Deceit, Sex, and Sexual Assault: Where are the Lines?

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

Please note that this blog is also published on the SAJRT Blog website too – Kieran.

While working in a large residential treatment center for youth about twenty years ago, the first author (David) ended up with a note passed between two students. In it, a 16-year-old male client claimed to a female client from a different campus that he had a condo near the casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was bittersweet at the time, reflecting the age-old attempts by young men to impress young women while displaying epic ineptitude. It would have been obvious to nearly anyone that he possessed few social skills, much less a condo that they could escape to. The author found reason for hope that the young man would someday be able to have the relationships he desired, while at the same time being concerned about the young man’s methods in the short term.

From here, however, things too often take a darker turn. Seemingly consensual activities in the context of getting a job or advancing within one. If the job or advancement doesn’t come through, how best to understand the results? Fraud, sexual assault? There is an entire style of pornography devoted to tricking women into being filmed having sex through the false promise that they are auditioning to become porn stars. What is the source of gratification beyond the sex in these situations? The gullibility of the woman being filmed? And of course, much of the #metoo movement resulted from the experience of being pressured into sex if one wanted to continue working in one’s chosen field.

A recent case in the UK adds to these important but thorny questions. Jason Lawrance was found guilty last summer of sexually assaulting a woman twice. Although the sex had at first been consensual, he had lied about having had a vasectomy. He subsequently texted her to say that he was “still fertile. Sorry.” She took emergency contraception and eventually had an abortion. Fraud? Sexual assault? Intrinsic gratification from the deception itself (sometimes known as “duping delight”)? The issues abound in a situation with a truly tragic ending.

The more immediate concern, however, is that Lawrance’s convictions were overturned. The Court of Appeals reportedly said that the “convictions were unsafe.” Meanwhile, Lawrance is currently serving time for other sexual assault convictions and remains in prison. Ultimately, the court said that “Lawrance’s “lie about his fertility was not capable in law of negating consent”.

This view of deceit is interesting and worrying because it drills to the very heart of the problem: the absence of “informed consent” is at the very core of sexual assault. However, of concern to the court was the nature of the actions that remove consent. The challenge here is a truly grey area. At what point does deliberate trickery become the coercion that is central to sexual assault? After all, gaining children’s compliance through trickery has long been recognized as a hallmark of child molestation.

The issue is almost not whether it is true that Lawrence had a vasectomy (as with David’s student and his fictitious condo), but rather that they said that they did and were believed. The woman in question made an informed decision based on false data that was created for the purpose to deceive. Further, by all appearances, Lawrance made an informed decision to create an illusion of informed consent.

It’s possible to discuss this situation from a number of perspectives, from the possible sexual and nonsexual motivations of an egregious behavior to questions about what specific crime categories this might fall under. What is clear, however, is that the idea of what constitutes consent is again back under discussion. In our opinion, this decision undermines decades of advancement in determining the importance of actual, meaningful consent. In some ways, it is similar to revenge porn posted in a technically legal fashion because the filmed partner simply consented and did not draw up a proper legal contract to define the parameters of the consent and the conditions under which the video could be distributed and viewed.

What is clear is that should the current decision be accepted as a legal precedent; it will take considerable public dialog to create new laws that are both sensible and meaningful. The overarching problem, in this case, is that it will likely dissuade victims of sexual offences from going forward because they feel that they won’t be believed, especially in situations where “consent” is difficult to establish or refute.

“But, they must have known!”: The perspective of a non-offending partner of a man convicted of downloading indecent images of children.

This blog was written by an individual from the UK who wanted their story heard but wishes to remain anonymous.

Please note: a few weeks ago, we had a blog from Anna Glinski, which prompted a conversation with the author of this blog about their experiences being the partner of a person convicted of possessing Indecent Images of Children. Kieran

What is it like being the non-offending partner of an IIOC perpetrator? Hard. Everything about it is hard.

In 2015 my ex-husband was given a 3-year Community Order and 5-year SHPO for downloading >1000 indecent images of children from 2011-15 across all three categories (majority B). No videos.

