Sexual Abuse and Exploitation by UK charities overseas; what lessons can we learn?

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, & Jon Brown, MSc.

The current crisis being faced by Oxfam (as well as other UK charities potentially) around inappropriate sexual behaviour, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation reflects the challenges that face a lot of charities and NGO’s – safeguarding. We have seen this debate played out across sporting organisations, social care, religious organisations and churches, namely “How do we protect and safeguard vulnerable people that our organisations work with, while at the same time enable members of the community to engage as well as work with us?”. Which is a challenge in the context of sexual abuse, safeguarding and child protection. The main areas of concern are who applies to work in these organisations and communities, the background checks conducted by host organisations, safe guarding on the ground, whistle blowing policies how the organisation responds to concerns and allegations and crucially, the safeguarding culture within the organisation.

A consistent message that we hear when sexual abuse happens in organisational settings is that paedophiles (although in reality we are talking about abusive and antisocial people to target children rather than “true paedophiles”) tend to target these organisations because it means that they can have access to vulnerable children. This is a problematic statement as it potentially labels everyone who volunteers or are employed by charity organisations are potential abusers and motivated by exploitative motivates. While it is true that a minority of people may join organisations to sexually abuse or sexually exploit, this is not the majority of people involved with international aid organisations or charities generally. We do not know the actual numbers of paedophiles employed by these organisations, but we would hazard a guess that it is quite small. The reality is that many people who work in this arena are people interested in helping, if there are people interested in abusing and exploiting vulnerable people it seems more likely that they are more broadly anti-social and abusive. Which raises the question of how do we identify these individuals at the screening stage and then make sure that abusive behaviour is identified in situ.

The screening of potential, or actual abusers, is challenging to say the least. Of course, there are background checks but this relies on people already being involved in the system, with previous offences against them and being known to the police as well as relevant agencies; but this is problematic. Sexual abuse and sexual exploitation are under reported, under recorded, occur in secret, with lower recidivism rates than other violent crimes and quite often perpetrators are unknown to the police at the time of arrest. Which means that the system does not really know the full scale of sexual abuse and who all real, or potential, preparators are.  Therefore, background checks do not identify unknown abusers, only know ones. Individuals who would be applying to work with organisations with access to vulnerable people, so that they can offend against them, would not have previous offences or convictions, consequentially they will not show up on background checks. The reality is that the additional screening techniques need to work harder to identify these individuals, so interviews, workshops and other submitted material. However, are HR departments and interviewers trained appropriately to do this effectively? The reality seems to be no. The conversations that we have heard over the last few days is that there needs to be better screening of candidates and volunteers upon entrance to organisations. In this respect approaches like Value Based Interviewing which assesses individual’s beliefs and values as well as technical competence can be useful in ensuring safe and effective staff selection.

Any abuse that happens in situ while organisational staff and volunteers are on the ground needs to be responded to quickly and appropriately; it is not clear that this is happening. The issues related to sexual abuse and exploitation by foreign aid staff is particularly problematic as the abuse is happening abroad away from the parent organisations hierarchy therefore its more difficult to protect against abuse. The communities where these organisations work suffer from multiple vulnerabilities, where there maybe a culture of the non-reporting of abuse, may not speak English and maybe be concerned that if they speak out the support/help will be removed. All of which create a perfect storm where abuse can occur and not get reported. It therefore, becomes incumbent on the organisation to make sure that the local community trusts them, that all claims are investigated with rigour and that there are clear consequences which are identifiable to staff and communities sending a clear message that abuse and/or exploitation are not acceptable.

This leads us to the main accusation levelled at Oxfam, that it was guilty of covering up the scale and nature of the abuse and exploitation committed by its employees abroad. That there needs to be much more robust measures, investigations and consequences. The argument is that problematic staff not dealt with appropriately, got references and the relevant information was not passed on to the authorities or other organisations in the field. This means that abusers and exploiters can move on to similar areas and continue to commit similar offences; which reinforces that we can only be aware of the perpetrators that we know about and non-reporting perpetuates the secrecy of sexual harm. In addition, the reporting also raises the question of who do you report to the police in the organisations home country or the host country that the organisation is working in? Many of these host countries are receiving aid because they are in a state of crisis, therefore their legal systems may not be fully operational and that these offences are not set up for dealing with these offences.

The impact of the revelations of sexual abuse by overseas aid workers, as well as volunteers, reinforces the misconception that all of these personnel engage with these agencies because they are motivated to sexually exploit vulnerable people; this is challenging as it detracts from the good work that these organisations do and the fact that the majority of their staff are not involved in sexual abuse or exploitation. These revelations will have political, social, criminal and fundraising implications across the sector reinforcing the need for these organisations to learn from the mistakes and investigations into other charities as well as NGO’s ensuring that there are clear, robust safeguarding procedures in place.

We want a conversation, not conflict!

By Alissa R. Ackerman, PhD, Kieran McCartan, PhD, & David Prescott, LICSW

Tarana Burke first used the term “Me Too” to 2006 to elevate the conversation around sexual violence. The conversation around the ubiquitous nature of “sexual misconduct” came to a head in late 2017, when Alyssa Milano tweeted that anyone who has been sexually assaulted or harassed should reply to the tweet with “Me Too”. This marked a changing tide that empowered individuals who had experienced any form of sexual misconduct to speak up. We should celebrate the fact that so many people have found their voice and are willing to share their story. We should also understand the nuances inherent in the movement which is a debate involving feminism, equality, collaboration, and interventionism as well as sexual abuse, harassment and victimization. Each of these areas have seen long standing battles being fought on many fronts, therefore it’s important to realize that #metoo has not come out of nowhere.

We must recognize that there are many forms of harassment, and that the impact, consequences, and legacy of harassment change with the individual people in question. Like sexual violence, harassment does not take the same emotional, psychological, and behavioral responses toll on those affected by them. While recognizing the that we cannot dictate the impact of sexual harassment, we must recognize that while all sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault carry an unacceptable risk of harm, they are not the same thing. We can honor the voices, stories, and pain that stem from all forms of misconduct, while also recognizing that, perhaps, they are parts of different, but equally important conversations. Therefore, we need to think about context, situation, personality, resilience, and support in all cases.

This past week, the website, which uses the tagline “babe is for girls who don’t give a fuck”, published an account of an alleged nonconsensual sexual interaction between a young woman named “Grace” and comedian Aziz Ansari. A few days after the Babe account was published, Ansari responded. In part, he stated that he believed that the encounter was completely consensual and that when he heard this was not the case for her, he was surprised and concerned.

Some are calling the Babe account nothing short of “revenge porn”. Importantly, the published account has sparked debate about what constitutes sexual assault vs. a “bad date”. Perhaps this is the wrong conversation. Perhaps this type of conversation is what keeps people stubbornly in their silos, screaming over one another, or passionately stating that this is a “war to be won”. In addition to this we need to continue to think about what we pay attention to in respect to consent, because we often think in terms of recognizing verbal cues, but what about non-verbal cues (i.e., a change of tone, silence, different body language, etc)? Quite often we look to hear “no” or “stop” rather than recognizing disengagement, a change of tone or a lack of interest.

It is true that the #metoo movement has sparked debate, as well as dialog. It has opened doors to conversations and disclosure that otherwise would have remained unheard and unaddressed. Sadly, movements like this will not end sexual victimization. Calling people out and shaming them for their behavior does not change that behavior if there is little to no understanding about what the wrongdoing is. Calling attention to the issue does not prevent the issue from occurring. Education, connection, and mutual understanding will cultivate a shift toward prevention. We need to change the conversation, we need to start it earlier and use a different means to have it. We need to think about how we educate children, families, peers and communities more effectively. In addition, we need to look at the narrative coming from the media and what TV, Film and the press say about these issues.

Were Ansari’s actions potentially harmful? Yes. Did Grace provide verbal and non-verbal cues that she wanted to stop the sexual activity? Yes. Does that mean Ansari understood those cues? No. This is where the conversation needs to shift.

So often, we hear young people, particularly young men, stating that they thought sexual activity was okay because, “she didn’t say no”. Our conversations about consent must go beyond the fact that not saying no does not mean yes. One way to shift the conversation to help young men understand this better is to talk openly about why someone might not say no.

In the end, however, it is our fervent hope that the #metoo dialog will move beyond those most immediately affected by harassment and abuse and include marginalized populations. After all, rates of abuse and harassment in and around marginalized and underprivileged communities, including Native American and other ethnic minority communities. Likewise, LGBTQ people experience higher rates of sexual violence. Conversations within and between these communities must be elevated in the conversation. If we are ever to truly approach sexual violence and harassment as a public-health issue, these voices need our attention as well. Hatred and vitriol get us nowhere.

ANZATSA Bi-Annual Conference 2017

By Kieran McCartan, PhDDavid Prescott, LICSW,& amp; Alissa Ackerman, PhD

The bi-annual ANZATSA conference took place from the 28th November – 1st December in Auckland, New Zealand. The conference was a real mix of practice and research emphasising the role of prevention, risk management, protective factors and an emphasis for an understanding of the needs of aboriginal/traditional communities in working with perpetrators of sexual harm. The conference was very international in nature with speakers and attendees coming from New Zealand, Australia, pacific islands, Singapore, USA, UK as well as The Netherlands.

