Reflections on the recent NOTA & Lucy Faithfull Foundation sexual abuse prevention conference.

By Megan Hinton, Victim and Survivor Advocate, Marie Collins Foundation.

I recently joined the Marie Collins Foundation (MCF) as a Victim and Survivor Advocate. My role involves working alongside those with lived experience of technology-assisted child sexual abuse, to champion and amplify their voice and embed it into policy, practice, and academia.

As a survivor myself part of my position includes speaking about my lived experience at conferences and events. So, when the Lucy Faithfull Foundation reached out to ask if I wanted to give the opening address at the Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Conference organised jointly with NOTA, I felt honoured.

Prior to the conference I had little to no knowledge about prevention methods and believed most prevention work was done through PHSE lessons in schools and charity led awareness campaigns. Joining the conference, I felt intrigued to learn in order to identify any cross over that may help with my role. But I also felt apprehensive about attending as I knew the conference would heavily focus on perpetrators, rather than the voice of survivors.

During my presentation I spoke about the importance of prevention from a survivor’s perspective, referencing my own experience and embedding key messages from MCF’s Lived Experience Group. During my address I quoted one of our Lived Experience Group Members who said, “survivors get a lifelong sentence”. I also emphasised that whilst child sexual abuse can take place over many years it can also happen in as little as a few hours and yet the impact is the same, it fundamentally changes who you are as a person. My hope was for my address to encourage attendees to anchor their thoughts on the children, victims and survivors they work to protect. I wanted attendees to challenge their thinking and reflect on how they could apply learning from the conference to their work and day-to-day life.

My apprehensions about the content of the conference quickly dissipated as I listened to the presentations that followed my own. It was heartening to see each speaker cover a point I had made during my address, which ensured the voice of survivors was visible throughout the day. Some key points which I was particularly happy to see focused on included challenging stereotypes of victims and offenders and highlighting that schools cannot be the only place where conversations about child sexual abuse take place. MCF’s Lived Experience Group told us they want to ‘blow the lid off’ child sexual abuse and the silence that surrounds it. Victims and survivors regularly tell MCF that sexual abuse is still rarely spoken about and that makes it difficult for children to identify abuse or find the words to explain what is happening to them. So it was encouraging to hear practitioners with similar views who were committed to raising awareness and involving wider society in conversations about child sexual abuse.

The impact of child sexual abuse can be profound and devastating and that impact does not stop with the victim or survivor, it can ripple through ‘secondary victims’ such as family, friends and the communities that surround the child. So, it was excellent to see each presentation looking at prevention through a multi-agency public health lens. The presentations were informative and easy to digest and covered a range of different aspects to prevention. I particularly enjoyed learning about the three levels of prevention – primary, secondary and tertiary – and how these would fit into a public health model. I also appreciated the level of detail given so that I could begin to understand the thinking and evidence base which supports compassionate and restorative intervention work.

The conference really challenged my own way of thinking in a positive way. One personal learning point was the realisation that tertiary prevention work is not about justification, excuses or minimising the harm caused to victims, it’s about preventing reoffending and protecting children. I found it encouraging to hear about the success rates of these types of interventions.

The conference definitely inspired people to learn and improve but also celebrated how far prevention work has come in such a short space of time. Seeing people so passionate about their work, recognising the challenges that they face and striving to improve their services gave the conference a real undertone of hope.

As a survivor myself, the concept of prevention rarely crossed my mind. I could lose years of my life thinking about ways my abuse could have been prevented but wasn’t. As many other victims and survivors will know, we often feel blame and accountability for our abuse, and it can make it seem as though it was inevitable. But this conference allowed me to consider how prevention strategies and services work, how they can improve and enabled me to reflect on how we can better evaluate outcomes.

Leaving the conference, I felt passionate about the messaging in primary prevention, and how difficult it is to assess and measure outcomes for this type of intervention. In early prevention work we often see too much responsibility placed on children to ‘keep themselves safe’ particularly online. Through MCF’s direct work with children and their families affected by technology-assisted child sexual abuse, we know this e-safety messaging can silence victims from disclosing as they expect blame and shame. Instead, we must focus on creating an environment where children and young people and adults feel empowered to talk about these issues without threat or fear of victim-blaming.

In addition, we see widespread societal blame on parents, who often do all they can to safeguard their children. I believe actively engaging and listening to those with lived experience, including parents whose children have lived experience, could offer an insight into what primary prevention messages do and don’t work, and more importantly why. The incredible group of brave victims and survivors in MCF’s Lived Experience Group are testament that consultation with lived experience can, and does positively improve services, practice and policy. What we learn through our direct work can feed into prevention work, and MCF values partnership working. We know partnerships and collaboration improves outcomes for children, victims, and survivors and this conference has further cemented the long-standing working relationship with LFF, NOTA and MCF. I am excited to see how we work in partnership in the future. 

Ethical considerations of the financial cost of resources on harmful sexual behaviour services

Dr Sophie King-Hill, University of Birmingham

In many harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) services for children and young people (CYP) how resources are funded, developed, and delivered is coming under increasing scrutiny as frontline and third sectors organisations are having budgets cut and services reduced. Given this context, is it ever ethical to charge for these resources?

Preventing and responding to (HSB) in children and young people forms a significant proportion of the work social services, the third sector and social justice organisations carry out. Due to this there are many tools, assessments and interventions (referred to as resources) that have been developed that make a tangible and positive difference to the lives of CYP and their families. This, and the other points made in this article, also hold true for the adult criminal justice field, but it is beyond the scope of the authors expertise to discuss these in-depth and the focus will be on HSB services for CYP.

