The importance of being ethical when conducting research

By Kieran McCartan, PhD

Recently, I was asked to speak at a research event at my university on the challenges of ethical research with high risk populations. At first I thought that this was going to be an easy presentation because all researchers should be on the same ethical and moral page, but I soon realized that there is a lot of different notions of good research vs. good enough research and the related research governance, in general, never mind with “high risk populations”.

All research presents ethical issues and dilemmas which mean that the researcher should be a reflexive and considerate person. A researcher should be thinking about the consequences of their research on the research population, related organization’s/institutions and their research organization (i.e., in my instance a university, but it does not always need to be); but, this is not always the case for sometimes see that a researchers allegiance can be to their findings and publications. This is not to say that researcher’s should not be mindful of their findings and the dissemination and impact of those findings; but, rather that they should be committed and mindful of the whole process not just the end point. A reflexive and considerate researcher is a good researcher. Being a good, creditable researcher is essential when dealing with high risk, risky or vulnerable populations. I recognize that these terms (high risk, risky or vulnerable) are sweeping generalized terms, loaded terms and intertwined terms, quite often someone who is risky is also vulnerable, someone who is a perpetrator is also a victim, etc. The populations that we research with (people who have committed sexual abuse, victims of sexual abuse and those impacted by both) present their challenges to us in terms of consent, confidentiality, anonymity, disclosure, health and safety as well as researcher wellbeing (physically, emotionally and psychologically). Therefore we need to start any research in the field of sexual abuse from a place of reflection, consideration and sensitivity.

I believe that there are four main components to any research project that need to be in constant consideration, all of which become essential when dealing with high risk/challenging populations;

  • The researcher: The researcher always needs to consider their own physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. Are they supported throughout the research process? Does the researcher have the capacity to access all the different the types of support they need? Can the researcher receive physical support if necessarily in a confrontation, who can they discuss the challenges of the research with and are they able to withdraw from the research process if it becomes to challenging or difficult? Have they considered why they are involved in the research and what that means for their own going mental health? The person conducting the research is as central to the research process as the questions being asked or the data collected, therefore we have to make sure that they are supported throughout the process.

  • The person being researched: Quite often research participants can be boiled down to numbers on an excel or SPSS spreadsheet, they can be dehumanized. Good ethical research reinforces the humanity of participants. We need to make sure that the understand the research process, the research questions, that they can consent to the research (as well as understand what that consent means), that they are not tricked, that they do not incriminate themselves or indirectly cause harm to themselves (or others). This means that we need to consider their vulnerabilities, capacity and degrees of “powerlessness” in the research process. As researchers we need to make sure that research participants are treated fairly and that the data that we obtain through them is fit for purpose.

  • The various institutions and partners: As researchers we have a responsibility to the institutions that we work for (maybe universities or research bodies, but not always) and the institutions where we research (maybe prisons, probation/parole offices, police stations, etc.) to research in an ethical fashion. We are carrying the name and responsibility of these institutions with us. On one level this means conducting all research ethically, getting the appropriate clearance, responsible data sharing, agreeing confidentiality with host as well as partner organization’s and being honest about the data that you are collecting/storing/disseminating. Remember that you are representing your institution, and your field of study, and any unethical research practice not only reflects poorly on you, but them too as well as other potential researchers in the future.

  •  The research itself: When conducting research it is essential to make sure that all the necessary rules, regulations and guidelines have been adhered to. Have you got ethical clearance from your institution? Does the host institution or organization need to give you approval (the police, probation, parole, prison, charity, NGO, etc.)? Do you need external body ethical clearance (the NHS, Department of Justice, etc.)? Do you have a safe and secure place to store your data? Have you made it clear to participants what you are going to do with their data? Do you have data sharing agreements with all necessary organization’s, institutions and collaborators? It’s essential that your research is coherent, watertight, ethical and adheres to all aspects of research coherence because if it’s not your findings can be jeopardized.

Researching challenging and high risk populations can, and does, have rewards in that it can impact upon changes to policy and practice; but, it should be done ethically, carefully and with a great deal of reflection.