The plenary sessions  focused on the need to reframe sexual harm as being more than just a criminal justice issue, with speakers emphasising the need for a public health  approach (Elizabeth Letourneau, Jill Levenson, Maia Christopher); how we reframe the socio-political debate (Maia Christopher); a need to think about the role of trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences in the lives of perpetrators (Elizabeth Letourneau, Jill Levenson, Alissa Ackerman); how we need to build protective factors into the management and rehabilitation of perpetrators (Elizabeth Letourneau, Jill Levenson, Michiel de Vries Robbe); the need to listen to and re-evaluate our understanding of sexual harm in the context of traditional/aboriginal communities (Bryon Seiuli, Marlene Lauw, Pam Greer, Linda Waimarie Nikora) and the importance of how we listen to victims/survivors and incorporate their actual lived experiences into how we respond to sexual harm (Alissa Ackerman). The plenaries emphasised that we have reached a watershed moment in international and transitional conversations around sexual harm and that we need to reframe these issues more appropriately.

As we have said before, there are more things that unite our experiences in the field of sexual harm than divides us. We just need to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to learn and adapt from each other’s good (and bad) practice. One tone that remained present throughout the ANSATZA conference was that anyone and everyone with knowledge about sexual harm knows that current policies such as registration, notification, and residence restrictions aren’t working in the USA, arguing strongly that these should not be imported as is to other countries internationally.

ANZATSA 2017 kicked off with a public engagement event prior to the start of the conference, where the film “Untouchable” was screened. The documentary screening was followed by a panel discussion with Jill Levenson, Alissa Ackerman, Mark Hutton and Marlene Lauw. It was developed and lead by Gwenda Willis as well as her colleagues in the “Advancing Sexual Abuse Prevention”. The event was a great success with members of the public mixing with attendees at ANZATSA and really emphasising the importance of informed and constructive sexual harm policies; therefore, reinforcing and emphasising the main themes of the conference.

Many of the conference breakout sessions and workshops this year seemed to emphasis treatment, risk assessment and risk management.  The conference had presentations on the management of individuals who have committed sexual harm, registration and monitoring (Shephard; Hutton, Laws, Derby & Ross), female sexual abusers (Darling), understanding the sexual abuser as the service user (McCartan, Prescott & Harris), desistence (Harris), protective factors (Dickson & Willis), risk assessment (Helmus), adolescents who sexually harm (Lambie &Tolcher; Kelly, Shumack & Evans; Tolliday; Firmin; de Larcerda Mottin), perpetrators from aboriginal/traditional communities (Tofaeono; Jamisetty, Tamatea & Boer), and the role, as well as  impact, of pornography (Pratt & Hollis; Fernandes; Prescott) to name a few.

Additionally, several sessions focused on the needs of survivors of sexual violence, including the need for trauma informed approaches to working with clients. This was an exciting aspect of the conference, as presenters represented multiple countries, including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and the United States.

Of course, the conference location (New Zealand) ensured that there would be an emphasis on the assessment and treatment of indigenous people. One can read about this in books, but there is nothing like the actual dialog of a conference setting. Conference Co-Chair Armon Tamatea, for example, made a number of excellent points as he examined the process of risk assessment both inside and outside the cultural space of Maori life. These ranged from the use of diagnoses developed well outside of Maori culture to the pathologizing aspects for indigenous peoples of considering risk in isolation from protective factors and the cultural context of community and family.

The primary take-away from these experiences for all of us is the importance of redefining the field of sexual harm to being an inclusive, multidisciplinary arena that talks across the reality of sexual abuse and allows us to share good practice and learn from each other. What became apparent is that we all agree that we need to change the narrative as well as perception around sexual harm and that now, with all the issues being addressed in society, is the time to start doing this collectively. Of course, a truly multidisciplinary approach starts with each of us being able to collaborate with one another.

Joining the Nota Prevention Committee

My name is Tammy and I am CEO of Yorkshire, Humberside and Lincolnshire Circles of Support & Accountability. We work to prevent sexual harm. We do this in many ways, the most recognisable being the Circles we run with people who are a risk of causing sexual harm. Our criteria for Circles is motivation not to cause harm, social isolation and emotional loneliness. We work with people of all risk levels (including people who haven’t caused any harm but recognise their potential). We also offer 1:1 interventions, awareness training and support other organisations to safely offer their services to convicted offenders.

I am passionate about preventing sexual harm, working towards our mission of no more victims. However, at times this job can be a lonely one. Although there are other Circles projects and other organisations working in this complex field, often we are so overwhelmed by the issues in our local area we don’t get chance to connect. This is really frustrating as we also recognise that together our power to prevent is stronger.

This is where the NOTA prevention committee come in. Last month I went to the NOTA conference in Cardiff. I go every year and really value going! NOTA broadens my horizons, updates me on new ways of working and tops up my desire to learn and develop. I meet inspiring, intelligent, dedicated people. However, to me the biggest benefit from NOTA is that it is the ONLY time of the year I am surrounded by people on the same page as me. People immersed in this prevention journey, people trying to continue, trying to stay emotionally resilient and make a difference.

At NOTA I’m surrounded by people with variations of the same mission. People absolutely committed to preventing sexual abuse, people who recognise that as a society our approach needs to change, people who are willing to work with people who have the potential to cause sexual harm and to do anything they need to do to prevent them causing more victims.

During the AGM I heard about the Prevention Committee and I recognised the opportunity to connect, share learning and messages. In Yorkshire, Humberside & Lincolnshire we are working hard to start the conversation between victim services and perpetrator services, to encourage partnership working to really make an impact the community understanding and awareness of what works, what makes a difference? I have no doubt that other projects in other areas will be doing similar.

The landscape of sexual harm is changing, people are starting to talk about it, the media is reporting on it. Working together we can help prevent sexual harm and challenge social norms and misconceptions. We need to talk about what really makes the difference – awareness, rehabilitation, recognition and zero tolerance – community change and action!

By nature of the name everyone who is on the committee is there to prevent sexual abuse. I look forward to learning from the other members, sharing what is happening in YHL and working together to make a larger impact.

Tammy Banks

CEO Yorkshire, Humberside & Lincolnshire Circles of Support & Accountability

Follow us on Twitter & help us spread the prevention message




ATSA conference 2017

By Kieran McCartan, PhDDavid Prescott, LICSW, & Alissa Ackerman, PhD

The annual ATSA conference took place from the 25TH – 28TH of October in Kansas City. The conference was a real mix of research, practice and engagement with international colleagues from countries including the USA, Canada, UK,  Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Belgium and Israel to name a few. In this blog we are going to take you on a whistle stop tour of the event.

The two of plenary sessions that bookended the conference addressed the challenges of the work that we do in preventing and responding to sexual harm. Patty Wetterling opened the conference with a very emotive and personal narrative about her story and experiences. Maia Christopher, Pamela Mejia and Nicole Pittman closed the conference with a debate on how we engage with the media and the public around sexual harm. These two plenaries highlighted how far we have come and how much we still have to do. They provided a positive message and a timely reminder.

ATSA 2017 kicked off with another public engagement event prior to the start of the conference.  It was hosted by the Kauffman centre in Kansas City and had speakers discussing the myths around sexual perpetration (Kieran McCartan, UWE), the reality of sex offender treatment (Michael Miner, University of Minnesota), the challenges of working with juveniles that sexual harm (Rene McCreary, Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault) and the reality as well as impact of registration and disclosure (Seth Wescott, Clinical Associates). After the presentations there was a great question & answer session that reinforced the importance of the event and the topics discussed. Also this year we had the first ATSA gives back event where by ATSA members volunteered in the community with organisations that support victims of sexual harm, this year it was with Sunflower House.

Kieran attended an international roundtable on risk management which included speakers from 9 countries, including, UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. The roundtable was well attended, highlighting the similarities and differences in sex offender management internationally, reinforcing the need to greater knowledge exchange and professional collaboration. This reflected the core theme of the conference, balance, and reinforced the range of topics covered in the pre-conferences and main workshops, including topics like, the broad spectrum of people who commit sexual harm (adults, adolescence, people with learning difficulties and mental illnesses), different types of therapy (group therapy, one-one one sessions), risk management, community reintegration, risk assessment, desistence, RNR/Good Lives, sex offender policy and media engagement.

The notion of balance reinforced the importance of knowledge exchange and professional collaborations which includes the recognition that user voices are key to preventing sexual abuse and reducing harm when victimization does occur. This was the biggest take away for Alissa as she reflected on the ATSA conference. She collaborated and co-presented on four talks that drove home the importance of knowledge exchange that transcends academic and clinical knowledge.

These presentations included: 1) voices of individuals who have sexually harmed who continually live in fear (with Danielle Harris and Jill Levenson); 2) “Survivor Scholars” who utilize their personal experiences and professional expertise to impact policy and prevention efforts (with Alexa Sardina); 3) effectively using vicarious restorative justice to help individuals who have sexually harmed and individuals who have experienced sexual harm to gain empathy, insight, and a common humanity (with Jill Levenson), and 4) Using professional expertise to answer questions from the general public in a way that is accessible and meaningful (with Danielle Harris, Gwen Willis, and Jill Levenson).

David found himself involved in five presentations, of which four were collaborations with others: Gwen Willis, Jill Levenson, Robin Wilson, Marshalee McQueen, Erin Bresee, Liam Ennis, Laurie Rose Kepros, and Kevin Nunes. Likewise, AUDIOphilia was back, having performed at virtually all the opening night receptions in 2004. On this occasion, the band featured, Robin Wilson, Liam Ennis, Kevin Nunes, Andrew Harris, Tony Beech and David Prescott.This is particularly salient in respect to Tony Beech as he is retiring and ATSA 2017 will be one of his last academic appearances; Tony has been central to the sexual abuse research community across his career and will be missed.  As a membership organization, ATSA has its very roots in collaboration, dating back to the 1980s when researchers and practitioners first assembled to share their perspectives, resources, and ideas.