When considering HSB the moral philosophy appears to be underpinned by the reduction and prevention of sexual abuse and harm and the promotion of well-being and recovery. So the reduction of harm and the maximising of benefits. Ethics are often highlighted in practice in terms of work carried out with CYP and their families and of the practice that is delivered, and the research that is conducted. Yet these ethical considerations are sparse when considering products that are commissioned and used.

At face value the ethical principles of HSB work may appear clear-cut (i.e., work in a trauma informed way, do no harm, protect the patient/service user). However, after scrutiny, the lines seem blurred. This field is inhabited by professionals from a range of specialisms and fields (i.e., sociology, psychology, criminology, social work, police, probation, prisons, social care); therefore, HSB services are a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency area that exist at a crossroads between practices, policies, and processes. This means that the ethical considerations are somewhat complex as no core set values and principles exist as they do in medicine, law or criminal justice for instance. In social work for example, there is an explicit commitment to human dignity and worth. In medicine there is a framework that is built around doing good and no harm, free choice, justice and fairness. These are ethical principles in which professions are bound – being built around trust and held to account by bodies such as the General Medical Council.

Whilst a multi-agency approach is clearly needed for HSB, a by-product of this way of working is that no steadfast and explicit ethical principles exist due to the range of specialisms involved. This lack of a sense of measure, accountability and consistent public pledge has perhaps created an environment where profitable endeavours have gained traction and power without the rigour of adequate ethical questioning. Given that preventing and responding to HSB is both social justice and social care work, and given the rise of health approaches and thinking in the HSB field there is a strong argument that work, including tools and interventions, needs to be framed by social not private enterprises.  Therefore, profitability, in its purest form does not seem to align when considering the field of HSB and the underpinning principles of minimising harm and suffering and supporting recovery.

The impact of the financial costs of resources on practice and provision in harmful sexual behaviour services

Consideration needs to be given to the impact of the financial costs  of resources. If the costs of resources is not equitable and is the same for all, in HSB services it risks failing CYP and their families for a number of reasons, for example:

  • If some professionals can access the resource and others can’t then this can result in miscommunication and misunderstanding between the differing agencies. Research tells us that multi-agency work is a crucial aspect of positive HSB outcomes, so this has the potential to cause conflict in this space.
  • If, because of the cost, only a few professionals in one agency can access certain resources then this may also risk the dilution and misuse of what has been paid for. This points to a flawed and unsustainable model – and may also indicate that in social welfare contexts a model based purely on profits may make the overall issues worse, not better.
  • Training costs will always have to be ongoing if there is a commitment to a certain resource, which again may be unsustainable for agencies with small budgets. High staff turn-over may result in resources not being used adequately as the trained experts will have left. Additionally, when the case loads of those who are trained are full, what then happens to CYP who need support.
  • The exclusion of CYP and families from accessing services if professionals aren’t trained or have knowledge is also inadvertently causing them harm. This runs the risk of a two tier model – even in the same service with some CYP and their families getting good support and others not. When something exists that can make a tangible positive difference to the lives of CYP and their families in an area as damaging as HSB, with no equitable approach, can be measured against ethical principles as inherently morally wrong.
  • The financial cost of resources can, inadvertently, create a postcode lottery of service delivery and interventions. For example, services in poorer socio-economic areas may not have the resources to pay for resources and therefore CYP and their families maybe excluded from accessing services.

Additionally, consideration needs to be given as to how resources are commissioned and adopted by services and how this is supported by them as well as by government and local authority budgets and spending. If resources are shown to be working and making a measurable difference to the lives of CYP, and their families, then large-scale funding and commissioning should be considered. This may negate the issues with the profiting from damaging social welfare issues that have gained traction.

What can be done?

It is important to consider the role, impact, and purpose of charging for resources on the HSB sector has. If the purpose is to positively support CYP who have sexually harmed or been harmed in an evidence-based way to reduce harm, then of course the materials used need to be based on research as well as expertise. The reality is that costs need to be covered, this is not unrealistic. And to protect their fidelity through this should always be considered. However, questions need to be asked in terms of the level of profitability over social good and where this is ethically situated.  A pure profitability perspective still appears ethically flawed in this field and considerations of revenue sacrifice, when bearing in mind the positive impact on people’s lives, should be made. Perhaps a case could be made for a ‘robin hood’ model of working when charging for services in this arena. In its simplest form this means charging those that can afford it more and providing subsidies, resources and free services, to those who can’t. This model emerged in the 1970s as can be seen in the work on cataracts by the Aravind Eye Care Hospital in India at this time. Other businesses have followed suit such as Warby Parker (buy one, give one for glasses) and Cotopaxi (donating money for social good from profits) and is underpinned by increasing social responsibilities of profit-making businesses. With the right policy transfer frameworks in place this application of values and approach can work in the field of resources and interventions that are being charged for in the field of HSB.