Families of the perpetrator: The hidden victims of online sexual abuse

Late last week I attended a conference on online perpetrators of sexual abuse hosted by the Lucy Faithful Foundation, the aim of which was to make us reflect upon the reality of downloading and viewing child sexual abuse imagery in the UK (i.e., that is 100,000 individuals downloading material in the UK currently), but especially in the South West of England, as well as how to best respond to it. Although the conference was interesting, informative and worthwhile, it was the questions that were not answered or addressed that had the biggest impact on me. Not the questions about perpetrators, policing or offence characteristics; but rather, the questions about the collateral consequences of downloading and viewing child sexual abuse imagery on the families, friends and communities linked to the perpetrator.

When we talk about sexual abuse we tend to talk about perpetrators and victims. We do not tend to talk about the surrounding family and peers that are indirectly affected by the abuse and its consequences. Often there is an assumption in contact offending that the perpetrator is offending against members of their families, that members of their families are always at risk and that partners are complicit in the abuse; but this is generally not true. If it’s not true for contact offenders, is it also not true for individuals who download and view child sexual abuse imagery? The short answer is that we don’t know!

The conference really highlighted to me that we do not really know, empirically, what the impact of having a parent convicted of online sexual abuse, viewing inappropriate images, grooming children online or networking with other perpetrators on the dark web is. There is a perception that the collateral consequences of being convicted of viewing online child sexual abuse imagery is the same for the perpetrator and their families as being a contact offender, that is

  • That perpetrators receive a prison/community sentence, they go on the sex offenders register, are often being exposed in the press &/or community during their trial, have the possibility of losing their family, friends, peers, home, job and have a resultant social stigma;
  • That families of perpetrators are too being socially stigmatised because of their relationship to the perpetrator, can be exposed in the press &/or community by default have the possibility of losing a family member/friend, might lose their home, may lose additional income, may lose social standing and suffer from suspicion around complicity (i.e. a feeling that somehow you should have known).

These assumptions are problematic as we do not really know if they are as true in online offending as they are in contact offending. What we do know, which the conference discussed at length, is the recognition that the lives of people related to the online perpetrators have their worlds turned upside down, directly and indirectly, by the behaviour and that they struggle to cope with the related outcomes (i.e., the removal of technology, the police investigation, the re-evaluation of who the perpetrator is and what you really knew about them); but that there is not a lot of support for these indirect victims of online sexual abuse (i.e., they were not abused but they have been impacted by it). Which is problematic because families feel at a loss because of the nature of the offence and that there are many misconceptions about the perpetrators of online sexual abuse, the risk that they pose and the reality of their offences by the public – which includes members of the public misunderstanding what online offending looks like, its level off seriousness (is it as serious as contact offenders?), whether online offending leads to contact offending, whether it is easier to forgive the perpetrator compared to contact offending or who the victim is? All of which means that the families of online offenders can face collateral consequences similar to those of contact offenders, but with less understanding, nuance and (possibly) less sympathy. Over the past 10 or 15 years the level of support and help for the families of individuals who have downloaded and viewed child sexual abuse imagery has grown, but it still not common place and these individuals do not always get the help that they need. Research is starting to be done in this area. Lisa Thornhill presented on her recently concluded research on the impact of having a father or family member that has been arrested on suspicion of downloading and viewing child sexual abuse imagery. This research is important is as it will give us an empirical base to start developing and implementing appropriate services for people directly impacted by having a parent of family member who has child sexual abuse imagery so that they can understand the offences, the consequences of the offences, be helped to process and move past the impact that the offences have on their lives. Sexual abuse, in all its forms, impacts not only the perpetrator and the victims but also the communities in which it happens; therefore the more that we can help these communities understand and move past sexual abuse the more adaptive they will be.

The importance of multi-agency working to prevent sexual abuse.

By Kieran McCartan, PhD

Yesterday I presented at an event which examined the role of multi-agency working in child protection. The event was framed around new changes being implemented in social work across England as part of the Putting children first agenda and the Children and Social Work Act, 2017. The event had an interesting mix of attendees and presenter’s from across the board including policy makers, members of parliament, police, social work, child protection, academics, survivors/victim charities (including, Barnardo’s, NSPCC), schools and research/policy organisations (incl., Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse and Internet Watch Foundation).