The primary take-away from these experiences for all of us is the importance of working together towards common goals… “creating balance” as the conference theme described it. The ATSA conference, and the ability of so many people to come together, is an excellent illustration of the saying, “Alone, I travel faster; together we travel further.” Some of the themes in these presentations included the role of certainty and uncertainty in assessment, treatment, and legal proceedings; applications of motivational interviewing and the good lives model; and new perspectives and approaches in trauma-informed care.

In the end, we are all at our best when we can discuss the issues of the day, acknowledge differences, come together to establish new ideas and goals, and make them happen; next year its Vancouver, Canada!!

Changing the social norms on sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexualised behaviour

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, David Prescott, LISCW, & Jon Brown, MSc

The recent, often deeply courageous statements and disclosures about sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexualised behaviour on social media over the last week since the start of the Harvey Weinstein allegations should not shock us. They conform what we already knew, that there is a normalisation of sexual abuse and harassment in our culture.

Over the last couple of years there has been a steady expansion in the number of people affected by sexualised behaviour coming forward, some related to historical cases while some is contemporary. What this indicates is that people feel more confident in coming forward, more confident that they will be believed as well as supported, more confident that the system will respond appropriately and better able to engage socially on the topic. At the same time, there is no denying the bravery behind each disclosure; the stakes are as high as they are unpredictable.

Consequentely, the movement towards greater transparency and disclosure brings a multiplier effect. That is, the more that people come forward and talk about sexual harm, the more it’s exposed and – therefore – the more that abuse gets reported. As a society, we start to realise that our idealised social norm of “no abuse” is not the reality, that sexual harm is occurring on a daily basis across our communities locally, nationally and globally; therefore, we need to work harder and smarter in responding to it.

While the most recent conversation about the reality and impact of sexual harm focuses on Hollywood, it reflects what we have seen in the world of sport, social care, religious organisations, politics, and education. Once we started to have the conversation about sexual harm, we realised that all same thing was happening cross organisationally, cross culturally, and internationally. The story is all too familiar: it is about power and control, it’s about taking advantage, it is about perceptive social norms, low level sexism and social acceptability. It is about similar people and actions in different contexts! If we think about the parallels between the different contexts we are talking about men (mainly, but not always) in powerful roles that can take advantage of individuals (mainly women, but not always because men have come forward too) desires to achieve something (achieve in an industry or promise of a better life) and offer them a way to achieve it with caveats (sexual abuse, blackmail manipulation) resulting in the victims being placed in an impossible situation that is often perceived as the norm (identified through their multi experiences of the same thing at different times in the same industry and similar stories from their peers) that gets internalised, accepted and normalised. Once we started talking about institutionalised sexual harm in care homes and sport, why did we not think that it would be the same in other areas?

The question is how do we respond? Just like Jimmy Saville, Jerry Sandusky, and too many members of the Catholic Church, Harvey Weinstein is not the only sexual predator in entertainment. This is larger societal issue and taps into the roots of our normative social practices, relationships, boundaries and values.

Perhaps most difficult to consider is that many of those for whom there is strong evidence of wrongdoing – Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and many others – are or have been respected as public figures. Whatever one’s leanings, the truth about who has abused can be deeply painful. Indeed, that is one of the many ways that abuse is pernicious and harmful.

Our current situation will not change overnight. The brave people standing up to post “#metoo” are a great start as their actions reveal the scale and impact of the issue at street level. We need to turn this outpouring into a constructive response that prevents sexual harm and changes the support social norms. Violence, including sexual abuse, is just not acceptable. If we’ve learned anything over the past two decades, it’s that sometimes the most practical action one can take is to speak up and speak out. We need to promote the message of a zero tolerance approach to all forms of sexual abuse and violence wherever it is happening and we need to promote and support prevention approaches that will address the problem at the earliest possible opportunity, in schools, in families and in our communities.

Preventing Adolescent Harmful Sexual Behaviour

This is a summarized version of a longer think piece by Stuart and colleagues; the longer document can be found at Kieran

On 9th October 2017 the BBC reported that the number of reported sexual offences by under-18s against other under-18s in England and Wales rose by 71% from 4,603 from 2013-14 to 7,866 from 2016-17. The number of reported rapes among under-18s rose 46% from 1,521 to 2,223 over the same period, according to 32 police forces that supplied a breakdown of figures.

These are deeply shocking figures. It’s unclear whether this upturn represent a growing prevalence of harmful sexual behaviour amongst children and young people or whether we’ve always had a social problem of this scale and the upturn is because children and their parents are more likely to report sexual crime than they were in the past. Clearly abuse perpetrated by adolescents online and the influence of online pornography on some children’s sexual development suggest that the nature and context of harmful sexual behaviour is changing, even if we don’t know whether prevalence is genuinely on the increase. The figures in relation to young people charged with rape are especially concerning, but we also can’t make simple assumptions about the nature of adolescents charged with sexual crimes. A recent report on youth justice trends in England and Wales notes that just 3% of indictable incidents involved harmful sexual behaviour last year, and although many of these incidents were very serious in nature, 35% of sexual offences attracted a youth caution or youth conditional caution, suggesting that they were below the level of seriousness that requires prosecution in the public interest (Bateman 2017). One of the challenge of responding to this social problem is that normative, experimental or thrill seeking adolescent sexual behaviour is sometimes categorised in the same way as offences that are profoundly harmful to both victims and their families.

None the less, youth sexual violence is a significant and serious social problem and there is growing public debate about how we address this issue. The media focus of late has – in my view rightly – focused as much on what we need to do to stop these kinds of incidents happening in the first place as it has on whether we’re getting it right for both victims and perpetrators after these incidents occur. However, we need to ensure that these debates are anchored in what we know empirically about this subject rather than being driven by lazy media stereotypes of young people with brains addled by online porn that has eroded any awareness or understanding of consent or even respect. These are issues in some cases, but the problem is more complex than this. This is something we concluded earlier this year when I and a group of colleagues published a NOTA think piece on prevention of harmful sexual behaviour drawing on what we know from research about the pathways into these behaviours, the heterogeneity of different kinds of children and young people who display these behaviours and the different contexts abuse occurs in (

What conclusions did we draw? We suggested that we need to think about a range of different sites for prevention that relate to the different sites or situations where abuse takes place: domestic environments, community settings (where particularly peer on peer sexual exploitation may be an issue, online space and organisational contexts such as schools , youth clubs residential units where young people come together and interact. Different settings might need different approaches to prevention, and we need to think about both primary prevention (the general messages we get across to all adults and young people themselves) and secondary prevention (engaging with those who may be at more elevated risk of displaying these kinds of behaviours) in each of these different settings.

We also concluded there is no one quick fix here. Young people being taught about consent and how the law applies to sexual relations, as well as minimising the developmentally disruptive impact of pornography on youth are important goals, and there is some research telling us that young people who have sexually abused others believe that these are the building blocks of prevention that may have deterred them from harming others (McKibbin, Humphreys et al. 2017)). However the evidence would suggest that harmful sexual behaviour emerges not solely from distorted or unhelpful attitudes to what is acceptable in relationships, but rather the interaction of such attitudes with emotional, social and sexual regulation skills. Prevention might be as much about skills and resilience as it is about the knowledge, information and experience that young people have.

We also need to think about this subject holistically and give parents the information and support they need to promote messages about prevention. Introducing concepts such as child and adolescent sexual development and how to support your child’s healthy sexual development in work with families who present to services with a complexity of need may be beneficial. Addressing such concepts through widely used evidence based parenting courses such as Triple P, Incredible Years or Parents Plus may be a way of targeting vulnerable families in a non-stigmatising manner to help promote sexual abuse prevention in home environments.

This is key, as ultimately we need to recognise that prevention of child sexual abuse is tied into the warp and woof of how as a society we bring up our children and encourage them to grow and develop. Prevention needs to take place within the context of a culture where sexual abuse is recognised as a significant public health problem and where care and thought is given to the promotion of political, cultural and social messages that amplify power differences between genders and between adults and children. This is vital as these messages – whether promoted by politicians, the media, professionals, family members or by children themselves – implicitly or explicitly promote attitudes that are the backdrop to abusive behaviour towards children.

Bateman, T. (2017). The State of youth justice 2017: an overview of trends and developments, National Association for Youth Justice.

McKibbin, G., et al. (2017). ““Talking about child sexual abuse would have helped me”: Young people who sexually abused reflect on preventing harmful sexual behavior.” Child Abuse & Neglect 70: 210-221.


NOTA Annual Conference 2017

By Kieran McCartan.

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).

Race, culture, community and abuse

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, & David Prescott, LICSW

Abuse is abuse, regardless of who perpetrates it. Sexual abuse is perpetrated by people, either individually or collectively; it is not committed by cultures, races or communities as a whole. As we know, the majority of sexual abuse is contextual and situational, which means that cultures, races or communities may believe that some forms of sexual abuse is acceptable, that it may go unpunished or can be covered up. Examples of this are evident from the practices of certain indigenous cultures to the secrecy of activities within some religious sects, to the culture of silence within some university sports teams. This may mean that certain groupings of people (whether they be communities of a certain race, culture, or combination of the two) may be more prone to sexual abuse that receives little or no response from the wider community. However, it does not mean all of the larger culture, race or community will engage in or condone the abuse.

In England over the last couple of years we have started to see the emergence of gangs of ethnic minority men, mainly Asian, organising and perpetrating the sexual abuse of vulnerable young white girls (in Rotherman, Peterborough, Newcastle and other locations). The problem is that, like all sexual abuse, this is not new; ethnic- and gender-based violence has occurred as long as there has been gender and ethnicity. What is new is the size and scope of the abuse, and the factors that capture the attention of the majority culture. Clearly, we have we not done enough to prevent, educate and prosecute individuals and communities around sexual abuse. There is an argument that a perfect storm of political correctness, fear of reprisal and a dissolving of intra as well inter community relations has resulted in these cases not being prosecuted as they should (The independent).This is unfortunate, as waves of sexual violence such as these have occurred elsewhere in human history (e.g., the sexual assault of women in times of war and its aftermath).