Work in field of prevention of and response to HSB is a moral and ethical issue, it is carried out by professionals who, in the main, deeply care and are motivated to help the people they work with, and therefore should be given access to the best resources available, regardless of cost. This is even more relevant in working with children and young people in this space. Therefore, should businesses that trade in this arena be held to account and be bound to shared ethical principles, standards, and safeguards. These principles could be set out in a charter mark for example, that has a clear ethical criterion when making profit in this field that is underpinned by the aim of maximising benefits and minimising harm to CYP and their families.  The aim should be geared around considering where they can make profitable sacrifices to maximise benefits and reduce harm – being held to account when this is not evidenced, via an ethical framework. It can be argued that in this field that the outcomes for CYP and their families should be paramount and a recognition first and foremost for the lives of the people who can benefit from services should be at the forefront of any business considerations. That public benefit, as outlined by the Charity Commission, is a key component of work in this area, especially in frontline services (i.e., social work, policing, child protection) that are publicly funded. The landscape, when explored through the lens of ethics, provides a concerning picture of an environment where the lack of consistent ethical principles means there is no bar to measure against. Therefore, when considering maximising benefits and minimising harm, in the field of HSB this lack of accountability runs the risk of becoming incredibly dangerous.

‘Tis the season of restoration.

 By Kieran McCartan, PhD

Our friends in America celebrate Thanksgiving this week, a sometimes fraught and challenging holiday.  Families and friends come together to celebrate reunion, restoration, and a rekindling of relationships. It sounds easy, but it’s not! It can be difficult and sometimes irreconcilable. Establishing and re-establishing a sense of family or community is not always easy.

Interestingly, this week is also Restorative Justice week. Across Europe, it’s a time to discuss restorative practice in the criminal justice system. Like Thanksgiving in the US, restorative practice is also challenging and complex. It can also help people resolve issues, rebuild lives, and move forward from the trauma they experienced or caused. Restorative practices are common across social justice; we have seen them used in personal, community, and social conflict cases. My first exposure to restorative practice was long before studying criminal justice; it was in my native Northern Ireland, where the process was encouraged as a community-building device in the peace talks and the creation of the Good Friday agreement. However, there is one area where restorative practice is not always accepted, where it’s seen as challenging, difficult, and, at times, a risk: Sexual abuse!

Last week, Thursday and Friday, I chaired two separate and quite distinct events for the Thriving Survivors organization. One was an event hosted by the Lord Provost of Glasgow, where members of the organization discussed their work and highlighted their good practices. The second event was a traditional conference focusing on restorative justice and sexual abuse, calling for the need to have systematic change in the way that restorative justice is responded to. The events focused on the need for a coherent restorative practice to offer to victims of sexual abuse, one that’s victim-led, holistic, strengths-based, and sustainable. The conference illustrated how those who are victimized by sexual abuse should have access to and engagement with the services that they want, not just the services that the state and third parties want to offer them (or, even worse, feel that they should have). The conference showed that sexual abuse is a complex and multifaceted issue that cannot be separated from real life, especially when the abuse is committed by and connected to family systems, friend groups, and peer networks. Sexual abuse needs to be confronted, and people who are victimized seek help as well as support in whatever form they feel comfortable. The speakers (including Dr Marie KeenanDr Estelle Zinsstag; and David Russell) and organisations (Stop it now ScotlandThe Consent CollectiveRestorative Justice CouncilAll party working group on restorative justice) reiterated the importance of personal choice, support, collaboration, and taking a victim-centred approach. This was brought together by a keynote from Professor Judith Herman, who talked about her new book emphasizing the importance of the voices of those victimized in the healing process. That system-wide change is needed to make the criminal justice system less traumatizing for victims. One way of doing that is through thoughtful, well-planned restorative practice.

The two days reinforced the importance of personal choice and careful, detailed, trauma-informed, and strengths-based services. If done well, restorative practice can support victims in moving forward and finding closure or acceptance. Restorative practice needs to be victim-led, flexible, and accessible to all. The system needs to change to hear the voices of those harmed. In this season of restoration, please ask yourself what everyone needs to come together and talk about and the best way to do this.

Discovering what was already there: The (re)emergence of Sibling Sexual Abuse

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, David Prescott, LICSW, and Kasia Uzieblo, PhD

It’s interesting to consider the ebb and flow of academic and professional interest. We have seen on the blog over the years different topics come and go, some having periods of significance and periods of dominance. We have seen prevention become established, while risk assessment developments roll along in the background and the polygraph remains controversial, sometimes even divisive.

One topic that seems to have emerged strong and is now dominating the conversation, especially in the UK and parts of Europe, that no one really saw coming is sibling sexual abuse (SSA). This month, the Journal of Sexual Aggression had a special issue dedicated to it, as well as the journal of Child Abuse & Neglect; so why the sudden increase in research (and in some areas, practice like the development of a new mapping tool for assessment and treatment planning) interest when SSA is not a new phenomenon?

Controversies about incest and psychology have been with us since Freud. In the US, sexual abuse within families and among siblings became a focus of mental health interventions in the 1980s. At the time, authors such as Chloe Madanes used techniques for family-based interventions that appear harsh and misguided by today’s standards. Her contemporary, Jan Hindman, wrote at length about clarification of abuse and demonstrated how treating those who abuse can assist the healing of those abused. Within the field of treating adolescents who sexually abused, authors such as Jerry Thomas and Joann Schladale emerged in the 1990s and 2000s and addressed SSA through a family-therapy lens. Much has been written outside of scholarly research about the experience of surviving SSA; much less about those who commit the abuse. And fewer still have conducted scientific inquiry into SSA until now.

While the above practice developments took place in the US, there has been a growing conversation amongst professionals about SSA over the past five years in the UK and Europe. This has often emerged from the study of harmful sexual behavior in childhood, with research by the Centre for Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse developing a range of policy, practice, and research papers that indicate that it’s the most common form of intrafamilial violence.

