Monday, July 27, 2015

In 500 words (or less): Talking Risk Management with Hazel Kemshall

Risk has been called the ‘world’s largest industry’ (Adams 1995: 31). We are faced with a bewildering array of risks in our everyday lives, ranging from health risks, crime risks, and those risks caused by climate change (Kemshall et al 2013), and we are constantly urged to ‘manage risk’.  Responding to the risks posed by others and reducing risks to vulnerable people are all in a day’s work for busy  practitioners in agencies such as social work, probation, and prison, or for those offering treatment and intervention to ‘risky groups’.   Risk management is an activity many of us regularly engage in, both in our personal and professional lives. But what is involved in this complex activity?

Risk management is inextricably linked to risk assessment.  The latter should clearly specify the risk factors that are present and their potential links with harmful outcomes; and identify any positive factors that have the potential to reduce or mitigate harm.  Risk management requires the careful matching of interventions and treatments to the risk factors outlined, and the enhancement, or at least consolidation, of any positive factors that can play a role in mitigating risk.  The failure to match interventions to risk factors plays a role in many risk management failures, including the failure to properly target those risky behaviours directly linked to harmful outcomes. Clarity of role and responsibilities, particularly in multi agency work, are also critical, with each agency making an agreed contribution to a focused, structured and clear plan, with delivery strategies and responsibilities clearly outlined with formal accountability structures to ensure delivery (Kemshall et al 2013).

Deciding thresholds of risk (low, medium, high for example), and particularly the thresholds of risk required to justify intrusive interventions including for example preventative or extended sentencing for sexual offenders, compulsory treatment programmes, and early interventions with ‘at risk families’ has been challenging.  Such thresholding can be dependent upon risk assessment tools that struggle to neatly categorise persons into tiers of risk. This can be exacerbated by practitioner subjectivity, and the atmosphere of ‘precautionary principle’ (better safe than sorry) that can permeate practice particularly following risk management failures.  The ethical, legal and moral challenges of preventative risk management, that is, risk management based upon preventing risks arising in the first place, have been acute (Titterton 2005).  In the risk management of sexual offenders this has most often occurred in legal and policy debates about indeterminate preventative sentencing; community notification; vetting and barring; restrictive licence conditions; and compulsory treatment (Kemshall 2008). 

Risk management measures for sex offenders in particular have attracted increasing evaluation of effectiveness.  Cognitive Behavioural Treatment interventions are the most supported by research (Schmuker and Losel, 2008). Other emerging programmes and approaches have been less well evaluated. However, there is effectiveness evidence for Circles of Support and Accountability (McCartan et al, 2014); Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) which has been robustly evaluated in relation to adolescent sexual offenders (Borduin et al, 2009) and is also found to be promising by Finkelhor (2009); and programmes based on the Good Lives Model or desistance approaches (e.g. The Better Lives Sex Offender Programme in the UK) seem to be making promising contributions to the positive management of risk and reintegration of individuals (Barnett and Mann, 2011; Scoones et al, 2012).

The evidence to date would indicate that a combination of risk management techniques is required for maximum effectiveness, comprising both protective and integrative measures (see Kemshall 2008: 132).  These include an appropriate balance of restrictive measures, supportive and integrative measures, pro-social supervision, and effective treatment/programme interventions to be successful.

Hazel Kemshall, PhD


Adams, J. (1995) Risk.  London: UCL Press.

Barnett, G. and Mann, R. (2011) ‘Good lives and risk assessment: collaborative approaches to risk assessment with sexual offenders’, in H. Kemshall and B. Wilkinson (eds) Good Practice in Assessing Risk: Current Knowledge, Issues and Approaches, London: Jessica Kingsley.#

Borduin, C.M., Schaeffer, C.M. and Heiblum, N. (2009) ‘A Randomized Clinical Trial of Multisystemic Therapy with Juvenile Sexual Offenders: Effects on Youth Social Ecology and Criminal Activity’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology © 2009 American Psychological Association.

Finkelhor, D. (2009) The Prevention of Childhood Sexual Abuse; available at:; accessed July 24th 2014.

Kemshall, H. (2008) Understanding the Community Management of High Risk Offenders.  McGraw Hill/Open University Press.

Kemshall, H., Wilkinson, B. and Baker, K. (2013) Working with Risk.  Skills for contemporary social work.  Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kemshall, H, Kelly, G. Wilkinson, B. and Hilder, S. (2014) What works in work with sexual offenders: A literature review.  Available at: management of high risk and dangerous offenders report; accessed 23 July 2015.

McCartan, K., Kemshall, H., Westwood, S., Solle, J., Mackenzie, G., Cattel, J. and Pollard, A. (2014) Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA): A Case File Review of Two Pilots. Analytical Summary. London: Ministry of Justice, available at:; accessed 23 July 2015.

