Saturday, November 8, 2014

ATSA 33rd Annual Conference – San Diego 2014 (Part 1 of 2)

The ATSA conference has come to a close for another year, thank you San Diego and we are looking forward to Montreal next year. We (that is Jon, David and myself) thought that we would reflect upon the conference and highlight some of the interesting sessions and papers that were presented, for the benefit of those could and could not make the conference…

Jesse Bering opened the conference on Thursday morning with a plenary session that was as provocative as the title: Does Lust Make Us Stupid? The Effects of Sexual Arousal on Decision Making. Bering is the author of Perv, the Sexual Deviant in All of Us. Bering presented an extensive literature review that suggests, as one might suspect, that lust does indeed make us stupid. Again, not surprisingly, it appears that males are more lustful, and “stupid,” than females. Bering suggested that significant “lustful differences” between genders have biological and evolutionary explanations. He also explained how social rules for interpersonal sexual behaviors, with historical and cultural roots, are constantly evolving. Despite efforts, beginning with Kinsey, to understand the range of human sexual behaviors, we don’t have sufficient research to know what variants of sexual arousal are truly within the range of “normal.” In contrast, Bering offered compelling illustrations for how our knowledge of deviant sexual behaviors is little more than anecdotal. Bering’s presentation was a captivating, if not unsettling, sequel to last year’s keynote by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, on A Billion Wicked Thoughts – what the Internet tells us about sexual behavior and relationships. (JB)

On the Thursday evening there was a special interest group session by Berkley Media Studies Group on their NSVRC/ATSA backed study examining the representations of sexual abuse and sex offenders in the media. Their findings, so far, are that the media typically frames sexual offenders as predominantly a monster narrative that is mainly reactionary, criminal justice orientated and negative. They suggested that we need to reframe our sexual violence narrative in terms of prevention and bring that to the media in order to enable them to reframe the conversation. There was also a discussion of the changing sites of media engagement with blogs, twitter and social networking needing to be used more effectively. In addition, there was a discussion of how long-running stories could be utilized to change the conversation, so the 3rd or 4th day story could be about prevention rather than trying to get in on the page on day one. Finally, there was a conversation about how we should be more strategic in talking with the media, both in terms of talking to them where they live (their conferences, at media “camps” at big stories) and bringing them to where we live (having the media representative on boards being a journalist). (KM)

If anyone has not attended a recent workshop by Phil Rich, they might not be up-to-speed on the latest research and best practices for the treatment of adolescents who have sexually offended. I once asked Phil how he keeps up with the literature, which he seems to devour. He replied that he’s driven by the constant concern that there might be some breaking research that he should be aware of. Phil presented three different workshops at ATSA; one, as a co-presenter, on neurodevelopmental research, and two solo: A Contemporary Approach to the Treatment of Sexually Abusive Youth: A Relational Approach, and The Role of Case Formulation in the Treatment of Sexually Abusive Behavior. Every workshop that Phil presents is a densely-packed compendium of the latest research applied to best practices. Phil also draws on his extensive experience in the field, to account for all the moving parts of effective treatment. When Phil presents, the only thing that moves faster than his Powerpoint slides is his mind. Phil offers so much content in his presentations that many attendees can’t take notes fast enough. Those who know that his Powerpoint handouts contain most of the content, can spend more time trying to absorb the wealth of wisdom. (JB)

On the Friday afternoon there was a CoSA panel (Ian Elliott, Kathy Fox, Andrew McWhinnie & Robin Wilson) which updated us on where Circles of Support and Accountability research was currently at across the USA as well as Canada. The panel indicated that CoSA was developing numerous programs across the USA and that, despite small local statewide differences to implementation, that there was capacity for USA wide evaluation, with data from some states (especially Vermont) that CoSA was assisting sex offenders to desist as well as increase their levels of community engagement. The session highlighted the capacity building in respect to CoSA nationally and internationally, with a number of international researchers talking about ongoing evaluations and evidenced-based work in their areas. (KM)

Please come back next week for more reflections upon the conference.

Kieran McCartan & Jon Brandt

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