These papers have started to change conversations and perspectives, particularly away from the typical perspective of father (or male caregiver)-daughter incest being the most prevalent form. This changing conversation has led to scoping studies and emerging research conversations across the UK that have indicated a professional and practice interest in the area. A main driver has been the emergence of SSA as a bespoke form of abuse that is not the same as child sexual abuse, peer-on-peer abuse, or other sexual exploitation. SSA involves a combination of different forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation (sometimes across multiple contexts), which makes it complicated and nuanced not only for professionals and policy makers, but also for the children being harmed, the children harming, their family, and peers.

The complexity of SSA means that those who are victimized do not always feel seen in the system. They may not recognize themselves in service provision, nor in prevention campaigns against sexual violence, which means that they do not necessarily seek help or support. In many cases, they may not realize that they have been abused. The implications of this are that the true prevalence of SSA is unrecognized and underrepresented in children and adults services; this is a problem because if we truly want to prevent and respond to all forms of sexual abuse we need to recognize and see all forms. This means that professionals need to rethink, reconceptualize and redevelop some of their existing practice in this area.

It is important to state that in the flurry of research and practice activities related to SSA (full disclosure: Kieran and Kasia are researching and publishing in this area while David has produced book chapters and trainings in this area), we must balance the old with the new. It is essential to recognize that we need to look at the full picture and consider existing research and practice from other areas and what role they can play in professional discourse, rather than simply creating new information.

SSA sits at the crossroads of Psychology, Sociology, Social Work, and Children’s Studies. We therefore have to consider what these disciplines say about trauma, family dynamics, abuse, violence, and their interactions with each other. The CSA Centre and special edition of the JSA have done this well. It will be wise to acknowledge and recognize what we know before we adapt and develop it for a new perspective or audience. Additionally, it’s important to look towards other trends and norms that are feeding into the establishment of this emerging topic (particularly in light of what we are seeing with the lingering impact of COVID, lockdowns, the presence of trauma and adversity, and the growing influence of pornography on young people). Regarding this last point, with respect to pornography, practitioners are reporting a rise in brother-sister/stepsibling content on relevant sites.  Each of these considerations speaks to how we need a broader social and community recognition of SSA and that conversations around prevention need to happen in homes, schools, and communities.

While we recognize and welcome the increased conversation about SSA in the professional, policy and research arena, we think that it’s important to state that this is not a new phenomenon. Rather, it is a shift in focus regarding a long-existing concern, and a need to address a real issue in the lives of individuals and families. Sadly, this problem receives scant attention in the media and that it is not a topic regularly discussed in clinical practices outside our field. It thus remains taboo. Nevertheless, we hope that with increased scientific attention to this topic, interest from the community, counseling, policy etc. will also significantly increase. Because there are still so many questions that remain unanswered, such as, what interventions are adequate with this group? What prevention measures can make a real impact? How can we also better support adult victims of SSA? To answer these, we need input, insights, and expertise from all services providers and users. Let’s not wait until a serious case appears in the media before we really start investing time, money, and efforts to prevent sibling sexual abuse.

A review of the International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders (IATSO) conference 2023.

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, Kasia Uzieblo, PhD, and David S. Prescott, LICSW.

Apparently, it’s never too late to try new things! Or so they say. At least in Kieran’s and Kasia’s case, this is true. For the first time, they both attended the IATSO annual conference. David is an older hand at this and was a keynote speaker. Last week saw the 17th bi-annual IATSO conference, which took place in Trondheim, Norway. IATSO has been affiliated with ATSA for many years, and their conference is one of the big 5 conferences that focus on the prevention, rehabilitation, and integration back into the community of people convicted of sexual crimes (with the other four being NOTA, ATSA, NL-ATSA, and ANZATSA). Despite the common focus concerning sexual violence, we experience time and time again that each conference has its own accents, brings different insights, and other opportunities to get acquainted with colleagues as not every expert can attend the big 5. The entire experience made us more enthusiastic about attending ATSA in a few weeks.

This year the IATSO conference had well over 100 papers across 3 days of keynotes, pre-conference workshops, and parallel sessions with over 400 attendees from no less than 20 countries, including Greenland. The range of choice in the parallel sessions was rich. It included talks on – among others – desistance, risk management, trauma-informed practice, compassion in treatment, staff development, risk assessment, and public and professional perceptions. The conference focused on all forms of sexual abuse (including child abuse, rape, multiple preparator abuse, online sexual abuse, sibling sexual abuse, and incels) relating to an array of characteristics (incl. gender, race, learning difficulties, neurodiversity, and age); there was a topic or area for all researchers and/or academics. The sessions also had various angles: some speakers shared their most recent research results, while others delved deeper into specific practices and cases. This way, the participants were offered a diverse mix of science and practice.

There was a wide range of engaging pre-conference workshops. Several workshops were provided by well-known ATSA, NOTA and ANZATSA speakers such as Liam Marshall, Jayson Ware, Carol Carson, Mark Olver, Jennifer Allotey, Keira Stockdale, David Prescott, Brian Judd, and Maaike Helmus. But local experts (i.e., Svein Øverland) from Norway were also given a platform. This approach was the common thread throughout the conference: local professionals and academics were given ample opportunities to share their clinical experiences and scientific insights with the public. This way, the participants not only got acquainted with the rich Norwegian culture, food, music, and nature before, during and/or after the conference, but they also gained insights into local practices and experiences regarding efforts to end sexual violence.