The cases in the UK have been reported on as a race issue with male, ethnic minority men sexually abusing white, working class, vulnerable white girls. This has fuelled conversations about immigration and race relations, thereby making an already complicated issue even more loaded. Which has resulted in a number or articles and think pieces, each of varying degrees of nuance and rigour, from journalists (The independent) and political leaders (Sarah Champion MP; Sajid Javid MP; Jeremy Corbyn MP) weighing in on the debate. However, the real issue here is that this was targeted grooming of children by adults who happened not to be white against victims who were white. The same offences and behaviours are happening in white communities as we write this.

We would argue that overarching race and cultural issues are not precursors to sexual abuse, especially child sexual abuse. Instead, abuse-related and problematic sub-cultural factors (and the processes underlying them) can indeed contribute to abuse. Sexual and social deviance does not adhere to cultural, ethnic, or national boundaries. What we are seeing in these cases are people who sexually abuse children because they want to, regardless of their own race or culture. The fact that the victims are white and of a different cultural heritage speaks more to elements of criminality than over-arching cultural themes. These people are making a decision to sexually abuse across race and cultural lines, why? Is it because vulnerable white girls are easier for them to get access to, is it because they don’t want to offender against their own culture or race, or is it simply access to any child?

The race or the culture of a perpetrator of sexual harm should play no role, positivity or negatively, in formal responses to abuse. Those who abuse should receive the same prosecution, as well as treatment and rehabilitation opportunities. Interestingly, research by Professor Malcolm Cowburn over the past 20 years shows that ethnic minority communities are less likely to engage with treatment (especially sex offender treatment), arguing that it does not speak to their cultural needs. We need to get better – a lot better – at understanding that the issues that race and culture throw up, as well as how these can be better navigated in treatment. However, a part of this this improvement invites a reflection: how many of these cultural and race issues are real, tangible issues and how many are our own cognitive distortions that serve to prevent engagement?

In terms of the direction that the field of sexual harm is moving – towards a combined model of prevention/rehabilitation, we need to do more to engage with all communities on understanding, preventing and responding to sexual abuse. We need to work more effectively and openly with all races, cultures and communities to see how we can adapt our messages around sexual abuse, so that we can better prevent it. Sexual abuse is an interpersonal offence, its committed by people and therefore has to be prevented by people of all races, cultures and communities.



Communicating about child sexual abuse with the public: learning the lessons from public awareness campaigns

By Hazel Kemshall, De Montfort University, & Heather Moulden, McMaster University.

How effective are public awareness campaigns about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and what does research tell us about the most useful approaches? In a recent review of such campaigns Kemshall and Moulden (2016) outline the key trends and research evidence.  The article looks at developments in techniques and methods since the 1990s.  Public awareness can be defined as a campaign that uses: ‘…media, messaging, and an organised set of communication activities to generate specific outcomes in a large number of individuals and in a specific period of time.’ (Coffman, 2002, p. 2). Campaigns can also be distinguished between those that: ’try to change in individuals the behaviours that lead to social problems or promote behaviours that lead to improved social well-being’, and campaigns that aim to mobilize ‘public will’ or galvanize public action for policy change (2002, p. 2). Public awareness campaigns on CSA have seen both types developed, often linked to the aims and objectives of the agency undertaking the campaign.  A perennial problem in CSA public awareness campaigns has been adequately demonstrating the connection between the activities of the campaign, particularly in raising awareness, and this awareness resulting in desirable actions.  This has partly been due to methodological limits, and lack of money for evaluations. However, consideration of the available research indicates that the following are important to effectiveness:

  • Developing and enhancing personal responsibility and the ability to take appropriate behaviour. This has largely been through Bystander programmes (Banyard, 2015; Fulu, Kerr-Wilson, and Lang, 2014; Kemshall and Moulden, 2016 for a full discussion).


  • Targeting of campaigns at specific groups and communities (sometimes through collaborative partnerships). This has usually been via community education programmes, for example targeted at parents, carers, and perpetrators. There are mixed research results, but more recent evaluations, particularly of perpetrator targeting, have been positive (Beier et al, 2015; Kemshall and Moulden, 2016 for a further discussion).

  • Greater use of social marketing techniques, particularly for multi-faceted large scale campaigns (Schober et al, 2012a, b; Kemshall and Moulden, 2016 for further discussion).

Overall, the growing evidence base indicates that a focus on personal responsibility, action and skill promotion are important ingredients to success.

More recent campaigning and their subsequent evaluations have indicated that multi-faceted and multi-layered approaches can improve effectiveness. Such methods aim to identify community based problems and solutions, with a focus on systematic evidence collection and the use of local collaborative partnerships.  A key campaign is the ‘Enough Abuse’ campaign in Massachusetts which was a ‘state-wide education and community mobilization effort to prevent CSA in Massachusetts’ (see et al., 2012b; Massachusetts Citizens for Children, 2001; 2010; 2014; see Kemshall and Moulden, 2016 for full discussion).

Looking forward, evaluation would be improved by all campaigns having clear outcomes, intermediate and ultimate behaviour change, and short and long-term follow-up; plus adequate funding to carry out robust evaluation. However, research to date appears to indicate that campaigns which focus on increased self-efficacy and ‘knowing what to do’; normalization of expectations to act positively; collaborative partnerships to improve effective targeting; skill enhancement; and positive framing of victims have greater impact. Framing CSA as a social problem requiring broad, multi-faceted and multi-layered campaigns has been a significant shift, and there is both a growing evidence base on effectiveness and helpful information on how to replicate the approach (Massachusetts Citizens for Children, 2001; 2010; 2014). There has also been a subtle shift from public awareness to public action-simply being aware is not enough. The future for CSA prevention lies not in public awareness campaigns, but rather in public action campaigns.


Banyard, V. L. (2015). Toward the next generation of bystander prevention of sexual and relationship violence: Action coils to engage communities. New York: Springer.

Beier, K. M., Grundmann, D., Kuhle, L. F., Scherner, G., Konrad, A., & Amelung, T. (2015). The German Dunkelfeld Project: A pilot study to prevent child sexual abuse and the use of child abusive images. Journal of Sex Medicine, 12, 529–542.

Coffman, C. (2002). Public communication campaign evaluation: An environmental scan of challenges, criticisms, practice and opportunities. Communication Consortium Media Centre, Harvard Family Research Project.

Fulu, E., Kerr-Wilson, A., & Lang, J. (2014). What works to prevent violence against women and girls? Evidence Review of interventions to prevent violence against women and girls. Pretoria, South Africa: Annex F. Medical Research Council, Retrieved from

Kemshall, H, and Moulden, H. (2016) Communicating about child sexual abuse with the public: learning the lessons from public awareness campaigns. Journal of Sexual Aggression, published online 6th Sept, 2016.

Massachusetts Citizens for Children. (2001). A state call to action: Working to end child abuse and neglect in Massachusetts. Retrieved from

Massachusetts Citizens for Children. (2010). Enough Abuse Campaign: Join the movement. Retrieved from

Massachusetts Citizens for Children. (2014). Guide Star Nonprofit Profile Charting Impact Report. Retrieved from:;

Schober, D. J., Fawcett, S. B., & Bernier, J. (2012). The Enough Abuse campaign: Building the movement to prevent child sexual abuse in Massachusetts. Journal of child sexual abuse, 21, 456-469.

Schober, D., Fawcett, B., Thigpen, S., Curtis, A. & Wright, R. (2012). An empirical case study of a child sexual abuse prevention initiative in Georgia. Health Education Journal, Online version January 18th 2012, DOI: 1177/001786911430546.


Bring me the Horizon! (and Kaizen)

By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D. and David S. Prescott, LICSW

Across the UK, but especially in England and Wales, the response to crime and management of those who break laws (especially those who sexually abuse) is shifting. The Conservative government has recently instituted changes to the management of offenders across the board with its transforming rehabilitation agenda. This agenda shifts the offender management landscape significantly, with one of the most contentious issues being the privatisation in the management of all low and medium risk offenders to Community Rehabilitation Companies on a payment-by-results model, with all high risk offenders remaining with a downsized, specialized probation service. Interestingly, this approach does not apply to all low and medium risk offenders. Sex offenders – regardless of their risk level – will be managed by a downsized probation service. In other words, all sex offenders are considered high risk regardless of the actual risk they pose.

In addition to these practical changes, there have been significant changes in policy and practice around sex offender treatment programmes. Up until recently, the cornerstone of sex offender treatment in the UK was linked to risk level, required that those entering treatment first admit guilt, and used cognitive-behavioural approaches. While there had always been a degree of scepticism about the impact and utility of sex offender treatment programmes, there was a view that programmes needed to be evidence based (Mann, 2014; Ministry of Justice, 2010) – or at least based on sound science – and that doing something was better than doing nothing. The Ministry of justice argued that:

  • Sex offender treatment models do not have a sufficient evidence base
  • They can therefore only be regarded as experimental
  • There are engagement issues with offenders participating
  • There are methodological limitations to the research and evaluation processes (especially meta-analysis)
  • There is no clear consensus on the right way to treat sex offenders
  •                                                                                                 (Mann, 2014; Ministry of Justice, 2010)

While some may argue with the Ministry of Justice’s perspective on sex offender treatment programmes in general, it was nonetheless respectable and defensible. However, this blog’s concern is that the demand for a solid evidence base seems to have started to dissolve. The swing from left to right with the conservative government, an increase in ideological (as opposed to science-based) policies, austerity and privatisation has brought about changes, but not necessarily what the Ministry advocated. What we have now is a change in the treatment of sexual offenders that might have its roots in research, but is not evaluated, evidenced based or necessarily coherent. Only time will tell; exit the “Sex Offender Treatment Programme” (SOTP) and enter “Horizon” and “Kaizen”.