The knock on the door by the Police came as a complete shock as I had no inkling that he had a sexual predilection to underage girls. For the first couple of weeks after the arrest my sons, aged 3 and 6, had no contact with their Dad as per his bail conditions. I then signed a Supervised Access Only Contact Agreement with Children’s Services that I was advised would remain in place indefinitely. This, combined with the overwhelming fear of the predicted media exposure, prompted my decision to relocate.

Everything about my past, present, and future suddenly had a whole new perspective. I went from being a full-time mum who lived in a nice part of my hometown with children attending the local faith school and a husband with a very good job, to a divorcee with a vague backstory of why I needed a fresh start somewhere new.

As he remained part of society at every stage of the Judicial Process, we have had to find a new way of being with him as part of our world. The ramifications of this crime do not get less significant in time and the effect on children evolves as they grow up. I FEEL

Angry/restricted. None of this is fair. I have done nothing wrong, yet I need to make unending compromises to protect my family against negative community response because of our association with an abhorrent crime that we were innocent by-standers to every aspect of life is affected, from social interactions to employment options. I do not foresee this changing when his sentence is completed in winter 2020.

Judged/marginalized. From day 1 I felt as though I was being assessed whether I was a good enough Mum by anyone I had contact within a professional capacity, however as I ticked the right boxes, none proactively maintained any contact with us after 3 weeks post-arrest. To begin with, the lack of attention from authorities was akin to relief, but as time has progressed, I perceive this demonstrates that my boys are the unseen victims of this crime and the impact on their childhood seemingly acceptable collateral damage to achieving a conviction. I thought people would think I was stupid for not knowing about his online behaviour, or in denial, and would wonder whether I had the same interests too, plus would question any historical interaction their children had with mine. Now I know, through lived experience, I am invariably judged for allowing my children to still have supervised access with their Dad.

Unsupported Even though I hate the thought of my kids being considered vulnerable, this scenario triggers several Adverse Childhood Experiences, which means that they are. At the start, when I became aware of something I was blind to before, I desperately needed help to protect them from this significant threat to their well-being. Unfortunately, as we were(are) not classified as Victims, I could not find any support for us from any source. I struggle to find professionals who fully empathise with our situation, therefore am simply left alone to make up appropriate safeguarding measures for my boys as I go along. The impact on my mental health has been significant: after being repeatedly declined anti-depressants, with a long waiting list for NHS therapy, I have had no other option than to self-fund counseling.

Resentful. From the start, he had a network around him to help him live life forward. Police made it clear that any break in confidentiality about the nature of the investigation could increase his suicide risk. I took on the responsibility of keeping secret the reason behind my sudden change in circumstances which consequentially created distance within pre-existing friendships. Until the charges were made public in Magistrates Court I lived in limbo for 5 months not knowing the full scope of the investigation to protect his Right to Privacy. Probation monitored him regularly and supported getting him back into employment. He managed to meet and move in with a local woman who accepted his conviction. I have had nothing as I moved to a place that gave us anonymity.

Sad. I feel heartbroken that my boys have been robbed of a traditional father figure. I can only protect them from this for so long before they will learn preciously early in life that people are not always what they seem. They are going to have to face a huge emotional and psychological challenge as teenagers when they grow to understand what their Dad did.

Strong/proud. I had to forgive myself that I could not have seen what he took such great care to hide. As someone who has had a relationship with a man convicted of this crime I have felt: confused; naïve; misunderstood; full of self-doubt; disappointed in myself for missing it; burdened with a family secret; scared; isolated; lonely; ashamed; torn; irrelevant; guilty; fearful for the future; bereaved; like a victim. Yet I have got back up each time this situation has brought me to my knees and that makes me resilient.

How the pandemic challenges and questions our perspectives on and work with people who have sexually abused


Please note this is a joint blog with ATSA/SAJRT blog site, Kieran.

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

Over the last couple of months, we have focused on what the challenges and realities of living in lockdown with COVID-19 are, but this is starting to change as lockdown is ending. What is the new “normal” and how will this impact the prevention, management, and integration back into the community of men convicted of a sexual offence? Now it feels like there are more questions than answers, which can present a daunting challenge! Sometimes we cannot see beyond what we know, but we also know that need that drives change. In the months and years ahead, we will not return to the way things were before, 2021 will bear little resemblance to 2019. The nature of the game and its rules has changed. So, what does this mean in reality?