The keynotes also presented a mix of national and international speakers, with a strong focus on Norwegian policy and practice over the years from Knut Hemstad, who started the conference, Oddfrid Skope Tennfjord, talking about working with young people who have committed harmful sexual behaviour and presenting the tool they developed to facilitate sexual education in schools. Anja Kruse (ending the conference) talking about the role of trauma and harm, partly caused by how society and justice treated them, in the lives of men who have sexually offended. The other 4 keynotes where a mix of Canada, USA and UK speakers with Liam Marshall talking about effective treatment practices, Keira Stockdale talking about Offence Analogue and offence replacement behaviours, Mark Olver talking about the role and relevance of protective factors in risk assessment and risk management, Simon Hackett talking about harmful sexual behaviour in young people, and David Prescott talking about reflective professional development and treatment effectiveness. Although at first glance the 7 keynotes seem quite dispirit, in fact they were not, they all talked off compassion, service user engagement, desistence, and professional reflection and engagement.

IATSO was a great, engaging, and intriguing professional conference that enforced the international aspects of working in sexual abuse prevention and response. Although it was the first time that Kieran and Kasia attended, and like David, it won’t be his last. For those interested: the next IATSO conference is scheduled for August 26-29, 2025, and will take place in Poznań, Poland. All information and updates can be found on their website: https://www.iatso.org .

What do the BBC and McDonalds have in common? A problematic workplace cultures related to sexual abuse.

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, and David S. Prescott, LICSW

The concept of culture is important in understanding how people experience and engage with the world around them. Over the years on this blog, we have talked about different types of culture and their relationship to sexual abuse. The conversation is one that never stops because although we want a society that does not allow and or promote sexual violence, we have not arrived there (although we are further down the road than where we started from). Culture change is difficult and takes time; the #Metoo and everyone’s invited movements are recent examples. However, at a local community level, cultural change should be easier and more realistic. Community culture change is more contained, and it can be easier to gain buy-in. Two stories this week from the UK serve as examples of the difficulty of culture change. These involve the BBC in one and the other, McDonald’s. In both employment-based communities, the necessary culture change that is needed to prevent sexually abuse isn’t happening. Instead, what we see is employer disengagement, denial, inaction, and risky behaviors.

Over the last two weeks, the BBC has been involved in a story about one of its leading presenters being allegedly involved in sexually exploitative practices, as reported by The Sun and based upon information from the victims’ parents. The claim from The Sun was that the presenter had been involved in an exploitative relationship over three years with a vulnerable female. It involved paying her monies totaling £35,00 for sexually explicit photos and imagery of herself. The report claimed that she was vulnerable, was using the money to pay for heroin, and that the abuse started when she was 17. In the report the parents claimed that they had approached and reported this to the BBC, who had done nothing. After the story was published many high-profile BBC presenters distanced themselves from the events, including on social media. Additionally, the victim came out and said the story was “rubbish”. Eventually the wife of the person at the center of this story came out and named her husband, Huw Edwards, as the person at the center of the story. In this statement she says that her husband suffers from major bouts of depression and is currently hospitalized.  

In short, it’s a mess. We are aware that media coverage of breaking news can be flawed. Nonetheless, it is clear that the BBC, like many other organizations, have a long way to go to prevent abuse in the workplace and by people in positions of trust.

Over the course of this story, the BBC has been criticized for not taking the claim seriously, trying to cover the story up, trying to protect the person at the center of this, and having a culture where abuse, cover-up, and mystery is commonplace. The BBC responded and said that it was protecting the human rights of person at the center of this, that that had suspended them, and a full investigation would take place. Since the release of this report, more allegations against Huw Edwards have come out from BBC colleagues.

The story highlights the need for an engaged employer who can respond to claims of abuse, that has policies and practices in place to respond, and can demonstrate that they take the claims seriously. One note of consideration about this story is why the BBC would get involved in a private case as this not between to employees? As the presenter in question is very senior and the face of a flagship news program, there are expectations of his behaviors and attitudes that go beyond the organization. Both the presenter and the organization are in positions of public trust. There are concerns of moral fiber, questions of trustworthiness, and issues related to institutional damage. Also, without phone logs we don’t know when the messages took place or whether it was on company time, with a company phone, etc.

The second story also involves the BBC, but this time in an investigatory role. Early this week, they reported on an investigation into reports of sexual abuse, misogyny, harassment, and bullying at McDonald’s restaurants in the UK. The report claimed that many victims of abuse reported them to management and to corporate headquarters but were dismissed and ignored. This often resulted in the employee leaving. Within 48 hours of the story breaking over 100 more former employees verified and expanded on the claims in the report, indicating that the culture of abuse was wider and more significant than originally thought. This case, like the BBC, involves an organization that likely is not in touch with the realities of abusive behavior in their workforce, does not listen to people who are victimized, and do not engage with the problems or the people involved. The CEO of McDonalds’ UK and Ireland admitted this, saying that they as an organization had let staff (especially young staff) down and would strive to do better in the future.

It should be obvious that everyone has the right to work in a workplace free from sexual harm and misogyny. Everyone has the right to have an employer that is engaged around these topics, takes reports seriously, and engages with staff appropriately in response. This, however, hasn’t been the case. We would suggest the BBC and McDonald’s are not outliers in this area, but that they are representative of many organizations who need to come to terms with abuse. This raises the question of what employers are doing to make their workplaces abuse free and protect their staff from harm. Are they writing policies without meaningfully implementing them or making earnest attempts to end abuse now?