The day consisted of a series of talks, approximately 10 in total, which focused on how we can protect children better, how we can learn from good and bad practice, as well as how we can work better together to prevent sexual abuse. The talks covered a range of areas, including serious case reviews, local safeguarding boards, child protection investigations, school based education around sexual abuse, the use of materials in the prevention/discussion of child sexual abuse, the role of partnership in supporting victims of abuse, understanding perpetrators and preparation better as well as the role of schools in supporting child protection.

Some of the main themes and issues that arose for me from the event included,

  • A lot of the presenter’s discussed how effective multi-agency working was the best way of responding to sexual abuse and exploitation, a clear example of this came through the discussion of the new Child House that is due to open soon in Camden based on the Icelandic model (Barnahus). In addition, presenters felt that there was a lot to be gained from the multi-agency working that went into serious case reviews, child safeguarding practice reviews and joint targeted area inspections.
  • Schools were seen as the lynchpin in effective child protection, but there was recognition that all schools may not have all the resources that they need to be able to facilitate this safeguarding properly. The speakers from schools and with an education viewpoint argued that schools need the resources to deal with the safeguarding issues that they face on a daily basis, suggesting that when social workers and counsellors are placed within schools then the establish can effectively respond and the experiences of everyone involved is improved.
  • Cassandra Harrison from the Centre for Expertise in Child Sexual abuse discussed their research and ongoing objectives, highlighting that there is still more about the reality and prevalence of child sexual abuse that we need to understand so that we can respond to it as well as prevent it more effectively. Cassandra directed attendees to their research agenda, publications and ongoing collaborations for more information on their work.
  • A representative from the Internet Watch Foundation, Michael Tunks, discussed their annual report, emphasising the increase in child sexual abuse imagery on the internet, the adaptive ways in which it is being embedded online and an increase in reporting of inappropriate material from members of the public. The IWF emphasised the importance of getting men, especially young men, to report child sexual abuse imagery posted on traditional pornography sites or on other forums where they would not expect to find it.
  • Jon Brown from the NSPCC called for a national strategy in preventing child sexual abuse, indicating that we needed clearer and more joined up thinking on the issue. The only way that the prevention of sexual abuse was going to happen in practice was through a public and co-ordinated commitment to it.
  • Donna Smalley discussed the work that they have done with victims’ families to create a number of child sexual exploitation films (i.e., Kayleigh’s love story) to use with children when discussing sexual abuse, grooming and online behaviour. This promoted a lot of debate within the audience with some participants suggesting that that these types of material should not be used as they are harmful (referencing the work of Jessica Eaton) or that they should only be used in a certain way, with certain groups with appropriate resources (i.e., counsellors, etc.) on hand.
  • The importance of language in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse was discussed with some presenter’s (including myself and Jon Brown) arguing that the way that we frame the issue of sexual abuse has important ramifications for the way that the issue is processed. Which was seen as salient in the way that we talked about perpetrators, the use of terminology (i.e., treatment vs rehabilitation vs risk management, etc.) and the differences between exploitation and abuse.
  • Across all the presenters, the attendees and the chair’s there was recognition that sexual abuse was a health issue, not simply a criminal justice one.
  • The sharing of material, resources and training was a point for discussion across the day with participants questioned how to be access up to date information when there was a lot of varying information coming from a range of sources; how to prioritise? The question was raised, whose responsibility was it to streamline and prioritize this new information so that it could be used effectively.

The event and the presentations across the day really highlighted the importance of working together to prevent as well as respond to child sexual abuse. One of the final statements made by the chair was that change had to come from communities and that if communities saw organisations working effectively together it would enforce that something was being done to tackle child sexual abuse and that they should have trust in, as well as participate with, the system.

What’s behind the screen? New insights on offending and victimisation in images of child sexual exploitation and abuse

By Margaret (Maggie) Brennan Lecturer at University College Cork, Ireland

There is a dearth of comprehensive and consistent data on the characteristics of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM)[1], and the children and offenders depicted in this content. This situation is due, in part, to the criminal nature of these materials, related methodological, ethical and legal challenges in researching CSAM/CSEM, and highly limited resourcing in relation to the significance of the issue. Until recently, no representative international baselines of empirical data had been produced on these phenomena.