Schumuker, M. and Losel, F. (2008) Does Sexual Offender Treatment Work? A systematic review of outcome evaluations. Psicothema 20, 10-19.

Scoones, C.D, Willis, G.M. and Grace, R. C. (2012) Beyond Static and Dynamic Risk Factors: The incremental validity of release planning for predicting sex offender recidivism. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27 (2) 222-238. Available at:; accessed July 24th 2014.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Get it, Got it, Good? Media interpretation and sexual harm

This week in the British media we have numerous reports about paedophilia and individuals who commit sexual harm against children, with the news (BBC 4, BBC and the Guardian) focusing on the work of Dunklefeld as well as Circles of Support and Accountability. In the main these reports are good news stories focusing on the work that Dunklefeld does in preventing sexual harm while recognizing that we as a society, as well as individually, maybe uncomfortable with the story being done.  These media reports emphases two important things to me,

-   firstly, that media engagement is as important, if not more important, in changing social perceptions and attitudes towards sexual harm than the research and practice work that we all engage in; and

-          secondly, that we are starting to see a shift in the type of sexual harm stories that the media cover and a change in the language as well as the approach that they use.

The media plays a central role in modern society (Mc Quail, 2010). The media is still the main method for the dissemination of information, the shaping of public perception and the reinforcement of societal attitudes (Greer, 2012).  Meaning that the media can have a great deal of power and influence, in that it can shape and influence public opinion, while at the same time inform society in a quick in-depth fashion that legitimizes the subject, thereby re-establishing the credibility of the story (Mc Quail, 2010). Research suggests that the public engage with the media, especially the press, in a number of different ways, to either shape, reinforce or consolidate their existing opinions as well as to shape new ones (Howitt, 1998; McQuail, 2010; Bohner and Wanke 2009); however, the impact of the media upon the public depends upon the reader, the story and the credibility of the source (Bohner and Wanke 2009). This suggests that the media can affect attitudes through a series of psychological and sociological processes including, but not limited to, stereotyping, group processes and norm reinforcement. Which suggests that there seems to be a relationship between the media and the public, with the public selecting its media based upon personal preference and the media producing public interest stories (Cohen and Young, 1981; Howitt, 1998; Gamson, Croteau, Haynes & Sassoon, 1992), as such indicating a repetitive cycle with it’s between the media and target audience which results in the reporting as well as creating the news (Cohen & Young, 1981).

This interrelationship between the media, the public and the state is best crystallized through the medias’ representation of crime. One of the most significant and prevalent media stories and moral panics of recent years has been that of paedophilia (Silverman & Wilson, 2002); traditionally the media has helped to construct this through this frequency (Greer, 2012; Critcher, 2002), selectively, negative language and format with it discusses paedophilia (Silverman & Wilson, 2002; Thomas, 2005; McAlinden, 2006). This means that the media has often misrepresented and misunderstood the complexity of paedophilia tending to discuss it in one-dimensional, simplistic and stereotypical terms (Thomas, 2005; McCartan, 2010). This media misrepresentation is problematic as it works to weaken public understandings and social awareness resulting in an inappropriate and a skewed social construction of the realities of paedophilia. However, as previously stated this seems to be starting to change with a range of articles and shows taking about the complexity and reality of sexual harm from This American Life to the recent Dunklefeld stories. These considered  approaches to sexual harm stories (another example, published today, is how much consideration is given to victims of sexual harm when publishing new sexual harm stories and a consideration of Trigger Warnings)means that insightful and appropriate messages are going into the public domain, this does not mean that public attitudes will shift overnight (that’s another story for a another day), planting the seed for an informed debate. This realistic conversation about the nature of sexual harm; who perpetrates sexual harm; who are victims of sexual harm and the impact that it has on them; as well as sexual perpetrator prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration. One positive conservation leads to a raft of other positive conversations. Therefore the media should be congratulated and worked with us by academics, professionals and practitioners in the sexual harm field (an approach advocated via Public Criminology with precedent in Public Protection Arrangements Northern Ireland and HMP Whatton) to help develop these stories, changes in narrative and new approaches to sexual harm.

Kieran McCartan, PhD


Bohner, G. and Wanke, M. (2009) ‘The psychology of attitudes and persuasion’, in J. Wood, and T. Gannon (eds) Public Opinion and Criminal Justice. Cullumpton: Willan.

Cohen, S. and Young, J. (1981) The manufacture of news: social problems, deviance and the mass media. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications.

Critcher, C. (2002) ‘Media, Government and Moral Panic: the politics of paedophilia in Britain 2000-1’, Journalism Studies, 3: 521-35.

Gamson, W. A., Croteau, D., Hoynes, W. and Sasson, T. (1992) ‘Media images and the construction of reality’, Annual Review of Sociology, 18: 373-93.