In an ideal world, we would have research-informed messaging, support for staff wellbeing, trauma-informed workplaces, and activities that promote inclusion and equality; but unfortunately, we are not there yet. Here are some ideas of what employers can do:

  1. Create a culture of equality, inclusion, and diversity though actions, communication, and environment.
  2. Link together corporate policy and practice, behaviors, attitudes, and actions on the ground.
  3. Embrace compassionate leadership and create a culture that acknowledges and supports staff who have experienced trauma and difficulties.
  4. Train and upskill staff around behavioral and attitudinal expectations when in work and then hold them accountable to them.
  5. Encourage staff to speak out about abuse and offence behavior. In addition, create systems that allow this to be done in a safe and anonymous fashion if needed.
  6. Listen to staff when they do speak out and have HR/wellbeing procedures in place to respond to these issues.
  7. Make sure that anyone involved in abuse or problematic behavior is treated in fair and transparent fashion.
  8. Make sure that all messaging and communications are fair, balanced, and respectful.
  9. Post investigates make sure that staff are supported to return to/reengage with work in protected, proactive fashion.
  10. Review policies, practices, training, and the working environment regularly see if current practices are fit for purpose.

But the bigger question is how can employees and society hold employers to account to make sure that they do this and maintain standards? Do we need an industry badging system like Athena Swan (“a framework which is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality within higher education (HE) and research”)? Our belief is that there are some aspects of organizational culture that cannot always be left to organizations to monitor themselves.

Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children in the Philippines: Towards an understanding of “supply-side” facilitation offending

By Maggie Brennan (Dublin City University), Elaine Byrnes (Dublin City University), Gabriel Katz-Wisel (Justice and Care) & Nicole Munns (Justice and Care)M

Online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) has become more prominent in recent years with the growth in internet connectivity, access to mobile devices and online payment mechanisms. Vulnerability to OSAEC in the Philippines heightened throughout COVID19 lockdown, with foreign customers and local facilitators enjoying an unprecedented level of access to children.

While OSAEC has received increasing attention from authorities, academics and practitioners, extant research typically focuses on ‘demand-side’ offending in the West, with little attention to ‘how’ and ‘why’ OSAEC crimes are facilitated in the Philippines. Consequently, there is a dearth of literature and empirical understanding of the role of and profile of ‘supply side’ facilitators of OSAEC.

In order to fill this knowledge gap, in 2022 Justice and Care joined with International Justice Mission, Dublin City University and De La Salle University (Manila) to carry out a two-year study on the facilitation of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines, a global epicentre of live-streaming OSAEC. The project seeks to enhance our understanding of methods of OSAEC offending, to shed light on the situational factors, motivations and pathways to offending, and to inform practical strategies related to law enforcement investigation and technological and financial facilitation of this crime with a view to improving the efficacy of protective, deterrence, and preventative approaches to this type of exploitation.

The first year of the project implemented a mixed-methods research design to produce a broad profile of key features of supply-side OSAEC offending in the Philippines and the offence context, with attention to possible determinants of these offences and avenues to offence disruption and prevention. To that end, the research team examined case-file records of convicted OSAEC Filipino offenders and conducted interviews with domain experts and professionals with direct experience of working on OSAEC, including key informants from law enforcement authorities, financial service companies, online platform providers, child protection agencies and local social workers.

Preliminary findings from this analysis corroborated and reinforced the results of previous studies of OSAEC in the Philippines. In line with the existing literature, our data confirms that the country is indeed a ‘hotspot’ for OSAEC, with OSAEC activity taking place in both rural and urban areas. The majority of OSAEC facilitators are females aged 25-50, usually a family member or a trusted neighbour/friend of the victims, and many of them – including older minors – were themselves victims of exploitation in the past. These facilitators tend to prey mainly on girls, who are significantly more likely to be exploited than boys; when boys are the victims of OSAEC, child-on-child or sibling-on-sibling abuse is common.

Also consistent with prior research, we found that facilitators’ motivation to engage in OSAEC is primarily economic: most of them live in extreme poverty and must support large families. However, economic need is not the only motivation OSAEC involvement: the lure of making ‘easy money’ is also a powerful motivator, especially when the earnings from this type of activity are much higher than those obtainable from regular employment or other sources of income. Contextual and/or contagion effects also play an important role in facilitators’ decision to engage in OSAEC activities: in areas where there are precedents of OSAEC activity, facilitators learn about the financial ‘advantages’ of this type of criminal endeavour from other community members, particularly in neighbourhoods where levels of trust in authorities is low and reporting is unlikely. 

Nonetheless, our analysis also offered novel insights that complement and expand previous work in this area. For instance, we uncovered a – hitherto overlooked – association between the age of victim and relationship to facilitator: where a facilitator is a close family member, the child is more likely to be under the age of ten. By contrast, a trusted adult who is not a close family member is associated with more traditional commercial sexual exploitation presentation related to trafficking. There is also evidence of changing advertisement and recruitment patterns on the part of OSAEC facilitators, with older youth increasingly recording and posting highly sexualised content on social media platforms as a recruitment strategy for engaging with foreigners. 

Additionally, our interviews revealed interesting psychological and cultural factors that – alongside economic considerations – help explain the prevalence of OSAEC offending in the Philippines. At the individual level, we found that both OSAEC perpetrators and facilitators rely on strategies for offence minimization that enable and sustain exploitative practices. An offence-supportive belief of perpetrators, for instance, is that the financial payments they make to the facilitators ‘help’ victims by contributing to education expenses or other material needs of those victimised. For facilitators, in turn, there is the strongly held fallacy of ‘no touch, no harm’, namely, that children experience no harm so long as they are not physically abused by foreign perpetrators.

