Monday, November 29, 2010

Free Webcast -- Competing Meanings of Childhood - Implications for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

Hello All:

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday...

I'm taking this brief opportunity to give some free advertising to our friends at Stop It Now!, who are offering a free webcast, details as follows:

Competing Meanings of Childhood
Implications for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

How do you view children? Vulnerable? Innocent and inherently good? Inherently evil? Knowledgeable and active participants in society? Join Stop It Now! for a FREE webcast (December 7) when Dr. Dominic Pasura of the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies (University of Huddersfield, UK) will help us unpack our assumptions about children to improve our practice of preventing child sexual abuse.The webcast is part of our collaboration with the University of Huddersfield and follows a webcast by Centre Director, Dr. Adele Jones, on child sexual abuse in the Caribbean. It is one way that we are marking the World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse (19 Nov) and World Day of Prayer and Action for Children (Nov 20).

Join us and Dr. Dominic Pasura of the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies as he explores different meanings of children and childhood internationally and their significance in the prevention of child sexual abuse.

Date: Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Time: 9am-10am Eastern USA
Cost: FREE

Register @

Please note that Stop It Now! has timed this for their international partners. An archived webcast will be available after the presentation. Please contact if you would like to be on the list to be notified about the archive.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Psychologically Meaningful Risk Factors

Inspired by: Mann, R.E., Hanson, R.K., & Thornton, D. (2010). Assessing risk for sexual recidivism: Some proposals on the nature of psychologically meaningful risk factors. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Published on April 2, 2010 as doi:10.1177/1079063210366039.

I've been somewhat consumed of late regarding this issue of how best to compare certain offenders into the various Static-99R normative samples. Of course, this process has huge implications, both for the offender himself and for community safety. The process of choosing between “routine”, “preselected for treatment participation”, “preselected for risk/need”, and “non-routine” has generated healthy debate (see Campbell & DeClue, 2010--link 1 below; Wilson & Looman, 2010--link 2 below), but no clear answers or protocols as to best practices.

I have argued elsewhere (link 2) that most evaluators will accept that there are risk factors that are important to consider--but not necessarily precisely tapped by Static-99R--in comprehensively determining risk to reoffend. These factors might include sexual deviance, psychopathy, and other factors as delineated in the literature. However, there are as yet few systematic protocols for combining these factors with static actuarial scores. During a recent preconference workshop at the annual ATSA conference in Phoenix, David Thornton stated:

For any given Static-99R score common degrees of variation in Need produce dramatic differences in recidivism risk. This remains true within any specified degree of pre-selection. You can’t accurately evaluate recidivism risk without systematically evaluating Need.

I couldn't agree more and, as professionals in the field, I encourage you all to read the paper noted above by familiar ATSA members Ruth Mann, Karl Hanson, and David Thornton. In this highly readable paper, the authors present an excellent summary of the risk assessment process, reviewing various categories of risk factors and the many means by which to measure them. Overall, I found their perspective refreshingly honest. Two of the authors (Karl and David--and I'm certainly not suggesting that Ruth is not also a big part of this field) clearly have a lot at stake, given their respective contributions to the risk assessment literature. Yet the paper freely admits that many methods are less than perfect and that we still have much to learn.

One of my favorite lines in the paper came early (in the abstract):

Although it is possible to conduct risk assessments based purely on empirical correlates, the most useful evaluations also explain the source of the risk. (emphasis in the original)

I have read many a risk assessment in my time and, unfortunately, all too often there is a certain mechanical quality to them. I like the idea of making sure that the receivers of our risk assessment findings can be better informed as to what we're actually talking about, especially if this means including elements of elegance and eloquence along with the facts and data. As such, the term "psychologically meaningful" resonates with me.

Mann et al. make distinctions between risk factors that are empirically supported, promising, unsupported--but with interesting exceptions, worth exploring, and those with little or no relationship to sexual recidivism. They provide suggested means by which to ascribe factors to these various categories, as well as examples of each (with a comprehensive review of the literature underscoring each). This latter aspect makes the paper quite useful to persons who don't necessarily have the time to review each and every individual paper on factors potentially predictive of risk to reoffend. Ultimately, they turn to the concept of "causal" factors--those that might actually be so pertinent as to provide reasons for offending. Mann et al. state that "assessment and treatment for sexual offenders should focus on empirically established causal risk factors," but stop short of telling us what those factors are. That's where our research needs to focus going forward.



