more violence. Thus, violence inevitably begets more violence, even though the risk factors and context in which they exist can change from one person to the next. Although the program originally focused on intercity gang violence, it can be used to discuss and think about various forms of violence, including sexual violence. Through the work of staff in Cure Violence the cycle and spread of violence can be interpreted and, therefore, stopped, by:

-          Detecting and interrupting potentially violent conflicts

The program employs violence interrupters to work within vulnerable communities, to help identify and provide early intervention to sources of violence. These interrupters have to have credibility within the communities that they work in and be seen as a legitimate resources by the at risk populations, because they come from these communities and have histories of violence themselves as perpetrators or victims. The interrupters work to defuse the situation and refer the community members onto other organisations that can help support them in a more bespoke and appropriate, way.


-          Identify and treat individuals at the highest risk

Outreach workers help support the vulnerable community by offering them ongoing and appropriate support. The aim of this part of the program is to work with the people who are at the highest risk of committing violence and offer then support in making better long term life choices that do not involve violence.


-          Mobilise communities to change norms

The program works with all levels of community members in the communities that it works within to enable social change so that the community as a whole rejects violence; suggesting that there are other means of conflict resolution and new, adaptive ways of moving forward.

The Cure Violence program provides insight into preventing sexual violence; it provides a model and way of thinking/working in this arena. There are differences between sexual and other forms of violence, but this program offers us adaptability rather than roadblocks. Reflecting on the Cure Violence program and how it relates to sexual violence:

-          Victims of violence and victims of sexual violence often suffer from similar psychology, emotional, social, health, economic and life course challenges as a consequence;

-          Often times sexual violence is lumped together in communities with high levels of social, political, and health vulnerabilities (such as other forms of violence);

-          There is often a relationship between being a victim of general violence and being a victim of sexual violence. This can often be endemic in communities, families, peer groups and geographical areas;

-          Some perpetrators of sexual violence have been victims of sexual violence themselves previously, as well as other forms of violence and abuse;

-          There is a growing recognition that sexual violence, like other forms of violence, occurs within community structures (i.e., sports clubs, communities, gangs, networks, etc.). Therefore, understanding how to respond to affected communities in an appropriate way becomes all the more urgent;

-          Sexual abuse, like other types of violence, can be prevented;

-          We need to understand and honour the voices of both those who perpetrate and are victimised by sexual violence so that we can develop better resources to stop sexual violence before it happens (we see this in the prevention of sexual violence re-offending, but we need to move it further out into society); affected communities can be leaders in this area.

-          We need better support and awareness for at-risk communities so that sexual violence can be prevented;

-          We need to develop better resources, means and mechanisms for engaging communities in changing social norms around=d sexual violence. We have started to do this over the past 10 years but we need to get better at it and learning from an equivalent program would enable us to do that.

Cure Violence asks us to reconceptualise the reality of violence, and therefore how we can best respond to it. Some organizations are starting to do this with sexual violence, taking a preventive, public health approach and it seems that the Cure Violence program may help just on our path to achieving it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Step One of Cultural Competency Addressing Privilege & Power

Note to readers: This week’s Blog by Cordelia builds upon and adds to the blog that myself and David Prescott wrote last week on “Race, culture, community & abuse”.  Thanks, Kieran.

by Cordelia Anderson

Child sexual abuse, sexual violence and pornography are not easy topics to talk about, but in my experience raising up questions related to power, privilege and race are even tougher. Just like trying to talk about “sex offenders”, invitations to talk about such difficult topics often results in defensive, protective, ambivalence, or even angry responses. Most organizations who work with victims and survivors are raising these difficult questions.  In fact, most of my thinking related to - power, privilege & what’s all involved in cultural competency -  I have learned from and with those who work with survivors/victims, and with those who work on social justice as part of prevention.  

However, I wonder how the sensitive but pervasive issues related to our own sense of power, race, class, and disabilities translate into the work of treating and researching those who sexually offend.  As a member of this ATSA Prevention Committee, I am hoping our entire organization will grapple with how this all fits within the priorities and engage in these discussions. I am writing this blog as an invitation to further conversations and perhaps more attention to this in your practice, your research and in discussions at our conferences.

Questions to consider include:
-     Are White/Caucasian professionals sensitive to the unique experiences of clients who are people of color? Or, what it is like for professionals in the field who are people of color who work in dominantly White organizations?
-     Do White/Caucasian professionals recognize limits to their understanding of ways clients of color experience prejudices across settings, including in our own offices?
-      Do we as White/Caucasian professional spend time reflecting on our own power and privilege and how this influences the personal and professional decisions we make?

We know that sexual abuse thrives in secrecy and shame. For years, our organization and our practices might have reflected the isolation of the very issue we have been working on.  More recently, we have begun to also understand the need for increasing cultural competency. However, if we expand our vision even further, we will see that there are tensions between the focus on cultural competency versus racial justice.  At the core of that difference is our need to not only learn more about the individuals we work with but to begin to address our individual and collective privileges as professionals that do this work.    We have made a commitment to healing and to minimize the harm that has been done.  But what if we are also, unintentionally increasing the harm? 

Therapists and advocates appreciate the importance of dealing with the whole person, their family and community of support to address the presenting problem or issue.  Those who do prevention work know the importance of expanding that view even further to also address the environment and social norms that create families, communities, organizations and societies where harm is likely to develop and continue. 

The issues we work with are complex enough that the tendency is to say we cannot afford to further muddy the waters by addressing race, power and privilege.  Or we may say that there are more pressing issues in the work we do in terms of community safety. 

I’ve been at this work for over 40 years and in the time, I have left, I hope to engage in meaningful conversations with colleagues and organizations that I care deeply about in ways that address the intersections of these issues. I believe the first step toward cultural competency and a social justice framework is to more fully and intentionally face my white privilege and the norms of institutional and systemic white supremacy. It is not comfortable to talk about or easy work to do but it is essential.  One example of the work in this area that’s underway is the 2018 theme of the MASOC/MATSA’s conference is cultural competency. 

Since first writing this blog in May, and then holding off on submitting it until closer to the ATSA conference, there has been so much happening in this country and around the world that raises the urgency of engaging in these discussions and taking appropriate action. With such challenging issues, it can be helpful to consider actions we can actually take. We can:
-    Commit to meaningful – though often uncomfortable – conversations about our own privilege and power.
-     Commit to on-going learning about how such power and privilege affects the effectiveness of our work and quality of our relationships.
-         Intentionally address power and privilege when creating goals for our own work and the goals of our clients.

I am writing with great humility about my own limitations related to all of this. I know likely, I stepped in it in one way or another. Still, I believe the risk is worth it to get more meaningful conversations on this topic going and to revisit ATSA’s role.  I believe it is an opportune time for ATSA to do even more with these conversations and related actions. The ATSA Prevention Committee is hosting a panel related to how this fits with prevention. It will be on Thursday, October, 26, from 5-6. We hope you can attend, read some of the writings below and/or find other ways to engage further in this work.

For those interested in this topic these readings may be of interest:

Hard Conversations: An Introduction to Racism

Say the Wrong Thing: Stories and Strategies for Racial Justice and Authentic Community, by Dr. Amanda Kemp, Lisa Graustein, June 16, 2016,

The Audrey Lorde Project;

“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” by Peggy McIntosh,;

“Why I Left My White Therapist”, Chaya Babu, 1/18/17