Here are some points that occur to us as of this week (and who knows what tomorrow may bring?)

Changing perspectives on causes and responses to sexual offences: What COVID-19 has taught the world is that health and wellbeing are connected to everything that we do. A healthy population is an engaged, productive population. Therefore, we need to continue to integrate health and wellbeing into the work that we do in preventing as well as responding to sexual offences. This involves maintaining the public health approach, thinking about the impact of adverse experiences and trauma as well as considering the impact of these in framing desistence and integration. 

Risk management vs management: We talk so much about “risk” and what that means for people with a conviction, not to mention criminal justice agencies, therapists, victims, and the public; but the reality is that the terms risk and risk management mean different things to different people, each of whom has different roles. Ultimately, what we are all saying is that we are helping and supporting people to manage their own behaviour. This reframing is important because the individuals themselves are not always the sole source of risk (an internal locus of risk) but often the circumstances of the outside world are also the source of risk (an external locus of risk). The pandemic has shown once again that circumstances do matter and that they should be incorporated more often in our risk assessment and management. Therefore, how they manage themselves in various and sometimes extreme circumstances as during the pandemic matters.

Changing regimes: We have seen that because of COVID-19 our ways of working have changed, sometimes for the better and other times for the worse. We need to evaluate these changes and learn from them. Does remote working improve prevention, treatment, management, and integration? Or does it make it worse? In what ways? How does it impact relationships with clients? How does it impact staff working, resilience and confidence?

Changing processes and conditions: COVID-19 has taught us that prison may not be the answer with lower risk and people on shorter sentences getting released under supervision. This begs the question whether they needed to go to prison in the first place? Was community management a better approach? And was it adequately considered? Further, what does community management look like in a computer-enabled age? Especially with individuals who may not have access to the internet or technology, because of their conditions of release or the fact that they live in socio-economic areas that suffer from poor internet access. 

Improving Partnership & collaboration: It has become obvious through lockdown that working together, in a collective evidence-informed way is possible. Therefore, we need to up the stakes in terms of partnership working, communication and collaboration between the public and the system, across all levels of prevention and forms of (risk) management; we need -more than ever- to be on the same page to take on all these old and new challenges. 

“But they must have known!” Effectively working with non-abusing parents.

By Anna Glinski (Deputy Director for Knowledge and Practice Development at the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse).

This blog was first published by the CSA Centre on the 18th March 2020 – Kieran.

Imagine for a minute how it would feel to receive a knock on the door from a police officer and social worker, who proceed to inform you that an allegation of sexual abuse has been made against someone close to you, a family member, your partner, a friend – someone you trust – would you believe it?  What if the allegation was made by your son or daughter?  Would you be able to think clearly enough to make some speedy decisions about what needed to happen next?  I suspect not.  More likely, you would be overwhelmed with feelings of shock, anger, confusion and disbelief. 

Effective multi-agency working with non-abusing parents is absolutely key to the future welfare and safety of the child. Research indicates that feeling believed by your main caregiver is one of the strongest mediators of the long term mental health issues caused by sexual abuse. This parent/caregiver will need to play a central role in protecting their children from the person of concern, implementing safety plans and managing risks; and, they will need to support their child with the immediate and longer-term impacts of their abuse. These are hefty responsibilities for someone who is also coming to terms with the fact their child has been abused by someone they may have loved and trusted and is also likely to be experiencing other pressures as a result.

After the shock

The consequences of believing someone in your family has abused a child (either on or offline) can be enormous: shame, guilt, feelings of responsibility, an end of a relationship, the loss of a home or an income and loss of support. And fear – fear of losing your child or your partner, of a hostile response from friends and family, of what people will think of you, of loss of autonomy, of retribution from your partner. For many, it is not surprising that denial kicks in: a normal and functional defence that allows us to protect ourselves against something that is painful and distressing. As Still observes in her useful book on assessing and intervening with non-abusing parents“It is not uncommon to see the mother in a state of confusion and ambivalence, swinging on a pendulum between believing the child completely one minute and not the next, or believing some but not all of it: ‘I can believe this, but I cannot believe that’.”

For those from Black, Asian and minority communities, or with English as a second language, or whose residence in this country is threatened, there may be additional and significant consequences for what has happened. Additionally, for those who have experienced sexual abuse themselves this process is likely to be even more complex, confusing and painful. And what if one of your children has abused the other/s?