Training Opportunities in Florida and Michigan

Hello All:

Training sessions entitled "Introductory Training for Enhancing Community Safety through Interagency Collaboration" offered by the Comprehensive Approaches to Sex Offender Management (CASOM) grant program funded by the SMART Office, will be held in Tampa on Dec 6/7, 2010 and Sutton's Bay on January 6/7, 2011.

Details for the Tampa event are as follows (details of the Michigan event are forthcoming):

Monday, December 6 – Tuesday, December 7, 2010 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM Tampa, Florida

Training Location: Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina 700 S. Florida Ave., Tampa, FL 33602

The flyer is found at:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Guest Blogger -- Jill Levenson on "Fugitive Sexual Offenders"

Good Morning, Folks:

Here's a guest blog by former and incoming ATSA Board Member Jill Levenson of Florida.

regarding ...

Dr. Jill Levenson, Dr. Andrew Harris, Dr. Alissa Ackerman, and Dr. Kristen Zgoba are currently embarking on a series of research projects exploring the make-up and utility of U.S. registries as well as the intended goals and outcomes of the Adam Walsh Act. In a recent article submitted for publication to a reputable social science journal, we analyzed data on 445,127 registered sex offenders obtained directly from the public registries of 49 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and Guam. In contrast with the homogenized perception about registered sex offenders that permeates much public discourse, the analysis illuminated the wide diversity of registrants across a range of demographic, offense-related, registry status, and risk-oriented variables.

Specifically, we attempted to clarify the repeatedly cited statistic that 100,000 sex offenders are "missing." Curiously, we were able to identify only 17,688 RSOs who were designated by states to be transient, homeless, absconded, non-compliant, or whose address or whereabouts are otherwise unknown. Nationwide, a total of 5,349 offenders were officially listed as absconded; 1,264 were listed as missing/unable to be located and 4,152 were listed as having failed to comply with registration requirements. We had no way of specifically confirming the number of fugitive sex offenders, since states had a wide variety of methods for classifying absconders, registration violators, and others whose locations are uncertain. Despite the NCMEC report that "at least 100,000 sex offenders are noncompliant and no one knows where they are" (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2007), we have been unable to ascertain NCMEC's formula for their calculation of missing sex offenders. Using the data downloaded directly from public registries, and utilizing the inclusive figure of 17,688 offenders described above (approximately 4% of our total sample), we found no evidence to support the notion that one-sixth (or about 17%) of the nation's sex offenders are missing or unaccounted for.

It is unlikely that all sex offenders who fail to comply with registration are willful violators, and despite the claims of the U.S. Marshall's Service most noncompliant offenders do not appear to have absconded. Many "missing" sex offenders are not truly missing; they may appear to be missing due to inadequate or incomplete address information, data entry errors, lag times in updating registry information, unauthorized travel, or homelessness. Some might be confused by complex registration laws, carelessly neglecting to fulfill registration requirements but continuing to report to parole or probation agents and remaining in their known locations despite their lapsed registration.

Through our data analysis, we were also able to extrapolate and draw some general inferences about the relative risk of the U.S. RSO population. Through our data collection process, we know that approximately 33% of the RSOs reported by NCMEC are not listed on public registries. Thus, we presume that about one-third of the nation's sex offenders have been assessed by their state's sex offender management procedure to pose low risk for future offending, and therefore they are not subjected to community notification. Even among those found on public registries (ostensibly higher risk offenders from some states and all offenders from other states), a distribution of risk exists, with a minority designated in most states as high risk, predator, or sexually violent.

Another notable finding is the considerable number of RSOs who are not residing in the community. All told, approximately 12% (N=52,248) of RSOs appear to not be living in the community, with a total of 47,978 people incarcerated or civilly committed, 1,028 listed as deceased, and 3,251 listed as deported.

Interestingly, in several published studies, failure to register as a sex offender was not associated with an increased likelihood of sexual reoffending.