Earlier this year (in March) the Ministry of Justice rapidly introduced two new sex offender treatment programmes: Kaizen (for high risk, high need, high priority offenders) and Horizon (for medium risk offenders) to replace existing SOTP programmes. Initially, it came as a surprise to many in the field, although there had long been murmurs of a change of direction, but recently it has emerged that there were issues relating to recent programmes and a related report was apparently suppressed (Daily Mail, 2017).

At first glance and on paper, the two new programmes look good enough. They appear to be strengths-based, positively orientated and focused on ideas found in the Good Lives Model and related approaches; this is certainly a welcome change from approaches of the past. The idea is that they build on and adapt the recently jettisoned SOTP – they are an update and remodelling of existing practices. As with previous versions of sex offender treatment in the UK neither Horizon or Kaizen are aimed at low risk sex offenders, but unlike previous programmes they have capacity for “Deniers”/”individuals who are maintain their innocence” which is a welcome shift. Both programmes are based on the sex offender treatment literature and pull together material from a range of sources.

  • Kaizen is based upon Risk, Need and Responsivity; multidimensional views of needs and interventions to be holistic, therefore incorporating biological, psychological and social aspects; strengths based approaches; desistance; and adaptive, appropriate and easy to engage with approaches to learning.
  • Horizon is based upon criminogenic needs and the recognition that sex offenders and non-sex offenders are similar and therefore addresses poor problem solving skills, poor self-regulation and relationship problems.

While these two new programmes are purportedly evidence based, it may be better to say they are evidence informed. In the pure research/evaluation/piloting sense they are not evidence based, having not been tested rigorously. This is ironic given the Ministry of Justice’s need for rigorous evidence in other areas of sex offender treatment/support (i.e., Circles of Support and Accountability). From our perspective, there are further ironies. New models often attract doubt and even scorn in the professional literature. There can be a paradox of putting down unproven innovation at the same time as there can be nothing proven until there is innovation. While we applaud the development of these new models and hope that they are successful, it is nonetheless strange to see that the Ministry of Justice’s complaints about unproven methods has led to more unproven methods being championed.

Therefore we need to make sure that the treatment, rehabilitation and (re)integration is fit for fit for purpose, publically accountable, transparent and not directed by “political”; especially in the arenas of sex offending given the increased public, media and political visibility the issue has. As Ruth Mann observed in 2014, the evil twin of evidence-based policy-making is policy-based evidence-making. It is for exactly this reason that we need more dialog and debate and not less.

Communication and collaboration in sexual abuse working

Over the last couple of months, we have participated in conferences, meetings and collaborations in our home regions of the UK and US as well as abroad (Netherlands, Latvia, Australia, Canada, Germany, Romania, Namibia); a central theme in each location has been that collaboration is the key to working in the field of sexual abuse. We have been amazed by how this most simple aspect of our work is often the most challenging; one would think that something as simple as collaboration would be easy to achieve, but this is not always the case!

Despite our field’s progress with assessment and treatment technology, we are all still human beings for whom miscommunication can come quite naturally. Collaboration may be the most important tool we have, and perhaps the least expensive, and yet it is highly dependent on the capacities and interpersonal skills of those who engage in it. Sometimes, we forget to simply pick up the phone and contact people.

Collaboration is vital: we work in consistently changing environments with practical challenges and related issues. For instance, in the multi-disciplinary/multi-agency UK, some current issues are:

–          The introduction of new sex offender treatment programmes in the UK known as the Kaizen  (a replacement treatment program for high or very high risk sex offenders) and Horizon (a replacement treatment program for medium risk sex offenders) roll out.

–          Upcoming Brexit negotiations and the impact upon movement, sentencing and punishment of sexual offenders – especially monitoring and data sharing.

–          An ongoing conversation about how to respond to increasing numbers of online offenders entering the Criminal Justice System.

–          Evolving sex education and sexual abuse safeguarding in schools.

–          Changes to the funding of state services, like probation, and the impact that this has on the management of offenders.

However, these are not only UK issues. Other countries have these issues and more, including:

–          Differences within the same country on viability of using the same sex offender risk assessment scales (USA and elsewhere)

–          Getting different organisations, especially within the public health system, to work effectively together (Latvia and many Eastern European Countries)

–          Getting criminal justice systems interested in providing treatment to people who have abused in the first place when moral and religious beliefs can interfere with developing an empirically sound understanding of these individuals (Eastern Europe and elsewhere).

–          Ensuring that agencies that can disseminate information that can aid in the prevention of sexual abuse and sexually transmitted infections actually reach their target audiences (Namibia and elsewhere).

All of these situations reflect a lack of professional collaboration. Often, they reflect the disagreements in the processes and practices of sexual offended management which can lead to poor practice and bad policy. Sometimes they reflect the strong beliefs – even egos – of those involved. We often say that we collaborate with others, but our practices, organisations, and/or tasks can get in the way of this. We are sure that we are not alone in having attended meetings that trumpet good collaborative working, but nothing gets carried forward as no-one is really listening.  This is frustrating (and a possible compromise of public health and safety) because a lot of these issues are well within our sphere of influence to change through better, more honest, and more open communication, as well as collaboration. By working together in a more constructive, multi-faceted, multidisciplinary we can reduce sex offending, improve risk management, improve public protection and improve the prevention of sexual abuse in the first instance… but it begins with us. So how should we do this?

–          Communication with other professionals, the public, policymakers and the media. Always leave the door open and be willing to have the conversation from a place of wanting to learn, not a place of seeking confirmation of your practices.

–          Actively check in with others and cultivate an openness to feedback.

–          Always share good practice with others, do not be covetous of your only good practice. If something works, share.

–          Debate bad/poor practice within your own work and in the projects that you are working within; don’t be afraid to say that something is not working and needs to change. If there is anything we have learned from recent worldwide elections it’s that we are not as effective at changing our minds in the face of evidence as we think.

–          Collaborate with other related individuals within the field; this will lead to a multi-disciplinary approach that will improve the situation of everyone.

–          Never, ever forget the importance of developing and maintaining professional relationships. As they say in David’s agency, a little love can go a long way.

Kieran McCartan, PhD, and David Prescott, LISCW.

Considering the alternatives to traditional Child Sexual Abuser risk management: Prevention?

Risk management often involves a difficult balancing act between public protection, victim empathy, victim support as well as offender punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation; quite often one is achieved at the cost of others. This balancing act becomes compounded if you are dealing with a high profile offender population, like child sexual abusers and/or paedophiles, because you are dealing with many interested parties outside of the state-run criminal justice system who understandably want their voice heard and their opinions counted; which is appropriate and correct, however you factor into financial austerity, cuts in frontline services, an increase in reporting /recording crime, more people being sent to prison, more people being managed in the community and an increase in penal populism you can end up with the “perfect storm” of a crisis in risk management. Currently, in the UK, and in other western countries including Australia and USA, we are seeing this in regard to child sexual abuse with increasing offenders numbers of victims and offenders being identified and entering the system. The increase in reporting rates and therefore the identification of perpetrators, victims and the resulting finical impact of child sexual abuse is as a result of a number of distinct, but integrated factors, including;

(Please see these articles for a further discussion – O’Sullivan, Hoggett, McCartan & Kemshall, 2016; McCartan, 2014; NSPCC, 2016; Journal of Sexual Aggression Special edition 1)

Consequentially, how do we weather this storm? It is becoming more and more obvious that a change in tactics is needed; a balancing act of more effective/increased prosecutions, with more victim support, better risk management approaches and preventive strategies. Yesterday Chief Constable Simon Bailey, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, stated that the police cannot cope with the current influx of child sexual abuse investigations and that we have to look differently at how low-risk offenders are managed (BBC NEWS). While this may seem like a controversial statement on the outside it is not the first time that the police have said this regarding online sexual abuse and child sexual abuse imagery (Jon Carr; NSPCC; National Crime Agency; Journal of Sexual Aggression Special edition 2). It is important to state that not all types of Child sexual Abusers are the same, not all pedophiles abuse and not all abusers are pedophiles; they are a diverse and individualistic group. We know that not all individuals who sexually abuse children, either through viewing imagery or a contact offence, are share same level of risk and that not all levels of risk get the same punitive and/or rehabilitative response from the state. In terms of low-risk offenders, who Simon Bailey was discussing, they will not receive a sex offender treatment programme or receive a full risk management plan or MAPPA (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement) in the community. We are dealing with them differently in all other aspects so his argument is an extension of this. Additionally, in rethinking how we tackle low risk, and possibly medium risk, offenders it means that we can look to prevention as a viable means of intervention; can we identify these individuals earlier, through other means (i.e., through redirection from online sites [Stop it now], predictive analytics [current piece of research being carried out  with Avon and Somerset police, Bristol City Council and the University of Western England] or encouraging people who are concerned about their behavior to come forward and seek support [Safer Living Foundation; Circles South West]). Interestingly today the English government has decided to re-examine sex education and healthy relationships in primary and secondary schools (BBC 01/03/2017), which is a departure from their previous position (BBC 11/02/2016)

It seems obvious that an alternative to our past practice is needed (and even police officers are now saying this publicly), we need to recognizing that rethinking sex offender risk management is an not an act of acceptance of offending, offenders or their lifestyles as appropriate, but rather its recognition of practicality, resource management and effective engagement. The ultimate question is whether we want them to do it again or not? And assuming the answer is no, what effective action can we take?