Working effectively with non-abusing parents

For professionals to give the best opportunity to non-abusing parents to be able to fulfil the tasks of support and protection, every interaction should be in the context of building their strength and resilience, offering support and understanding through an empowering approach. The limited research that does exist indicates that non-abusing parents and carers often do not receive the necessary empathy, time, support or information to help. They can feel judged by professionals, ‘they must have known’ (while battling with their own guilt about what has happened).

We know that there are parents who sexually abuse their children, or who do not act protectively when they become aware of the abuse of their child, and this needs to be properly investigated. However, non-abusing parents are too often perceived to have been actively involved in the abuse. As Chaffin states “From a trauma processing perspective, features such as denial, unfocused anger, minimisation of the problem and ambivalence toward both the alleged victim and abuser would be considered part of the course, rather than evidence of toxic parenting or deep-seated psychopathology.”

Professionals have an important role in understanding non-abusing parents’ reactions, providing support to enable them to process what has happened and ensuring that children are safeguarded. Effective assessment is an important part of this. The safety of children is imperative and so even though denial is understandable, children still need to be safeguarded as soon as possible.

The CSA Centre’s work on effectiveness in services for children and young people who have been sexually abused identified that suitable services to non-abusing parents are essential to children’s safety and recovery. This built on earlier findings by the NSPCC  which highlighted the importance of keeping children safe and well by working with non-abusing parents. When a child is sexually abused, we must first ask ourselves what that child needs, including their needs in the context of their family.

Facilitating necessary discussion

Sexual abuse can be hard to talk about even for professionals and so the likelihood of family members being able to talk about what has happened without being supported to do so, is low. As helping professionals we have the skills to talk about difficult matters and to help others do the same.

Professionals need to facilitate discussion, and therefore healing and recovery, between non-abusing parents and family members of a child who has been sexually abused. Sexual abuse thrives in secrecy, and in not doing so we risk colluding with this silence, and miss the opportunity to repair family relationships, and to address feelings of guilt, responsibility, anger, distress, jealousy, blame and torn loyalties which so often exist when a child is abused within the family. Just think how much useful intervention we could provide by giving the opportunity, for example, to a non-abusing parent to say they feel sorry to their child for what happened to them; to tell them that they didn’t know it was happening and if they did they would have intervened; to tell their child that what has happened as a result of their disclosure is not their fault but the fault of their abuser?

In my practice experience, so many survivors have spoken about the harm the abuse caused not just to them individually, but to every relationship within their family. As such, I believe we have a duty to use our skills and roles with families to attend to this integral part of their lives.

Resources

Educating families about the signs, indicators and impact of sexual abuse is equally as vital for prevention and effective response, and there are already some excellent online resources available for them, and the professionals supporting them. 

  • Parents protect has a wealth of guidance and resources for professionals and families, including a sexual abuse learning programme
  • Stop it now support adults to play their part in prevention through providing sound information and educating members of the public. People who are worried about their own or someone else’s sexual behaviour can call their helpline too. 
  • The upstream project is a Scottish resource (though available and relevant to other areas) which offers tools and support on identifying, preventing and acting upon child sexual abuse. In terms of keeping children safe from harm on the internet.
  • In terms of keeping children safe from harm on the internet Think u know offers advice to children, young people, parents/carers and professionals.
  • Mosac provides supportive services for non-abusing parents and carers whose children have been sexually abused.

Working with non-abusing parents will be a key consideration in the CSA Centre’s future work to develop useful resources and guidance to support professionals in working with children, young people and their families, whether or not their allegations of sexual abuse are proceeding through the criminal justice route.

Blog posts give the views of the author and are not necessarily those of the Centre of Expertise on child sexual abuse.  For other blogs published by the CSA Centre see http://www.csacentre.org.uk/resources/blog/

COVID-19 – Implications for Child Sexual Abuse

By Stuart Allardyce – Director of Stop It Now! Scotland

Please note that this a re-posting of a previous blog by Stop it Now! Scotland. Kieran.