The study

In an effort to address this problem, I was commissioned by ECPAT International and INTERPOL to lead an analysis of a multi-country data set of CSAM/CSEM cases, seized by law enforcement around the world, and housed in the International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) Database at INTERPOL. This CSAM/CSEM data set is broader in country coverage than any other previously analysed and made public. Funded by the European Commission, the study presents the results of a two-part analysis of CSAM/CSEM case data in the ICSE Database, and of consultations with law enforcement involved in the identification of victims and offenders pictured in CSAM/CSEM. It highlights the multi-faceted challenges presented to international law enforcement, child protection and other stakeholders by rapid evolutions in online child exploitation and abuse, and the increasingly complex role played by’ youth-produced’ sexual content in this context.

A major element of the report was the analysis of CSAM/CSEM images and videos, undertaken to develop a descriptive profile of unidentified child victims and their abusers, with attention to variables such as age category, gender, ethnicity, type and severity of depicted sexual activity, and paraphilic theme. This involved a visual analysis of a random sample of 800 CSAM/CSEM series[2] drawn from unidentified cases in the ICSE Database. Data collection from the CSAM/CSEM series was guided by a bespoke, 22-category coding framework, which in turn, was subjected to an interrater reliability assessment[3].

Evidently, analysing recordings of child sexual victimisation raised many complex ethical challenges for the research partners, particularly from the perspective of child rights. Therefore, the study was subject to a wide range of legal, institutional and ethical conditions, duly and carefully considered, and rigorously implemented, in order to respond to the ethical issues the project raised. These are described in the full report.

Key Findings

Very young children

The analysis suggested that, in comparative terms, the situation of very young CSAM/CSEM victims was particularly acute. The relationship between the severity of depicted sexual activity and victim age was significant, with infants and toddlers more likely to feature in imagery depicting severe sexual abuse involving an adult (COPINE[4] level 8-10). Furthermore, very young children were more likely than children of other ages to be subjected to victimisation featuring an additional problematic paraphilic theme (i.e. additional to the more obvious paedohebephilic themes depicted in the imagery). Overall, these additional problematic paraphilias were depicted in almost one third of the analysed CSAM/CSEM series.

Boys as victims

31% of series depicted the victimisation of boys exclusively. This figure is substantially higher than those reported in other studies, where boy victims accounted for approximately 20% of analysed cases (e.g. Canadian Center for Child Protection on the Internet, 2016; Quayle & Jones, 2011). Moreover, there was a significant relationship between the severity of depicted sexual activity and victim gender, with boys more likely to feature in material depicting severe sexual abuse (COPINE level 7-10), and girls more likely in imagery depicting moderate victimisation (COPINE level 4-6). 

Children in ‘low-level’, sexualized imagery

Over 61% of analysed series were identified as being both ‘abusive’ and ‘exploitative in character’, meaning that universally illegal sexual abuse images and potentially legal exploitation images of the same victim were found together. This finding speaks to the possibility that many child subjects of ‘low level’ exploitation imagery have also been implicated in the production of illegal CSAM.

Female offenders

Where depicted, females offended more frequently alongside a male, assuming an ‘active’ role in the abuse. Moreover, offending pairs comprising male and female offenders were more likely to engage in extreme forms of abuse. There was significant relationship between offender gender and sexual activity level, with series where males and females depicted together more likely to feature the highest level of abuse (COPINE level 10).

‘Youth-produced’ sexual imagery

A wide range of sexual activities were depicted in these materials, from more innocuous, nude or semi-nude ‘selfies’ of children, through to ‘self-generated’ depictions of extreme sexual activity involving bestiality and sadomasochistic themes. While many recordings were produced in domestic settings, others were apparently produced in school environments. The levels of CSAM/CSEM production depicted in these cases were quite complex, and challenged the simplistic distinction that has been drawn between content that is ‘youth-produced’ and offender-generated. In some cases, offender involvement was clear, whether recording the children while they ‘self-generated’ the imagery, or otherwise coercing the child into the production of the content.


Given the scope of the analysis, the findings presented here are limited to a high-level selection of report highlights which may be of interest to those concerned with the treatment and management of online child sex offenders and their victims.

More broadly, the study highlighted how our knowledge of the characteristics of CSAM/CSEM victims and offenders is limited, both by a lack of standardised or comparable data categorisation approaches, and by differences in the sampling and case recording approaches across existing studies. Resolving this situation will require extensive engagement between the research community and gatekeepers of international repositories of CSAM/CSEM in order to develop standardised and comparable datasets. Notwithstanding, the study offers a framework and categorisation approach towards this goal, that may be further used to support the development of descriptive profiles of CSAM/CSEM victims and offenders in future studies.

