ANZATSA Biennial Conference 2019

By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D.

The biennial ANZATSA conference took place from the 24th – 26th July in Brisbane. The conference was a real mix of research, practice, and engagement with colleagues from across Australia, New Zealand and internationally (with attendees and speakers from a range of countries including the USA, Canada, UK). In this blog, I am going to take you through the conference highlights.

On the first day (Wednesday) there were 11 ½ day workshops that focused on a range of topics, including Risk Assessment (David Thornton; Simon Hackett & Marcella Leonard; Maaike Helmus; Ray Knight & Judith Sims-Knight); the registration and disclosure of information relating to people who had committed sexual offences (Katie Gotch, Margret-Anne Laws, Karla Lopez & Kieran McCartan); the voices of victims on the integration of people who have been convicted of sexual offences back into the community (Kelly Richards, Jodi Death, Carol Ronken & Kieran McCartan); the prevention of sexual abuse (Stephen Smallbone); and treatment/interventions (Richard Parker; Sharon Kelley) The workshops enabled professional, policy and practice conversations to take place in a controlled, informed environment.

The 2019 plenaries combined research, practice and innovate approaches from an international group of speakers, most of whom were from outside Australia and New Zealand. The Thursday keynotes addressed children who had committed Harmful Sexual Behaviour, their client voice and the impact of treatment/interventions, on their life course desistence as well as how we could adapt our practice to better serve them (Simon Hackett). This was followed by a discussion of what matters and what works in risk assessment and how it ties to reducing risk of recidivism (David Thornton), The third keynote on Thursday was a panel discussion on the process and impact of the Australian Royal Commission, which highlighted the challenges of implementing its recommendations in practice (Gary Foster, Kathryn Mandla & Professor Stephen Smallbone).

One of the main themes of the conference was hearing different voices and it’s fitting that the Indigenous voices (Maori, Aboriginal and Tori Strait Islanders) and the victim’s voices (through conversations on the Royal Commission) were front and center in the plenaries as well as in the parallel sessions. These sessions were important and thoughtfully developed, highlighting the ways that Australia and New Zealand where moving forward in the arena of hearing and respecting the Indigenous voices and how we can develop appropriate risk assessment, treatments/interventions, and integration strategies developed with traditional peoples in mind. Which should give all participants, especially from anglophone northern hemisphere countries, pause for thought in the way that we address these issues in our own countries. In addition, it was good to see and hear a focus on the victim’s voice at a treatment and management conference for people convicted of sexual offenses as it reinforced that these two sides of the field are not as detracted from each other as they are often portrayed; the only way to truly understand, respond to and prevent sexual abuse is to hear all voices.

The National Office for Child Safety led two co-design workshops for the development of a National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse on the last day of the conference. Which was interesting to attend and quite innovative in the context of a conference as policymakers got to discuss issues with researchers and practitioners, hearing each other’s voices and building approaches that were fit for purpose. These sessions where quite innovative and I would recommend that sister conferences in the field (NOTA, ATSA, ATSA-NL, CoNTRAS-TI & IATSO) would consider doing the same thing.

Other parallel workshops spanned a full range of topics and speakers of which this is just a flavour) including, integration of people who have sexually offended back into the community; public health approaches to sexual abuse and prevention; youth who sexually harm; institutional sexual abuse; & pornography. The parallel sessions were a good mix of research, evaluation, practical working, professional learning and knowledge exchange.

The second day of the conference (Friday) closed with an interesting mix of keynotes, a panel session that focused on the voices of Indigenous peoples (Lynore Geia, Neil Campbell, Carol Vale, & Claire Walker), another that addressed research on typologies of people who commit rape (Ray Knight) and how much we know about undetected sexual abuse (Sharon Kelley). All the keynotes tied together ideas of the importance of assessment, management, and integration in a thoughtful, fit for purpose fashion tying together research, practice and policy effectively.

In addition to the traditional conference activities, ANZATSA 2019 also had an engagement event. This year we changed our focus from members of the public to professionals. We advertised the engagement event to professionals who have safeguarding as part of their jobs, but that safeguarding is not their main role (and therefore would not be attending the ANZATSA conference) including, teachers, foster carers, members of charities and NGO’s, etc. They had approximately 70 participants sign up to attend the event. The session heard from national (Detective Inspector Rouse, Professor Martine Powell & Carol Ronken) speakers, chaired by Nance Haxton (the wandering journo), about how to raise informed and confident children that can discuss sexual abuse, and exploitation, and able to ask for help. The engagement event reinforced the main theme of the conference and highlighted that we as a community need to come together to stop child sexual abuse.

ANZATSA 2019 fitted a massive amount of material in across three days, which left me informed, refreshed and looking forward to 2021’s meeting.

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