Effective risk management must comprise deterrence, sufficient and effective treatment for victims/survivors and offenders and crucially primary prevention activity including sex and relationships education in all schools, advice and information for parents, professionals and communities as a whole to ensure full engagement and a promotion of the understanding that we all have a role to play in child and public protection.

Kieran McCartan, Ph.D, Jon Brown, MSc, & David Prescott, LISCW.

The prevention agenda in 2017….

In 2016 we started to see a growing recognition of sexual harm as a public health issue, in particular the preventative nature of child sexual abuse. In general, preventing child sexual abuse has often happened at the primary [broad societal education and messages] and tertiary levels [sex offender treatment, the good lives model, risk management and public protection]; but this is starting to change. We have heard about Project Prevention Dunklefeld, in Germany, but there has been nothing to date in the UK; this, however, is starting to change. In 2015 and 2016 we saw the roll out of Lucy Faithful foundations engage program aimed at “aim risk” viewers of child sexual abuse imagery; the Help wanted! Programme in the USA.  Also, the Safer Living Foundation and Circles South West in England are now looking at an English speaking version of Dunkelfeld; the NSPCC plans to develop Together for Childhood centres which will trial and evaluate a place based approach to preventing sexual abuse; and colleagues in the Netherlands are starting to work with “non offending paedophiles”.  While this encouraging  and mportant work there is still more to do to embed the prevention of child sexual abuse in our national thinking and practice, including:

  • Education with all parts of society about what child sexual abuse is and how potential perpetrators can behave. Then we can start to discuss what the prevention of child sexual abuse is, how it can work and why it is important. This needs to happen at all levels, but perhaps the place to start is in schools, GP surgeries and other primary health care in the heart of our communities.


  • Research and development into whether prevention and secondary prevention with at risk offending populations works, because at the moment we don’t know if it does. A lot of the research is in its early stages and relatively immature. We need to develop a robust evidence base, but that takes time, investment and pilot studies.


  • Policy makers, government and organisations need to be convinced that prevention of child sexual abuse is possible and how it would be done in a practical as well as an achievable way. Pevention will never be endorsed without a developing evidence base. However, we have started to see prevention in other areas of social welfare in England and Wales recently with the Troubled Families initiative, the Better Stat programme and programmes working with perpetrators of domestic violence.


  • Partnership working is central to preventing child sexual abuse; we do it post offending, post-conviction and during release so why not beforehand. We can link social workers, councils, police, businesses and charities/NGO together more effectively so that they can work together to detect, predict and respond to potential child sexual abuse situations before they occur.
  • Media engagement is important to changing the social and political construction of child sexual abuse and how we respond to it. The media informs debate and shapes policy, practice and public opinion. Having a media dialogue, followed by a media buy in will help with the development and roll out of any prevention agenda or practice.


The field of child sexual abuse prevention has taken significant steps in 2016, but there is still a way to go to catch up with and learn from other areas of violence reduction, children’s health and social care.

Working collaboratively, making the case to government and focusing on these areas we can make further significant progress in the prevention of sexual abuse and violence this year.


Kieran McCartan, Ph.D, & Jon Brown, MSc

Public Engagement and Changing Attitudes about Sexual Abuse

This is a reprint of a blog on public engagement and sexual abuse prevention from the SAJRT blog. After reading this if you want to know more about public engagement and sexual abuse prevention in the UK please join us at the NOTA Public engagement event on Wednesday 28th September 2016 at the Hilton Metropole Brighton from 6.00 – 7.30pm. Kieran

Sexual abuse is a complex and emotional public health issue that impacts everyone – individuals, communities, institutions, and society as a whole. Despite this reality, sexual abuse remains a difficult topic for open discussion and the complexities of sexual abuse are often not reflected by public opinion. This is understandable when we recognize that our perceptions are often influenced by the way sexual abuse, sexual abusers, and survivors are portrayed in films, on television, and in the popular media – too often a one dimensional and sensationalized, rather than factual, presentation. If our goal is to prevent sexual abuse and ensure there are no more victims, it is essential that the public become engaged and educated about sexual abuse, those who perpetrate sexual abuse, and strategies to prevent sexual abuse.

Studies have shown that reported offending has decreased for all types of crimes over the past 20 years and this is also true for sexual offending, both in the United States (Finklehor, 2004; Lauritsen & Rezey, 2013) and the United Kingdom (Crime statistics for England and Wales, 2013/14). Research on sexual abuse within the criminal justice and psychology fields has also vastly progressed over the past 30 years (Wilson & Prescott, 2014; Marshall, 2011) and we now know more about those who perpetrate sexual abuse,  their motivations, etiology and rehabilitation than ever before (ATSA, 2014; Wilson & Prescott, 2014; Carter, 2014). We also have more clearly defined laws and evidence-based criminal justice approaches for the management of individuals convicted of sexual crimes than ever before (CSOM, 2008; Kemshall & McCartan, 2014), as well as a greater understanding of innovative reintegration strategies that promote public safety, including community-based strategies such as Circles of Support& amp; Accountability. We are even starting to see the traditional media reporting on sexual abuse in a more balanced, realistic, and engaged manner.

Despite these positive changes towards greater community engagement and understanding, improved victim services, and more effective treatment models, the most common attitude of the general public continues to be that nothing works for “sex offenders.” (McCartan, 2004, 2010, 2013; McCartan, Kemshall & Hudson, 2012). This is the greater paradox within our field, as well as criminology/criminal justice in general – public perceptions do not coincide or reflect professional experiences, or what the research tells us about the reality of the situation.

This divergence between public attitudes and understanding versus the realities of sexual abuse is fuelled in part by myths created through stereotyping, miscommunication, prejudice, active disengagement, and poor professional interaction – all factors which speak to the need for greater public engagement and understanding about sexual abuse in order to facilitate prevention and safer communities. Public engagement is important for a number of reasons, including;

  • Community and self-protection: By better understanding the aetiology, behaviours, offence patterns, criminal justice responses and treatment models related to sexually abusive behavior, individuals are better prepared to protect themselves and others. Therefore education and understanding is a self-defense mechanism, as well as an integral component to creating a culture of non-acceptance of sexual abuse which promotes prevention (e.g., bystander intervention programmes).
  • Supporting appropriate responses to sexual abuse: The appropriate response to sexual abuse, like any crime or case of neglect, is to report it to the appropriate authorities so that they can respond to it. It is not to take the law into your own hands (McCartan, 2010; Vigilante hunter case, Daily mail, Independent; Haas, 2010) or too ignore the issue. By better understanding what the reality of sexual abuse is, what the authorities do (and why they do it in that way), and how sexual offense specific treatment and management works,  the public is better equipped to make informed decisions, as opposed to uninformed ones.
  • Dispelling miscommunications and rectifying myths: Sexual abuse has a lot of associated myths, whether these are rape myths, victim blaming, myths about who commits child sexual abuse, or the impact of abuse depending on the gender/age/ethnicity/cognitive ability of the offender or victim. These myths help no one and actually often compromise, rather than promote, public safety. By greater engagement with individuals and communities, through better education programmes and through more realistic media engagement, we can dispel these myths. While this may be a difficult task due to many of these myths being hardwired into our personal and cultural psyche, by dispelling these myths we can facilitate recognition of sexual abuse for the complex public health issue that it is and move forward towards a culture of prevention.
  • Influencing public policy and agenda setting: Public opinion shapes governmental policy and practice, from emotionally driven knee jerk responses to in-depth social change. This means that public opinion is vital beyond a social dialogue as it feeds into legislative and political agenda setting. A more engaged public results in a greater understanding of the reality of sexual abuse and the complexities of responding to these issues and this, in turn, leads us to a more informed and realistic sociological debate. It also results in the public campaigning for evidence based policies and laws that are both preventative and responsive, public health oriented as well as criminal justice oriented, and forward thinking rather than reactionary.

While the prevention of sexual abuse may feel like a never ending task, we have come far over the past 30 years in not only our understanding of sexual abuse, but in our support of survivors, management of perpetrators, and prevention efforts. But our work is far from done and public engagement is key to continuing forward – although the prevention of sexual abuse requires a well-planned and comprehensive response founded on research, it is only through education, collaboration, and the involvement of everyone – community members, violence prevention professionals, victim advocates, law enforcement professionals, treatment professionals, journalists, and policy makers – that the prevention of sexual abuse can become a reality.

Kieran McCartan, PhD & Katie Gotch, MA


Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abuses (ATSA) (2014). Eight things everyone should know about sexual abuse and sexual offending. Beaverton, OR: Author.

Carter, A. (2014). Sex Offending Treatment Programmes: The importance of Evidence based practice. In: McCartan, K., ed. (2014) Responding to Sexual Offending: Perceptions, Risk Management and Public Protection. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 111 – 126. ISBN 9781137358127

Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM) (2008). The comprehensive approach to sex offender management. Silver Spring, MD: Author.

Finkelhor, D. & Jones, L.M. (2004). Explanations for the decline in child sexual abuse cases. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, January 2004. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Haas, N.E. (2010). Public support for vigilantism. Leiden: Universiteit Leiden.

Kemshall, H. and McCartan, K. (2014) Managing sex offenders in the UK: Challenges for policy and practice. In: McCartan, K., ed. (2014) Responding to Sexual Offending: Perceptions, Risk Management and Public Protection. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 206-226. ISBN 9781137358127

Lauritsen, J.L. & Rezey, M.L. (2013). Measuring the prevalence of crime with the National Crime Victimization Survey. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Marshall, W. (2011). Milestones in Sexual Offender Research and Treatment. Keynote at ATSA Annual conference. Toronto, Canada.