The technical report, containing full findings and discussion, can be downloaded from:

Margaret (Maggie) Brennan Lecturer at University College Cork, Ireland; research lead on the ECPAT-INTERPOL study, ‘Towards a Global Indicator on Unidentified Victims in Child Sexual Exploitation Material’.


Canadian Center for Child Protection (2016). Child Sexual Abuse Images on the Internet: A Analysis. Retrieved from

Quayle, E., & Jones, T. (2011). “Sexualised Images of Children on the Internet”. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 23(1), 7-21.

Taylor, M., Holland, G., & Quayle, E. (2001). “Typology of paedophile picture collections”. The Police Journal, 74(2), 97-107.

[1] The Interagency Working Group on Sexual Exploitation of Children (2016) defines CSAM as a subset of CSEM, ‘where there is actual abuse or a concentration on the anal or genital region of the child’ (p.39). According to its guidelines, CSEM can be used in a broader sense to encompass all other sexualised material depicting children (p. 40).

[2] A series is a group of images and/or videos that are related to each other in some way that is meaningful to an investigator, e.g. if the images and videos depict the same victim or the same crime scene.

[3] Levels of agreement between the raters for the framework categories (reliabilities) were measured by means of an assessment of inter-rater reliability using Kendall’s tau (τ). Where it was possible to produce reliability estimates, scores indicative of good to perfect agreement were observed between the 4 raters in the application of the framework.

[4] Severity of depicted sexual victimisation was assessed in accordance with the 10-point COPINE scale (Taylor, Holland & Quayle, 2001)


From the Front-Line: Practitioner’s Reflections

By  Anna Hutchings, Senior Practitioner, SWIFT Specialist Family Service (Sexual Risk) 

Please note that this is an online publication of a piece due to be included in the next edition of NOTA News. Kieran.

What does your day-to-day practice in the field of sexual abuse look like? What dilemmas, questions and themes does this work raise for you? As readers of NOTA news, you will be acutely aware of the diversity of case work within the field. You may have wondered whether other practitioners have shared your experiences and/or might benefit from your practice wisdom. With these ideas in mind, the NOTA editorial team would like to introduce a practice reflection piece to the magazine. This is an invitation for readers to share reflections, experiences and opinions about their work with children, families and adults in the field of sexual abuse. The hope is that contributions from practitioners will enable a sharing of skills and encourage discussion and debate around key areas of interest.

The first article of this series focuses on my reflections on working with adoptive parents of children with harmful sexual behaviour.

Building Trust: Adoptive Parents and Children with Harmful Sexual Behaviour

Practitioners working with children with harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) will likely require little convincing that success in this area is facilitated by close collaboration with parents/carers. Broadly, the role of the parent is central in helping to prevent re-occurrences of the behaviour, supervising the child and supporting rehabilitation. In acknowledging these roles, it is clear that the responsibilities placed upon parents and carers are significant and can last well beyond legal/treatment processes and the child’s maturation (Jones, 2014).

It is my experience that the weight of these responsibilities hangs heavily on even the most robust of parents, whether adoptive or not. Key aims when working with parents are to assist them in developing their coping skills; achieve acceptance; and, to provide sensitive support and care to their child (Jones, 2014). I believe this challenging ‘journey’ is underpinned by practitioners successfully building a safe and trusting relationship with the parents. The “social consequences” of HSB can be more significant than other forms of problematic behaviour, and therefore, the trusting relationship with an informed worker may be the only space for parents to honestly explore worries, ( my child a monster?) and work towards a position of thoughtful support for their child (Yoder and Ruch, 2016).

To build trust with adoptive parents I have had to identify and recognise some of the specific issues experienced by adopters by applying an adoption ‘lens’ to the dilemma. Key to this has been seeking the advice and co-working with specialist adoption support services alongside applying knowledge of sexual abuse theory and research. In working with adoptive parents and children with HSB it soon became clear to me that they are not a homogenous group. However, I have identified four key themes/challenges that tend to arise within this context:

  • For some adoptive parents there may be an additional barrier to asking for help as a consequence of underlying anxieties that they will be perceived as not being a good enough parent or that they have failed to “fix” the child. In my experience adoptive parents can feel second-rate to biological parents and this underlying belief can feed the anxieties described above. It can be helpful for workers to give voice to these fears and explore whether these resonate with individual adoptive parents.