Public internet registries were designed to alert citizens to the presence of sex offenders living nearby so that action can be taken to potentially prevent victimization. It is unclear why deported or deceased offenders remain on public registries, as the public safety value of this information seems dubious. As well, the funding allocated for tracking the nation's sex offenders is based on the registry count reported by NCMEC -- an inflated figure that includes individuals for whom no tracking is needed because they are institutionalized, dead, or deported. In one particularly illuminating example, out of over 54,000 sex offenders registered in Florida, more than half are not actually living in Florida communities. About 28% are institutionalized and about one-quarter are living in other states. This information is not readily apparent in the data reported by NCMEC; rather, it was evident only after downloading a publicly available datafile from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website and speaking with the state's registry data manager to resolve discrepancies. In other words, many publicly identified RSOs may not be living amongst us.

As for the Adam Walsh Act, which sought to introduce greater uniformity of sex offender registration and notification systems, we concur that standardized definitions and measures across states would help close gaps that currently exist and provide for needed consistency in policies. However, the rules by which AWA seeks to impose jurisdictional uniformity – rules that rely on a common offense-based classification scheme and ignore other germane risk factors – are far more likely to obscure important differences among registered offenders than to shed more light on them. Offense-based designations cover a wide and diverse spectrum of behavior patterns, and accordingly obscure important distinctions impacting a given offender’s public safety risk. Researchers from NY have already found that the Adam Walsh tiers did a poor job of predicting reoffending. Many states have adopted more refined approaches (e.g. utilizing empirically derived risk assessment methods) to distinguish the most dangerous offenders and to assist in the efficient allocation of resources concordant with an offender's threat to the community. The tier system under the Adam Walsh Act, however, will potentially render certain aspects of those systems obsolete, mandating increasingly more inclusive public internet disclosure that ultimately might prove to be less informative for concerned citizens. This problem is one of the controversies impacting nationwide compliance with federal law.

Prevention of repeat sexual violence is a complex endeavor not easily solved with statutory solutions. The current emphasis on publicly identifying and tracking known offenders may do a disservice to the public, since over 90% of sexually abused children are victimized by someone well known to them with no previous sex crime record, not a stranger found on a registry. Recidivism rates are much lower than commonly believed; the U.S. Dept of Justice reported a 5.3% sexual recidivism rate over 3 years and Canadian researchers report about 14% over 4-6 years. Even over longer follow-up periods of 15-20 years, research indicates that about three-quarters of sex offenders are NOT re-arrested for a subsequent sex crime (in stark contrast to this statement: "These guys are dangerous," Anderson said. "They have a sexual appetite that can only be satisfied by going after who they deem to be sexually arousing — such as kids, minors, toddlers, infants — and doing it by rape. When they want sex, they want it then.").
Certainly, a subgroup of sexual offenders IS dangerous and likely to reoffend. But the quickly growing population of registered sex offenders (now nearing one million) obscures our ability to identify the most high risk individuals, and spreads resources quite thin. A more targeted approach using risk assessment methods would help to allocate resources more efficiently to provide closer monitoring of those more likely to pose a threat to public safety.

Jill Levenson, Ph.D.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sex Addiction??

From the Chicago Tribune, on a tip from Robin McGinnis...,0,2505230.story

So, what's all the fuss about "sex addiction"?

Tiger Woods, Jesse James, and a whole lot of other "famous" people are coming out of the woodwork claiming to be addicted to sex. The article in the link above from the Chicago Tribune suggests that sex addiction is something of a celebrity issue-du-jour, as if somehow celebrities (and others, for that matter) haven't been sexually misbehaving for eons (think Gene Simmons).

Just to be clear...There are certainly people who spend too much time obsessing on sexuality and who ultimately get themselves into trouble because of it. The fact that the internet is rife with sexually explicit materials can result in a virtual "kid in a candy store" scenario. But, is this actually addiction, in the same sense as we understand it for alcohol, heroin, and other substances?

