Gillespie, S. M., Bailey, A., Squire, T., Carey, M. L., Eldridge, H. J., & Beech, A. R. (2016). An Evaluation of a Community-Based Psycho-Educational Program for Users of Child Sexual Exploitation Material. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment.
Online sexual offenders represent an increasingly large proportion of all sexual offenders. Many of these offenders receive noncustodial sentences, and there is a growing need for community-based interventions. The aim of this study was to evaluate a psycho-educational program for community dwelling users of child sexual exploitation material (CSEM). A total of 92 adult male participants completed self-report measures at pre and post. A subset of participants also completed measures after a follow-up period. Results suggested benefits across depression, anxiety, and stress; social competency, including locus of control and self-esteem; and distorted attitudes. Furthermore, these effects remained 8 to 12 weeks following program completion. Our results suggest that CSEM users are amenable to treatment in the community and that there are beneficial outcomes in affective and interpersonal functioning following psycho-education. These factors represent treatment targets for sexual offenders and are recognized risk factors for contact sexual offense recidivism.
Could you talk us through where the idea for the research came from?
SG/TS: The Lucy Faithfull Foundation has been running the Inform Plus program for nearly ten years now and we were keen to evaluate its effectiveness. There is an increasing number of men being investigated for child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) offenses, and many of these men want to seek help. However, there are few programs available that offer such help, and limited knowledge on what kind of programs might work with this group.
What kinds of challenges did you face throughout the process?
TS: The biggest challenge was extending the programme from 10 to 11 sessions to enable participants to complete the various measures pre- and post-programme. This required the content of some sessions to be shifted forwards or backwards by one session, and all staff, working at different sites, had to be appropriately briefed.
SG: The evaluation involved collecting data at various different sites, from ten different groups running at different times within a twelve month period. Data was also collected at three different time points (pre, post, follow-up). Typically I run experimental paradigms so this was a very different project to be involved in. Another difficulty was identifying a suitable control group, and in the end this wasn’t possible. This is one area where our work can be built upon in the future.
What kinds of things did you learn about co-authorship as a result of producing this article?
SG: While my background is purely academic, my co-authors from the LFF have a wealth of practical experience with this client group. During the writing of the report these differing perspectives complemented each other nicely. For example, it would be easy to think that over the course of the program events in the clients’ lives might naturally have started to settle down with time. However, clients might be recalled for interview, receive court dates or appear in court at the same time that they are participating in the program. Set against this background it was interesting that we found reductions in depression, anxiety and stress that might not simply reflect the passing of time.
TS: In terms of producing this article, I am utterly indebted to Steven – without his involvement I wouldn’t be writing this now. With regard to the actual research, we had some interesting discussions about interpreting the data, and it felt productive to combine the clinical experience of staff at LFF with Steven’s academic insights.
What do you believe to be to be the main things that you have learnt about treatment for Users of Child Sexual Exploitation Material?
SG: Intervention with low risk offenders can pose various dilemmas, including whether or not intervention will help, or even hinder, the clients. Our findings suggest that short, low intensity psycho-educational programs could prove beneficial with this kind of sample. Our results also suggest that these men are amenable to treatment in the community, which is important given that a large number of CSEM users may not go to prison.
TS: Our research lends weight to the idea that psycho-education, as part of a relatively short intervention, is an effective approach to take with CSEM-only offenders. In addition, the research is congruent with literature about the benefits of group-based intervention and the importance of the facilitators’ style and approach.
Now that you’ve published the article, what are some implications for practitioners?
TS: We are at our best when we engage with the whole person and all their needs. Clients must never be reduced to no more than the embodiment of risk, however that might be classified. A philosophy of purposeful collaboration and enquiry should be our guide - our clients have much to teach us.
Steven Gillespie, Ph.D, is a Lecturer in Forensic Psychology in the School of Psychology at Newcastle University.
Tom Squire is Clinical Manager at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.