  • The key to parents being able to provide support to their child is their capacity to first address their own thoughts and feelings about the abusive behaviours. Jones (2014) highlights that the parent might blame themselves for the child’s behaviour. However, this issue can become more complex with adoptive parents and their children. While a tendency to blame other factors is often present for all parents, I have found this to be a more entrenched position with adoptive parents. With some, it has been my experience that significant emphasis is placed upon the child’s past experiences and therefore, little, if any, acknowledgement is made as to how the present environment might be contributing to the child’s behaviours. Work is required to build trust and a supportive environment so that the parents feel able to explore all elements of their child’s experience so as to best understand the child’s story and trajectory towards HSB.

  • The experience of sexual abuse is understood to be one factor that can contribute to HSB in children and young people. For some adopters there is significant concern about caring for a child who is thought to have experienced sexual abuse (in my local authority, prior sexual abuse is the factor most often named by prospective adopters as being unwanted in their future child). This is probably due to fears of not knowing how to cope or best care for a child who has lived experience of this type of trauma and whether their other children could be at risk. They may not understand the impact of abuse, possibly owing to the commonly held misconception that all abused children go on to abuse.

There are a number of reasons why determining whether or not a child has been sexually abused previously is difficult, not least due to low levels of disclosure. Furthermore, on average children disclose two years after being in a settled placement (Kellogg 2009). Despite this, Local Authorities, when reporting, to the best of their awareness, that a child has not experienced sexual abuse, may not be preparing adopters adequately for the reality of potential undisclosed harm. As such, adopters may feel more shocked about their child’s HSB when it happens. It is important that practitioners provide space for adopters to explore this as a possibility for their child, including opportunity to discuss the emotions and challenging feelings this can evoke.

  • Finally, the adoptive parent(s) may themselves have been subjected to child sexual abuse. It is my experience that this can remain unknown by professionals until the emergence of the child’s HSB. This raises questions about when and how sexual abuse is specifically explored within the process of assessing prospective adopters. However, it may be that the adopted parent has kept this hidden from professionals out of self-preservation; shame; fear it will impact on the assessment of their capacity to adopt; or, a feeling that this issue is resolved and in the past. Either way, the traumatic experiences of sexual abuse may well be triggered by their child’s HSB. Given this context, workers should remain curious about parents’ histories and the possibility of childhood sexual abuse experiences as a factor influencing the parent’s response and processing of their child’s behaviour. Time and energy should be given to explore how trauma can impact on parenting.

Overall, this is an interesting area of work which requires sensitivity from practitioners and a recognition of the interplay between themes related to adoption and sexual abuse in family life.


Jones, S (2014) Parents of adolescents who have sexually offended: providing support and coping with the experience. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(8) 1299–1321.

Kellogg, N (2009) Clinical Report- The Evaluation of Sexual Behaviours in Children Pediatrics 124 992-998

Yoder, J & Ruch, D (2016) A qualitative investigation of treatment components for families of youth who have sexually offended. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 22 (2) 192-205.


Untangling the dark web: Investigative challenges for offenders like Falder

By Ruth McAlister, PhD, & Kieran McCartan, PhD,

Over the past few weeks Child Sexual Abuse has gained prominence in the UK media with stories linked to allegations of abuse on the rise (as highlighted by the NSPCC), sexual abuse linked to aid agencies at home and abroad (with cases involving Oxfam), historic cases of child sexual abuse in sport (the Barry Bunnell case) and the prosecution of Matthew Falder. Unlike the other cases discussed the Matthew Falder case involves aspects of child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation that that many members of the public may not be aware of or if they are aware of them that they may not understand them including, but not limited to the dark web and the difference between contact and non-contact offenders.