Child sexual abuse is a crime that typically happens in secret. Embarrassment, shame, lack of knowledge and understanding of what constitutes appropriate boundaries and the relationship with the abuser make it difficult for children to speak out at the time of their abuse. Abusers also often go to considerable lengths to silence their victims through grooming or threats.  As a result, only around 1 in 8 children who have experienced sexual abuse disclose their abuse at the time they are harmed.

The current health crisis means that schools are closed and children are now confined to home much of their time in many parts of the world. These are necessary measures to protect both adults and children from Coronavirus at the moment.  But for those working in child protection, we know from experience and research that home is not a safe space for many children; the majority of child abuse – including sexual abuse happens within the family home. It’s likely that for many children, the social restrictions necessary because of COVID-19 may indirectly increase risks of sexual harm. Think of the following scenarios:

  • An 8 year old girl who has been sexually assaulted by her father on several occasions. She is now isolated with her abuser and no longer has access to protective adults, or safe spaces at school, community or through extended family.
  • A 32 year old adult male now working from home and living on his own, spending large amounts of spare time accessing legal online pornography and drawn to look at more extreme material. He is interested in ‘teen’ videos on Pornhub, but is getting bored and wants to find something more ‘edgy’.
  • A 10 year old girl spending increasing amounts of time online as her parents are distracted while working from home. She feels scared and isolated and has been contacted by strangers she has met through online gaming platforms. She thinks they sound friendly and they are asking her to meet on WhatsApp so they can have private chats, share pictures and have some fun.
  • A 14 year old boy, preoccupied with lots of sexual material online, is wondering what it might be like to try out some of the things he is looking at online with his 6 year old sister. He doesn’t think he will get found out as he spends a lot of time with his sister helping her with school work in her bedroom.

I could go on – there are so many possible scenarios. Some of these situations involve online harm, and some involve offline behaviour. Some involve the interplay of online and offline worlds.

Is this speculation, or is there solid evidence of more children being at risk of abuse? It’s early days, and the secrecy and shame around sexual abuse means that it might be years before we understand the full nature of the safeguarding catastrophe we could be entering into at the moment. However, there is some evidence emerging, particularly in relation to online harm, that we need to pay attention to. At Stop It Now! Scotland for instance, in March 2020 we had upwards of 300 individuals from Scotland using our online resource every week for adults worried about their use of child sexual exploitation material. It’s a resource that can be used anonymously by adults who know they have a problem and are looking for help and resources to stop, even though they may not be known to law enforcement. These numbers are roughly 3 x what we were seeing in January 2020.

We’re also picking up on worrying activity online. Last week Europol’s executive director, Catherine de Bolle noted that they had seen ‘increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material’  A recent blog by the internet safety consultant John Carr, talked about ‘cappers’ – adults who trick children into doing something inappropriate, capturing an image of the act and then using it to exploit the victim further. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has been following online conversations between ‘cappers’ over the last few weeks and intercepted the following:

” With potentially millions of boys around the world being or soon to be forced to stay home from school, potentially unsupervised if parents are working (teens in particular) now is the time for cappers to do their part to assist the quarantine efforts. There is a dire need for enriching, structured activities for all these boys to engage in.”

So with the evidence we have at the moment, it looks like we urgently need to double down on child sexual abuse prevention if we are to avoid a potential crisis for our children.

Some additional  prevention activity is already happening. There has been a lot of messaging on social media over recent weeks encouraging parents to speak to their children about online safety and boundaries. This is a great start and sensible advice. But this is only one part of the solution, and we need to be more strategic if we are tackle the different forms and contexts of sexual abuse comprehensively – whether now, or in the future.

In February of this year we relaunched our Eradicating Child Sexual Abuse (ECSA) website. ECSA is a knowledge exchange project, ensuring that practitioners, agencies, policy-makers and the public from around the world have access to advice, support and resources that they can use to prevent child sexual abuse from happening in the first place; or to prevent it from re-occurring if it has already happened.

At its heart is a public health methodology asking practitioners to consider what evidence they have of local need and dynamics around child sexual abuse in the communities they serve. It invites professionals to then think about what needs to be done in relation to universal messaging, targeting resources at more risky situations and responding to abuse after it happens. And you need to think about what all of that then means for victims (and potential victims), offenders (and potential offenders), families and situations or contexts.