As I understand it, there are neurochemical effects from engaging in certain behaviors, just as there are from ingesting certain substances. Typically, these activities/substances are supposed to result in some sort of positive experience (e.g., euphoria, a "high", "mellowing out", a feeling of being energized, or at least feeling more at ease). But, don't we also get this from eating when we're hungry or drinking when we're thirsty. For that matter, even less socially appealing activities (e.g., defecation, urination) generate a certain degree of pleasurable sensation. Presumably, this is so that we will be sufficiently encouraged to engage in those behaviors, etc. that ensure good health or the propagation of the species. But, again, how does this figure into the concept of addiction?

My training was that you couldn't be addicted to a natural process, and that doing too much of something you would do naturally was "maladaptive drive reduction" or some kind of dysregulation. That still sits better with me. In reading the article, it seems that the traditional definition of addiction doesn't necessarily map well onto things like sex; particularly, in regard to aspects like withdrawal. Check out ATSA's own Marty Kafka, giving his two cents worth. Of course, Hypersexual Disorder (Marty's baby) is being proposed in the modifications to paraphilia diagnoses that may or may not come with DSM-5.

I was at a presentation given by Patrick Carnes at an addictions conference in Bermuda some years ago. I remember listening to him talk about "sex addiction", but thinking, "he's describing maladaptive drive reduction". Who knows? One thing is for sure, as long as there are celebrities...


Friday, November 12, 2010

Tragic sex case warrants look at teens and sex crimes law

From the Detroit Free Press, on a tip from Luis Rosell:

This case brings back to the forefront the concept of so-called "Romeo and Juliet" offenses, in which one of two young persons engaging in sexual activity is over the age of consent while the other is not. Although none of us would ever condone hurtful sexual activity between any two persons, regardless of age, sexual offender service providers are divided as to whether these sorts of scenarios constitute sexual offenses, per se, in the sense that we most often consider in our work. In a world where age-of-consent is a complex concept, with elements of biology, morality, creed, and politics (among others), we are likely to see other such cases that spur controversy and public debate. Modern technology--especially camera phones, facebook, and other social networking tools--only makes the issue more complicated for young persons who are being visually bombarded like no other generation before them.

What are your thoughts?


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Static-99R Certification Training

Hello All:

For those sexual offender service providers looking to obtain Static-99R Certification Training, there will be a session held at this year's Connecting for Children's Justice Conference in Nashville, TN on November 21-23, 2010. There will also be a variety of other interesting workshops and papers presented.

Check out the program at:


Amazon no longer selling guide for pedophiles

From the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting an AP release ...

This particular article has already generated significant discussion on many list-serves and other bulletin boards.

From the article:

The book, "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct," offers advice to pedophiles on how to make a sexual encounter with a child as safe as possible. It includes first-person descriptions of such encounters, purportedly written from a child's point of view.

This would appear to be a clear case of where the rubber meets the road on the issue of First Amendment rights vs. public safety (especially children). No doubt, many people will have passionate views on the subject. Feel free to share some of them here.


SA:JRT Blog gets started

Well, here we go ...

Today is the first day of actual live blogging on the SA:JRT blogspot. Please feel free to have a look around and to follow the interesting tidbits of news and the like that we will try to highlight here. Also, if you have any comments, ideas, or links you wish to share, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at We hope to build a blogspot that will raise awareness of sexual abuse and associated social issues.

Have fun with it!

Robin J. Wilson, Ph.D., ABPP
Resident Blogger

Top court hears kinky arguments

From ...

In what Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin called a “funny offence,” the Ontario Court of Appeal in Canada recently overturned a Lower Court decision finding a man guilty of Sexual Assault. The issue hinges on the interesting concept of whether a person can give consent to sexual activities that will eventually occur when that person is unconscious. In this specific case, a woman apparently gave consent to her partner to tie her up, choke her into unconsciousness, and then penetrate her with a dildo. Six weeks after the escapade occurred, she changed her mind and called police, resulting in her partner being charged and convicted of a sexual offense.

This case raises some very interesting issues. Coming to my mind ... What happens if a couple consents to sexual activity before they drink or use mind-altering chemicals and then engage in sex under the influence? Indeed, the implications go even beyond sexual activity to the issue of what can one consent to, while of sound mind, that may ultimately occur when they are not. For instance, if one cannot give advance consent to sexual activity while unconscious, can one in advance refuse life-saving efforts via a "do not rescusitate" order?

The case will now be heard before the Supreme Court in Canada.