McCartan, K. (2004) Here there be monsters: The public’s perception of paedophiles with particular reference to Belfast and Leicester. Medicine, Science & the Law,  44. pp. 327-342. ISSN 0025-8024

McCartan, K. (2010) Student/trainee-professional implicit theories of paedophilia. Psychology, Crime & Law, 16 (4). pp. 265-288. ISSN 1068-316X

McCartan, K. (2013) From a lack of engagement and mistrust to partnership? Public attitudes to the disclosure of sex offender information. International Journal of Police Science and Management, 13 (3). pp. 219-236.

McCartan, K., Kemshall, H. and Hudson, K. (2012) Public understandings of sexual abuse and sexual abusers. ATSA Forum, xxiv (3) McCartan, K. (2014) Euthanasia & sexual abusers. Journal of Sexual Abuse blog, 2014 (Sept).

Wilson, R., and Prescott, D. (2014). Community based management of sex offender risk: options and opportunities. In: McCartan, K., ed. (2014) Responding to Sexual Offending: Perceptions, Risk Management and Public Protection. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 20 – 47. ISBN 978113735812

Understanding how to support the families of perpetrators of sexual harm better in the aftermath of abuse and their role in prevention

Often times we forget about a silent but impacted group of individuals related to sexual abuse, the families of the perpetrators. I spent some time on Friday talking about this with prison staff in the context of the men in their establishment and the regularity as well as reality of visitation time; but I think that it engagement between perpetrators and their families goes much further than this one issue as it impacts their rehabilitation as well as reintegration through having a support structure on the outside. We as researchers, professionals and treatment providers spend our time discussing perpetrators, victims and the criminal justice system but we can give little (or sometimes no thought) to the family members sitting on the side-lines impacted by the abuse and how it affects their lives. It is important to recognise that not all family members want to maintain contact with perpetrators, but some do and others change their mind over the course of time and reopen potentially sealed doors. However, do we really support, aid and help the families of perpetrators? The reality of the situation is, compared to other offending populations and risky populations, probably not, no. The families of perpetrators face a range of ongoing issues and live out the experiences of perpetrators simultaneously, because:

–         Dealing with the label of having a family member who is in prison, or in the community, as a “Sex offender”. Whether this be children of the perpetrator, the wire/partner of the perpetrator having to live in the community [or the house] where the abuse happened. While not everywhere has public disclosure of sex offender information the court case is often printed in local papers and the local “gossip” machine will spread knowledge. However, no one tells family members how to respond, cope and manage with this, epically if it is coupled with the idea that they were aware of the abuse and kept quiet or that they “might be sex offenders too”?

–        Tying in with the label of sexual abuse familiarise are also stigmatised by association, epically if they decide to stick by the perpetrator and work with them. Walking away in some instances garners social support and acceptability; but staying suggests that families are sympathetic and supportive. The stigma that families can face does not recognise the complexity of relationships or abuse, it reiterates a simplistic societal judgement that does not exist for other risky groups (addicts, alcoholics, etc).

–        Quite often families, like victims, blame themselves for what the perpetrator has done regardless of whether the sexual harm was in the home, community or completely unknown. Families will carry this guilt, self-blaming and annoyance (at themselves and the perpetrator) with them while the perpetrator is in prison and post release.

–        They often receive little or no support, financial or emotional, while their family member is imprison. Quiet often these families have lost a means of finical support, either because the main breadwinner has lost their job but also maybe the remaining family member has to give up work [or reduce their hours] to care for the family in the perpetrators absence.

–        Family members are dealing with their own trauma in respect to the perpetrators sexual abuse, in that someone they thought they knew well had done this. How do they process this trauma, where do they go for help and how do they vocalise. In addition, there may be other forms of abuse, trauma and dysfunction that they may have been exposed to at the same time that the sexual harm was happening elsewhere. Who can they turn to for help, support, counselling and/or advice? Some areas have resources and support but this is by no means universal or free.

–        Given the secretive nature of sexual harm and the impact that it has, this means that families carry an additional burden of not being able to discuss the abuse or its consequences; which places them under more internal and external pressure.

–        Visitation, as already mentioned, becomes an issue as the perpetrator may be sent to a prison too hard to access and/or that because you cannot bring children, or minors, with you to a sex offender establishment means that families may not be able to visit (if they wanted to). This means that often time families are divided via practicality rather than choice. Which means that perpetrators and their families are artificially, but meaningfully, separated in a way that does not happen for other types of offenders.

–        The fact that the perpetrator, whether they want them to be or not, is omnipresent in their lives; by default, by actions and by association.  The family may want to help and support the perpetrator, but they may not. If they don’t want to support the perpetrator they may share the same surname, circle of friends and may have to see/hear/discuss them through conversations that they have with family members that still contact them (parents, siblings or children).

The families of perpetrators of sexual harm are placed in a difficult and often invisible situation. We as the providers of research, treatment and support for victims and perpetrators need to think about how we can best assist and support all of those impacted by sexual harm. In addition, the families of perpetrators of sexual abuse can hold the key, in part, to understanding how sexual abuse occurs. Generally, we do not prevent sexual harm, we respond to it; but talking with the families of perpetrators of sexual harm they may help us understand some of the key warning signs better, help us better understand grooming techniques, help us better understand the methods that perpetrators use to hid their abuse, help us identify key moments or perpetrators behavioural shifts better. The families of perpetrators of sexual harm may have been present at the time of the abuse if it was perpetrated in the family , exposed to a range of related issues and often have an insight in to the perpetrators day to day actions better than most. Helping families to reflect upon what was occurring at the time of sexual harm allows us to more clearly understand triggers and warning sign which we can translate into prevention strategies that could be useful to others in similar situations. It’s true that the families of perpetrators need help to manage with what has happened around them but it is equally important that we as researchers, professionals and treatment providers can learn from their experience so that we can prevent future sexual harm.

Kieran McCartan, Ph.D

Understanding the role of Prevention in Child Sexual Abuse

Welcome to this first blog hosted by the NOTA Prevention Committee. The aim of this and future blogs is to stimulate discussion and debate, to inform and to facilitate networking.

 Over the last few decades we have seen an increase in reporting, recording and prosecution of Child Sexual Abuse in the UK & Ireland, as well as internationally (UNICEF, 2014; World Health Organization, 2014). This increase in cases does not necessarily mean that Child Sexual Abuse is on the increase, this is difficult to determine given its hidden nature and baseline recording problems, cases are coming to the fore more often and we are starting to see a more realising picture of the overall prevalence of sexual abuse but it is difficult to know if we are experiencing a real terms increase in sexual violence. Add to this increased reporting the diversified nature of the offences that are recorded included more online offending, more cross border offending, peer on peer abuse and historical reporting; all of which means that the already complex and multi-faceted nature of child sexual abuse is getting more complicated. Therefore it is timely to raise the question of how we respond, rather than simply react, to child sexual abuse? Traditionally in the UK & Ireland, as well as other countries we have adopted a criminal justice approach whereby someone reports being a victim of child sexual abuse or a third party signals a concern and then the system reacts and the identified, suspected perpetrator gets investigated. The issue with this approach is that it is reactive, after the fact and the sexual abuse has already taken place by this point; which is problematic and means that we can only deal with the fallout. There is a growing recognition in the UK & Ireland that although the criminal justice approach is important to respond to cases were child sexual abuse has happened it does not allow us to prevent it or work with at risk populations, victims or perpetrators, in a cohesive way. Additionality, there is a growing recognition that the numbers of registered sex offenders is growing year on year (MAPPA annual report, 2015), that the cost of child sexual abuse is significant (UK, Saied-Tessier, 2014; Fang et al., 2012; Talyor et al., 2008) and that we cannot arrest our way out of online child sexual abuse (The Telegraph, 2014); therefore do we need a change of direction, policy and practice?

One solution that is gaining momentum in the UK, Ireland, Australia, USA, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany (to name a few locations) is a public health approach to child sexual abuse. A public health offers a unique insight into ending sexual violence by focusing on the safety and benefits for the largest group of people possible, meaning that it talks about and to the individual as well as the overall population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2004; Laws, 2000; Smallbone, Marshall, & Wortley, 2008; Wortley & Smallbone, 2006; McCartan, Kemshall & Tabachnick, 2014; Tabachnick, McCartan & Panero, 2016). A public health approach involves reframing child sexual abuse from a criminal justice issue dominated by debates grounded in the victim-offender paradigm discussing the personal impact that the offence which gives the impression of isolated and individualised instances of sexual violence, instead moving it to a health issue which involves discussions of a more systematic, embedded culture present in society focused around personal health, societal structures and development (McCartan, Kemshall & Tabachnick, 2014). A public health approach is proactive and is usually based around three levels of intervention;

  • Primary Prevention: Broader approaches that take place before sexual violence has occurred in order to prevent initial perpetration or victimization (e.g., educating parents how to reduce the risk of sexual victimizations in their children). For Instance, Bystander intervention projects, safe touch, upstream.
  • Secondary Prevention: Targeted approaches with “at risk” populations (e.g., providing an anonymous helpline for men who are concerned about their sexual interest in children). For Instance, inform plus, Project Prevention Dunklefeld.

(Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004; Laws, 2000; McCartan et al., 2014; Smallbone et al., 2008)

In the UK & Ireland most of our resources are focused on primary and in particular tertiary prevention; there is a growing recognition that we could invest more in secondary prevention as it would have the potential to prevent the sexual abuse from occurring; therefore reducing victimization as well as the related emotional, psychological and social costs. Some initial findings from the inform plus (Sheath, presentation, NPSCC 2016; Gillespie, Bailey, Squire, Carey, Eldridge & Beech, 2016) and Project Prevention Dunklefeld (Beier, et al., 2009; 2015) While a shift towards a public health approach to sexual harm, epically secondary prevention, is welcomed by both professional organizations (for instance, NOTA, ATSA, NSPCC, Lucy Faithful Foundation, Safer Lives Foundation) there is still a distance to go in regard to national policy, practice and societal support.

The aim of this blog and future prevention blogs on the NOTA website is to highlight the work that is being done in the UK & Ireland, as well as internationally, on child sexual abuse prevention so that we can have an informed, cohesive debate and make sure that it prevention work is moving forward coherently in this arena.

We would be interested to hear your comments in relation to the prevention of sexual abuse by adopting a public health approach. Do you think this is the right approach? Does it over or under emphasise anything? Where should we be heading next in our efforts to prevent sexual abuse?

Kieran McCartan, Ph.D, & Jon Brown, MSc

Child Sexual Abuse in organisations and institutions

Over recent years we have seen a growing recognition of the problem of child sexual abuse, both historically and non-recent, ranging from sexual abuse by celebrities, institutional child sexual abuse and sexual abuse within the criminal justice system (i.e., the police & prison service); which have resulted in a series of Inquiries in to institutional child sexual abuse in England and Wales (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Office for the Children’s Commissioner’s report into CSA ihn the Family Environment), Scotland (Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry), Northern Ireland (Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry) and Australia (Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is not surprising given what these inquires have suggested, especially the historical ones, that there may be more revelations to come, and indeed three weeks ago with had the revelation of historical Child Sexual Abuse at the heart of Football in the UK.

Continuing revelations, disclosures and conversations of cover up raise a host of questions about the reality of Child Sexual Abuse, the locations of the abuse and the reality of safeguarding in these places. Whether it be about institutions (i.e., Care Homes, etc) or organisations (i.e., the Football Association [FA], BBC, etc) there are a number of commonalities that need to be considered:

  • Safeguarding: All organisations should have safeguarding in place, those working with children and other vulnerable groups; but this must be more than documentation, it needs to be the lifeblood and within the culture of the organisation. The issue is often not that there are not any safeguarding policies or procedures in place, but rather that they are not upheld or badly managed. With regard to the FA they indicate that safeguarding and policy conversations are harder to monitor, as well as uphold, at the amateur levels and we hear that policies are not always put into practice at grassroots level. This results in some institutional recognition of guilt, which is often after the fact, and a recognition that practice needs to change.
  • Prevention: Tied to ideas of safeguarding is the need for work to be done in organisations and institutions to prevent, as well as respond, to child sexual abuse. Quite often the discovery of child sexual abuse results in an institutional response, a change in policy, a criminal conviction and/or an inquiry; however, if we are thinking about prevention being part of the fabric or organisations and institutions then some of this best practice should already be happening. The prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a growing field but it has clear benefits for organisations and institutions in terms of workforce, development, policy, and practice.
  • Communication: We know from years of research and practice that child sexual abuse thrives in cultures of isolation, where there is poor communication and little transparency. Perpetrators often convince victims that no-one will listen to them, victims are sometimes vulnerable and do not believe that they have anywhere to turn and society thinks that the state (police, social work, prison system and government) do not do enough and when they do engage it does not go far enough. Therefore, theoretically, this means that the more that we talk about child sexual abuse and neglect the more we become aware of it and are better able to navigate, prevent and respond to it. However, it’s not that simple as we do not talk about child sexual abuse consistently and when we do it can be in pejorative terms that reinforces social norms (i.e., “offenders – bad, mad or sick”; “victims – vulnerable, at risk or at fault”; “the state not doing enough for victims and too much for perpetrators”; and “it’s not societies fault or responsibility”) and pushes the blame away, which we have seen not infrequently in the historical child sexual abuse scandals (“there is bad practice and poor safeguarding, but it’s really down to a few bad apples”). We need to think about how we discuss child sexual abuse in our homes, schools, institutions, organisations and society so that the narrative is evident and available there and people feel more free to talk.
  • Disclosure and discussion: The recent FA historical and non recent abuse allegations and disclosures are, as with the care home and institutional ones, particularly salient as they focus on boys and men. Research and practice has indicated that boys and men find it harder to disclose sexual abuse as it impacts their sense of masculinity and may indicate weakness in arenas, like football, were weakness is not tolerated. We need to work with young players to help them realise that disclosure is not a weakness and that they need to come forward and disclose abuse; there have been recent campaigns around this, since the FA allegations came to light a few weeks ago including a helpline and two video campaigns one lead by Wayne Rooney and another by David Beckham. The FA’s quick response to the allegations and historically cases enforces the need to make itself an organisation that puts preventing and responding to child sexual abuse at its core; similar to what the NFL has done around domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Vulnerability: The conversations that have started to emerge from historical institutional child sexual abuse discussions have highlighted the degree of vulnerability of the victims. This vulnerability can be deeply ingrained in them because of their social class, culture, mental health of mental capacity; but it can also be situational, as has been seen in the recent FA disclosures, were victims talked about wanting to progress, to succeed and to move on and getting close to (as well as pleasing) the coaches was a way of doing this. The vulnerability that children experience can make them a target, or at least more susceptible to child sexual abuse by individuals who recognise and want to use that vulnerability. This reiterates the need for confident, trained and responsive organisations and intuitions that are able to identify, prevent and respond to signs of child sexual abuse when they present themselves at the earliest opportunity.

Although, the focus of the conversation is currently centred on football it seems like it may be only a matter of time before this crosses into other sports, nationally and internationally. We as a society need to recognise that we have to be able to work to prevent child sexual abuse, as well as respond to it, in a proactive way that sufficiently safeguards children, and opens up communication in a proactive fashion to discussions about how can all play a role in protecting children and in preventing abuse and exploitation. We could say that “child sexual abuse in football, just another example of a few bad apples slipping through the net” or we have the opportunity to be more proactive and recognise that child sexual abuse is a more endemic problem in all our communities and in many of our institutions and we have now have the opportunity to refocus our efforts on prevention and early intervention and on ensuring that the victims, survivors and those who have caused the harm get the help they need.

Kieran McCartan, PhD, & Jon Brown, MSc.

Balancing the books? Starting to understand the reality of sexual harm in the UK

A recent report from the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] for England and Wales shows an upturn in reporting, recording, prosecutions and convictions in sexual harm [including, Rape, Child Sexual Abuse, Prostitution, Honour Based Offences, etc.] for the year 14/15 for women and girls. Although the report indicated that the largest increases were for women and girls as victims of sexual harm and for males as perpetrators, it does also show that there was an increase for men and boys as victims as well as for females as perpetrators too. The data came from the CPS case management system, which means that the results and analysis were based upon what was recorded by CPS staff via the existing databases and systems.

The report signals that:

–          The volume of referral’s to the CPS for Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Rape decreased by 3.3% to 124,737 compared to 14/15;

–          The volume of individuals charged with Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Rape by the CPS increased by 0.5% to 86,067 compared to 14/15;

–          The volume of individuals prosecuted by the CPS for Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Rape increased by 9.8%, to 117,568 defendant’s, from 14/15 to the highest level ever recorded; and

–          The volume of individuals convicted of Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence and Rape also rose by 10.8%, to 87,275, from 14/15 to 87,275 in 15/16, to the highest level ever recorded.

The main take-home message from the report is that the volume of prosecutions and convictions across the violence against women and children spectrum is the highest that they have been over the last nine years that the CPS has been recording them in this fashion and that new, as well as relatively new, offences (e.g., Female Genital Mutilation, Honour Based crimes and revenge porn offences) have shown increasing referral’s, charges, prosecutions and convictions. The report highlights, what we have often suspected, that the rates of sexual harm and violence against women and children do not match the reality of sexual harm in society. However, it’s important to put these findings into context as we need to recognise that 15/16 was not necessarily a peak year for sexual harm, but rather that it is an indication of a turning tide in society;

–          There seems to be a growing trust in the Criminal Justice System epically the police; the public seems to be more willing to report crime and seek prosecutions.

–          An increased awareness of violence against women and children in society because of high profile media cases, the IICSA investigation and a series government reviews (inc, prostitution, hate crime, etc).

–          Updates and changes to crime recording (including, the recording of new crimes and a change in terminology in existing ones) means that some offences may have not been recorded previously, or if they had been recorded they may have been recorded in a different category.

–          A review of sentencing guidelines for sexual offences.

–          The increase in historical sexual harm offences being reported and processed by the police, CPS and Courts.

–          A commitment from the CPS to offer more support to victims of sexual harm, with the former Prime Minister calling  sexual abuse a national threat.

–          An increase in funding to understand, prevent and respond to FMG, honour-based violence and trafficking from the UK government.

This highlights a commitment from the Criminal Justice System in England & Wales and UK government to respond to sexual harm, and related offences, resulting in increased reporting, recording, prosecutions and convictions. The increase revealed by the CPS report is not surprising given the under-reported nature of sexual harm and starts to help us understand the nature of these offences in society; the take-home message seems to be the more we talk, the more we see and the clearer picture we get. Therefore it’s not so much an increase, potentially, but rather a reality check and call for more preventive work and public/societal engagement work to be done.

Which ties directly into the work of NOTA and are all issues that will be discussed at its upcoming conference (Annual NOTA conference, Brighton , 28th – 30th September 2016) and a FREE  Public Engagement event (6 – 7.30PM, Brighton Metropole Hotel, 28th September, 2016).

Kieran McCartan, PhD