These micro-level psychological ‘justifications’ for OSAEC are compounded by cultural norms (e.g., an unwavering respect for the decisions and behaviours of older family members, a generalised distrust in authorities, communal support for or at least tolerance for such activities) that act as barriers to crime reporting, and a long-standing history of inter-communal tensions that undermines the cooperation between regions on OSAEC-related issues. These factors, together with inherent procedural and administrative challenges that deter victims from pressing charges (e.g., concerns about privacy and uncertain support of advocates to assist in filing a report, the involvement of – and the requirement to visit – multiple offices to lodge a complaint) create obstacles to the prevention, disruption and deterrence of OSAEC perpetration in the Philippines.

These preliminary findings open up new avenues for investigation that will be further explored in the second year of the project. This next stage will incorporate data from interviews with convicted OSAEC offenders, financial transactions and chat-logs between Filipino facilitators and – typically Western – OSAEC ‘consumers’ to develop more comprehensive behavioural profiles of supply-side offenders, identify opportunities for offence prevention and – ultimately – point to specific courses of action that financial services providers, social media platforms, law enforcement, and other relevant stakeholders should take to tackle OSAEC more effectively in the Philippines.

Born of rape: new legislation in the UK.

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

In April in the UK the media reported that children born of rape, or any form of sexual abuse, would be designated as victims of sexual abuse. This was accompanied by a BBC documentary examining the issue and the challenges involved for those children and their mothers. This designation of children born of rape is potentially a two-edged sword as on one hand it acknowledges the harm that was done to them, and their mothers, but at the same time it potentially labels, and could stigmatize them. Also, it expands the definition of “victim” in ways that could potentially dilute it and draw away from the experiences of those who experience direct victimization. This new legislation, while seeming on the surface to be more proactive and victim-centered, needs to be unpacked more.

Sexual abuse is potentially traumatizing to its victims and the people who surround them; research, policy, and practice has borne this out. The life experiences of children born as a result of sexual abuse is an under-researched area. Over the years, through work with those who have been victimized, individuals convicted of sexual offenses, and organizations dedicated to preventing abuse, there are anecdotes of the impact of being a child born of sexual abuse, many believe it should be recognized as Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). The experience is often related to parental separation, growing up in a traumatized household, diminished parental mental health, and substance abuse issues as well as psychological and mental health issues brought about by the disclosure of conception.

In the BBC documentary, victims of rape who went on to have children as a direct consequence of the sexual assault talked about how it impacted them and the relationships that they had with their children, stating that they were traumatized, depressed, and anxious. The mothers felt that the fact that their child was a product of rape directly impacted their relationship with their child with some rejecting the child, others distancing themselves from them, and others being more protective; all of which was driven by the child being a constant reminder of a traumatic event in their lives that they would rather forget. As the child grew and developed, they often found out that they were born of rape, either through their mother telling them or another means (i.e., a family member or friend), resulting in shame, blame, depression, and anxiety. These children often blamed themselves for what happened. The documentary highlights the intense feelings of shame, guilty, self-blame, anger, and resentment that the mother and child feel around the conception and birth of the child. This includes what these children represented; both mothers and children hoping that they would not end up like their fathers. The documentary ends with the mothers and children reaching a common ground and being able to move forward. In many cases, however, this was after a lot of support and soul searching. The documentary finishes with a need to recognize children born of rape as such so that mothers and children could get the early intervention and ongoing support that they needed.

Another consideration is that it is not always only about the children and women who have been victims of the sexual violence. (New) partners of these women and other family members as parents also carry a great burden when faced with such consequences of sexual violence. They see the consequences and are expected to provide adequate support. But this is not always so obvious. They too struggle with this and experience the impact of these complex situations on their well-being and their relationships with other family members. However, this group rarely gets a voice in research and practice. We should not forget them and offer them the necessary tools to deal with this situation and support them when needed.

The creation of new legislation will hopefully identify children born of rape more readily and allow them, their mothers, and the broader family system to seek support; but what does that support look like? This is not addressed in the legislation and additional funding is not referenced in the press release. In the documentary, participants talk about therapy, counselling, social welfare, and family systems therapy as all being things that they have used in the past and found helpful; but these are all costly. While it is important to recognize the harm done to people, it is also irresponsible to expose that harm and not support those individuals in processing it. The recognition of the challenges faced by children born of rape and its impact on them, their relationships is important. While it’s important that we recognize the harm we must provide services to help and support these individuals in dealing with that recognition.

NOTA 2023 Annual Conference review

By Kieran McCartan, PhD.

The annual NOTA international conference took place in Cardiff, Wales, this week. There were over 230 attendees, across three days, with six keynotes and 36 parallel breakout sessions. For this blog post, we talk through the highlights of a successful, engaging, and thought-provoking conference.