Greer, C. (2012) Sex crime and the media: Sex offending and the press in a divided society. Cullumpton; Willan.

Howitt, D. (1998) Crime, the media and the law. Chichester: Wiley.

McAlinden, A. (2006) ‘Managing Risk: From regulation to the reintegration of sexual offenders’, Criminology & Criminal Justice, 6: 197-218.

McCartan, K. (2010) Media constructions and reactions to, paedophilia in modern society. In: Harrison, K., ed. (2010) Managing High-Risk Sex Offenders in the Community: Risk Management, Treatment and Social Responsibilities. Willan Publishing, pp. 248-268.

McQuail, D. (2010) Mass Communication Theory, 6th Edition. London: Sage Publications.

Silverman, J., and Wilson, D. (2002) Innocence Betrayed: Paedophilia, the media & society. Cambridge: Polity.

Thomas, T. (2005) Sex Crime: Sex Offending and Society, 2nd edition. Cullompton: Willan.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Q & A with Patrick Lussier author of “Juvenile Sex Offending through a Developmental Life Course Criminology Perspective: An Agenda for Policy and Research”

Lussier, P. (2015). Juvenile Sex Offending Through a Developmental Life Course Criminology Perspective: An Agenda for Policy and Research. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment.  Advance online publication.




Current American policies and responses to juvenile sex offending have been criticized for being based on myths, misconceptions, and unsubstantiated claims. In spite of the criticism, no organizing framework has been proposed to guide policy development with respect to the prevention of juvenile sex offending. This article proposes a developmental life course (DLC) criminology perspective to investigate the origins, development, and termination of sex offending among youth. It also provides a review of the current state of knowledge regarding various parameters characterizing the development of sex offending (e.g., prevalence, age of onset, frequency, persistence, continuity in adulthood, and versatility). The review highlights some heterogeneity across these developmental parameters suggesting the presence of different sex offending patterns among youth. In fact, it is proposed that, based on the current knowledge, such heterogeneity can be accounted for by a dual taxonomy of adolescents involved in sexual offenses: (a) the adolescent-limited and (b) the high-rate/slow-desister. The DLC criminology approach and the dual taxonomy are proposed as organizing frameworks to conduct prospective longitudinal research to better understand the origins and development of sex offending and to guide policy development and responses to at-risk youth and those who have committed sexual offenses.

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

This article is the result of close to fifteen years of research going back to the start of my PhD studies in criminology and, since then, several experiences working on longitudinal cohort studies on the psychosocial development of children and adolescents in Canada, USA, UK and the Netherlands. These experiences lead to the formulation of developmental life course (DLC) framework, as proposed in the article, to describe and explain the origins and developmental course of sexual violence and abuse. The idea for this article was sparked by three key observations: (a) misguided policy development regarding the prevention of sexual offenses, which includes measures that are too often based on myths, misconceptions, false and/or unsubstantiated claims about individuals having committed a sexual offense; (b) major advances in developmental research in the past three decades regarding the processes by which atypical, non - normative, and maladaptive behaviors start, develop and terminate, as well as the importance of recognizing the role and importance of age-graded factors contributing to their developmental course, and; (c) the lack of prospective longitudinal research to investigate the origins and the development of sexual violence and abuse to inform policymakers and treatment providers. This article offers a theoretical and research framework to better understand the origins and the development of sexual violence and abuse.  

What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?

The ideas put forth in the article have been extraordinarily well received. There seems to be an understanding that it is a necessary step for the advancement of research and policy in the field of sexual violence and abuse. The real challenge, now, is the implementation of a DLC research program to study the origins and the developmental course of sexual violence and abuse over time.

What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about juvenile sexual offending and its relationship to policy?

Much has been said about the significant and dangerous gap between research and policy with respect to juvenile sex offending and the disastrous consequences. Current policies are typically repressive, reactive, and after the fact. At that stage, for some young persons, the risk factors have been operating for years and these factors could have been identified and corrected sooner. For others, the risk factors are transitory and contextual and can be corrected through specialized intervention. This speaks of the diversity of developmental trajectories that can lead to the occurrence of sexual offending during adolescence.

Research in the field of juvenile sexual offending has also been reactive or in reaction to these misguided policies. A more proactive approach is necessary for better policy development and to align policies with empirically-based evidence. It starts with the implementation of prospective longitudinal research with community-based samples of families. It includes a program of research to better understand the development of normative and non - normative sexual behavior and associated risk and protective factors from the earliest developmental stages, such as pre/perinatal, infancy, etc. This program of research also takes into consideration that discontinuity of non - normative behavior is the general rule across developmental stages and that early identification of non - normative sexual behavioral development is more complex and subtle than commonly believed. In sum, the developmental life course perspective offers a proactive perspective to assist and guide policy development for the prevention of sex offending.