Matthew Falder, from the information made available to us, was not a contact sex offender. He groomed and exploited children, of various ages, online to develop self-created images of sexual abuse/exploitation which he then shared on the dark web. Research linked to online child sexual abuse talks about perpetrators being fantasy vs contact driven (Merdian et al, 2018), but what we have in Falder is a question of whether he is a Child Sexual Abuse perpetrator, a Child Sexual Exploiter or both? It is becoming increasingly common for Abuser and Exploiter to be used interchangeably but they are not necessarily the same thing or the same person, in the same way that a paedophile and Child Sexual Abuser are not necessarily the same – they might be but do not have to be. Falder seems to criss-cross that line, between abuser and exploiter, because he is orchestrating the self-abuse of children by themselves. Therefore he is driving contact offending but not committing the contact abuse himself. This poses a real challenge for the way that we think about him, his motivations and psychology. Falder is shown to be a deeply committed abuser that enjoyed the power/control that the abuse gave him, that he groomed and manipulated victims over a period of time, that he was intelligent and technologically savvy. Falder demonstrated high levels of anti-sociality, bullying and vindictiveness; he continued his abuse in spite of constant calls by the victims to stop as he enjoyed their humiliation. Another factor in the Falder case, that cannot be dismissed, is his implied narcissism and that he enjoyed the celebrity status that he received in online forums related to the material that he shared; it is unclear whether it was his enjoyment of the abuse, his celebrity or both that drove him to continue as well as escalate the abuse.

Falder initially posed as an artist to attract his victims on Gumtree before moving his activities to the dark web (BBC, 2018) where he was able to evade detection. The dark web exists on an alternative layer of the Internet that requires specialist software to access it. Tor, freely downloadable open source software is the most commonly used mechanism for accessing the dark web, it is not however the only system by which to access the dark web. The Tor website tells us that the software protects you by encrypting and then bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays, run by volunteers all over the world. In doing so, it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection and learning what sites you visit, it also prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor can also be used to host websites at ‘hidden services’ online. These services usually have incomprehensible names, with the suffix ‘.onion’.  It is here that you will find illegal websites selling drugs, offering hacking services, or stolen credit card data, extreme adult pornography, or indecent child abuse imagery, along with the “hurtcore” forums dedicated to sharing images and videos of rape, murder, sadism, blackmail, paedophilia and degradation of which Falder was a member.

Despite his best efforts to evade detection Falder was finally identified due to a culmination of investigative work undertaken by law enforcement agencies across the world including the United States, UK, Australia, Israel and Slovenia (The Independent, 2018). The FBI was critical in the investigation due to their work exposing the users of dark web paedophilia sites (BBC, 2018). Specialists built their own websites on servers which hosted offending sites to track communications on them. This allowed them to access the “hurtcore” communities, such as ‘Hurt 2 The Core’ where the username “Inthegarden” (later identified as Falder) posted blackmail pictures of a teenage girl. The user was tracked online and found to have also made posts on the online marketplace Gumtree where he used at least 30 different email addresses encrypted via services which originated in Russia, (another service hosted on the dark web). A breakthrough occurred in 2015 when the NCA were able to link “Inthegarden” to two other usernames “666devil” and “evilmind” accessing the user’s webmail accounts. Although it was now recognised that the same person was operating under these usernames and that this person had approached more than 300 victims worldwide, Falder’s identity was still unknown as there was still not enough intelligence to identify the suspect (The Independent, 2018). A special taskforce was established involving national and international law enforcement and in March 2017 intelligence linked a person of interest to an address in Birmingham (BBC, 2018). After being placed under cover surveillance for three months Falder was arrested.

The co-operation of international law enforcement in identifying an individual who went to great lengths to remain anonymous has been described as a “bit of a watershed moment for policing” (BBC, 2018) with at one point over 100 officers working on the case using a broad range of covert capabilities. Undoubtedly this took tremendous resources to apprehend Falder and it does raise questions about the financial cost of such operations and how law enforcement can stay “one step ahead”, even with formidable weapons such as advanced machine learning, data mining and data visualisation tools that can all be used to identify patterns of harmful or illegal activity. The dangers posed by the dark web will only increase with next generation .onion sites using advanced encryption and sophisticated cryptography (Hurlbert, 2017). This combined with increasingly technologically savvy offenders will ensure that law enforcement investigations such as this one are only the beginning.

The main learning point in the Falder case is the same learning point that we have been rereading for years, sexual abuse is individualistic and we need to take a what works, bespoke approach through multi-agency working.


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