The conference kicked off on Wednesday morning in a sunny Cardiff with a keynote from Professor Melissa Grady on the use of trauma informed practice in working with people convicted of a sexual offence. Professor Grady emphasized the importance of understanding past trauma in the populations that we work with to develop the correct conditions and process for treatment and rehabilitation. She indicated that we as a profession are trauma-aware but may need to go further to be truly trauma informed. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of attachment and the links between maladaptive attachment, trauma, and sexual abuse. This theme was restated throughout the conference. Professor Grady’s talk was followed up by a roundtable discussion on the use of restorative justice in cases of sexual abuse, an often debated and sometimes challenging topic. The roundtable had representation from across the UK with Clifford Grimason laying out the position of HMPPS to Restorative Justice, both in general and in respect to cases of sexual offending; Stephen Barry talked about some of the practice and therapeutic work being done by the BE Safe Service in Bristol with children and young people who have sexually harmed; and Ashley Scotland from Thriving Survivors and David Russell from Midlothian Council talking about the innovative work going on in Scotland around the development of restorative justice approaches to sexual abuse cases. The panel was varied in their views and the roundtable opened the opportunity for a nuanced debate on an under discussed response to cases of sexual abuse, with the final comment being the need for a sensitive and individualised approach, as well as a promise to continue the conversation.

On Thursday the conference started with Pat Brannigan, Shelley Shaw, & Jennie Hammond talking about the development and roll out of Together for Childhood, a project in Plymouth and in Stoke. Together for Childhood is a place-based approach to the prevention of child sexual abuse led by the NSOCC in conjunction with local and regional partners. The talk emphasized that sexual abuse is a community issue and that we need a community-building approach to prevent and respond to it. This was followed by another place-oriented keynote with Dr Sophie Hallett on innovative approaches in preventing Child Sexual Exploitation in Wales. Dr. Hallet discussed the social and political construction of child sexual exploitation before discussing why a child-centered approach was essential in understanding and responding to sexual exploitation. She asked the audience to consider whether we as professionals listen to the voices and requests of our child clients enough.

The final day of the conference started with Dr. Wendy MacDowall on research from the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (AKA NATSAL), wherein she discussed the changing sexual lifestyles in the UK, the increasing inclusion of sexual abuse questions in the survey, and the new sexual competency measure that is being introduced in the current live version of the NATSAL. One of the topics that Dr. MacDowell discussed that stood out the most was research from the NATSAL on the importance of sexual education in school and its links to sexual behavior and abuse.  This led to the final keynote of the conference by Professor Clare Allely on her recent research on neurodiversity, autism, and sexual offending.  Professor Allely gave an engaging and thought-provoking talk on the relevance of understanding autism in clients in terms of assessment, sentencing, and treatment. She reminded us that problematic sexual behavior in autistic and neurodiverse individuals may not be simply sexual deviance but could be a symptom of their diagnosis that is of a sexual nature but not done for sexually motivated reasons (she gave the example of an individual who as a child in crisis situations would drop their pants as they knew they would be removed from that situation, but as an adult that took on a different meaning and consequence).

Across the Wednesday and Thursday afternoon we had 36 breakout sessions covering topics as broad as research and treatment on sibling sexual abuse, harmful sexual behavior in young people, restorative justice, campus climate surveys, masculinity and sex education, circles of support and accountability, treatment, desistence, and updates from HMPPS on current policy as well as practice. In addition, we also had an international roundtable on the assessment, treatment and management of people convicted of a sexual offence with speakers from leading professional organizations that work with people convicted of a sexual offence from England & Wales (HMPPS), Scotland (Stop it now Scotland/NOTA), Northern Ireland (Leonard Consulting/NOTA), France (CRIAVS),  the Netherlands (NL-ATSA), Latvia(Dardedze), and Italy (CoNTRAS-TI).

This year the conference had a special online edition of the Journal of Sexual Aggression curated by Dr. Nadine McKillop; readers are invited to go to the journal website and twitter account for more information.

Finally, we had a changing of the NOTA guard, with Professor Sarah Brown stepping down as NOTA Chair and Stuart Allardyce stepping into the role. Thanks for all your hard work and leadership Sarah and good luck to Stuart as he leads NOTA forward. In closing, the conference was a great success. It was a great opportunity to reconnect and reengage with colleagues as well as learn about innovative research, policy, and practice.

NOTA 2023 Conference preview

Kieran McCartan

NOTA Conference Chair

Spring is approaching, slowly but surely, and this means that its nearly time for the NOTA annual Conference! You may remember that last year we decided to move the conference to May with great success.  Post conference we talked with members, attendees, and partners all of whom were interested in keeping it in May, and so we have! This year it will be held from the 3rd – 5th of May in (a hopefully) sunny Cardiff!

We have a great line up for you this year including keynotes from Professor Melissa Grady on the use of trauma informed practice in working with people convicted of a sexual offence; Dr Sophie Hallett on innovative approaches in preventing Child Sexual Exploitation in Wales; Pat Brannigan talking about the preliminary results from their Together for Childhood project in Plymouth; Dr Wendy MacDowall on recent research from a national study on sex and sexuality; Dr Clare Allely on her recent research on neurodiversity, autism and sexual offending.  We will also be hosting a roundtable discussion on sexual offending and restorative justice including speakers from England (Clifford Grimason, HMPPS and Stephen Barry, BE Safe Service), and Scotland (Ashley Scotland, Thriving Survivors and David Russell, Midlothian Council).

In addition to the keynotes, we have over 35 parallel sessions from practitioners, professionals, and researchers over a range of topics including sibling sexual abuse, online sexual harm, harmful sexual behaviour, and working with people convicted of a sexual offence.     We will also be facilitating a poster session and drinks reception on the Wednesday evening, as well as our usual social event on the Thursday evening.

We feel the Conference is great value and very much hope that you are able to join us! 

For more information on fees, speakers and logistics please see:

https://www.nota.co.uk/conference-2023-cardiff/