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

The DLC perspective is a theoretical and research framework allowing this field of research to make a significant step toward the realities that practitioners are encountering on a daily basis. This step includes a common language for researchers and practitioners to communicate more clearly about the origins and the developmental course of sex offending. In doing so, the framework will stimulate the development of an understanding of sex offending in the context of developing human lives. Because the DLC perspective recognizes the diversity of human lives and individual development, it allows for a person-oriented perspective for assessment and treatment purposes, something currently lacking. In all, the proposed DLC framework aims to bring those realities into the realm of research and, most importantly, policy and prevention.

Friday, July 3, 2015

We are not that different after all.......

I have had an interesting couple of weeks discussing perpetrators of sexual harm (including youths, individuals with learning disabilities, Black and Ethnic Minority populations and females) and their victims (especially vulnerable, youth and male victims) in a number of different contexts (research symposium, CPD training, stakeholder meetings and academic conferences).  The one thing that has been reinforced in me – individuals who perpetrate sexual harm against others are not that different to each other (regardless of status – race, age, gender etc) or to non-sexually harmful individuals.

I am not saying that we have not recognized  these similarities before, but rather that when you spend your time talking about one or two particular subgroups of perpetrators of sexual harm  (so for me it’s usually medium to high risk males who sexually harm children) you tend to miss the big picture.  This lack of big picture perspective is often reinforced by the fact that we have in part, with the assistance of policy makers and the public because it suited their needs, created an industry based around the idea that perpetrators of sexual harm are radically different from all other types of perpetrators of crime and therefore need a highly specialized approach. The notion that individuals who perpetrate sexual harm are in some way unique is partly true because  different sub-types of perpetrators do need different degrees of  support, different types of treatment, unique policies and more research; but not the whole population. We still have things to learn about how perpetrators of sexual harm are similar to each other as well as to other offender groups at a baseline level.

One of the most predominant pieces of research in criminology is David Farrington’s Cambridge study, it sets the ground work for how we consider offending populations. In his study Farringtion found  that there are certain pre-cursors to criminal activity including, appropriate socialization, educational engagement and achievement, positive reinforcement, good family and peer stability, positive role modelling, positive attachment and the importance of having goals/plans. Although, Farrington’s initial study was about youths it developed into a longitudinal study that followed the same sample population across there lifespan (and is still going), therefore coming more about developmental pathways in crime rather than a snapshot of one sub-category/population. Farrignton’s findings are universal across all accepts of offenders, offending behavior and rehabilitation; although we may have different studies, authors and theories the basic premise is still the same – stability, positivity and life goals. We see them regulated for all sorts of offenders, including sexual offenders we just have to look at the pre-dominate theories in our field including Risk Need Responsivity, Good Lives Model, attachment and cognitive change to name but a few. This means that we need to look at the perpetrator as an individual, which we do, and not apply global, one size fits all models; which is the beauty of Farringtion’s work in that it offers a range of individual and complementary explanations for offending behavior which starch across a variety of offences.

The capacity to look outside of our field’s tradition research and practice silos will enable us to open up additional lines of enquiry and allow us to reframe the policy/treatment/research debates around sexual harm. One clear example of this being desistence theory , which is relatively new to the field of sexual harm but that criminology, public health and drug treatment had been using for years. In closing, I thought it would be useful to frame some of the main issues faced by perpetrators of sexual violence in the context of perpetrators of crime in general to highlight that actually “we are not that different after all…”:

-          Most perpetrators or crime are vulnerable themselves, maybe having been a victim of crime themselves. We know that not all victims go on to perpetrate, but we know that some do and not necessarily in the crimes that they were victims off.

-          We know that issues of vulnerability can, and often do, play out across victim and perpetrator groups.

-          Males can be victims of crime as well as females.

-          Mental health issues can play a role in the perpetration of crime and that there is a relationship between mental illness and incarceration.

-           Most youth perpetrators of crime tend to grow out of offending as they develop across the lifespan.

-          That evidence based policy and practice (evidence lead) is what we should be striving for but often we get policy based evidence (ideologically lead).

-          Female perpetrators of crime tend to be labeled as “doubly deviant” as opposed to male perpetrators, female perpetrators also tended to be more often labelled as mentally ill as opposed to males and are less likely to serve long prison sentences.

-          Male perpetrators of crime tend to be constructed as mad or bad, regardless of the crime.

-          The “what works”/individual treatment model is advocated for all types of perpetrators.

-          That social context (age, race, education, etc.) plays out across all perpetrator groups.

-          That there can be false allegations, issues with Eye Witness Testimony and police decision making/discretion.

-          There are issues, concerns, complaints and negative reaction from the public about offender re-entry.

-          The public and society are more likely to believe that youth and female perpetrator groups are more likely to reform and need social support than adult perpetrator.

Kieran McCartan, PhD