So current evidence tells us that there are potentially increased risks of online solicitation for children at the moment. What would using the ECSA methodology tell us that we should be doing to prevent this form of abuse? You would need good general deterrence messaging so that all adults know that sexualised conversations with children are illegal and why it is illegal. You might need specific messaging and supports for people who are at risk of shifting into offending (e.g. adults who have a sexual attraction to children and / or involved with risk taking sexual behaviour online).  You would need age appropriate messaging for all children that can be reinforced by protective adults, but also additional inputs around online safety for more vulnerable children (e.g. children with autism or intellectual impairments, children who have already been sexually abused or experienced other forms of maltreatment etc). You might need additional supports and resources available for vulnerable families. Engagement with internet service providers and those who have responsibility for the online environments our children inhabit will also be key, along with continued diligence by law enforcement. And what works for this kind of abuse – online exploitation – might need adapted with respect to other kinds of harm such as risk of intrafamilial abuse or viewing of child sexual exploitation material.

All of this might feel overwhelming when there are so many other social challenges we are facing. But if you work in the child sexual abuse prevention field, we need to band together urgently to respond to current challenges.

So here are a couple of calls to action. Firstly, have a look at the ECSA website, and have a think about whether there are things there that you can use to help with your work around prevention in the current challenging environment. What might be the things that you need to do more of, or things you need to do differently? And secondly, follow us on twitter (Eradicate Child Sexual Abuse ECSA@ECSA54421403). Let’s start having some conversations about what we can do to prevent this emerging crisis for our children.   

COVID 19 is an overwhelming horror, a crisis of such a scale and nature that very few of us will have lived through anything like this in our life. However, imagine if this horror gave us as practitioners the impetus to get connected, to start to work pro-actively and quickly together so that we develop comprehensive and strategic approaches to prevent child sexual abuse. What if this disaster spurred us on to get things right and help parents make home a genuinely safe space for every child right now. It is achievable. But the responsibility to make this happen now sits with all of us who work in the prevention space. 

Framework and Principles for Assessment of Men’s Acute Violence in Relation to Covid 19.

By Ken McMaster & Mike Cagney (Hall McMaster & Associates Limited)

The world has changed rapidly within a short period of time as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. We can anticipate that in times of uncertainty, where pre-existing issues exist within relationships such as family violence, that risk is likely to increase in the short term. This is due to several factors such as financial concerns and worries, quarantine back to a single place such as the family home, unemployment/underemployment, and general feelings of unwellness for those infected. These contextual issues can put severe pressure on relationships. This, therefore, is a time to support those at risk, in order to minimise harm to others.

We have gone back to first principles and have developed a resource that can guide conversations with those at risk.  

  • The foundations of assessing risk: Static, stable, acute and protective factors
  • Looking for signs of safety as a way of bringing information together
  • Considering robust conversations around risk and safety through this period (refer to the COVID-19 questionnaire proposing lines of inquiry to ‘open up’ conversations with clients). 

We invite you to use the tool and adapt accordingly to the populations you are working with. There will be other risk factors that exist across diverse populations including LGBTQ, where women are the main perpetrator of abuse, and in the area of male survivors of sexual and domestic violence. We invite those working with these populations to adapt these ideas accordingly. The factors outlined are developed from our own experience and therefore skewed to a male population who engage in abusive practices. 

There are some caveats to this document:

  • We put this together quickly to provide a resource for workers to support family/whanau through this unprecedented time. This ‘pocket tool’ is not designed to replicate existing risk assessment tools/instruments and should be used in conjunction with fuller assessment tools.
  • Recognising that in ‘lockdown’ conditions many workers may not have access to all assessment materials, this ‘pocket tool’ has been developed for front-line for workers in the men’s violence field to have a quick reference framework, to review caseloads and assess ‘in the field’  potentially acute-risk situations.   
  • We are also aware that situational risk factors as noted above (financial concerns and worries, quarantine back to a single place such as the family home, unemployment/underemployment, and general feelings of unwellness for those infected) are likely to put significant strain on family that don’t have a history of abusive practice. We may, therefore, see a group of people who would not normally present to our organisations.
  • We believe that everyone working on the frontline should seek supervision/consultation through this time. When faced with an imminent risk situation calling the Police should be the first point of contact.
  • Where issues specific to sexual harm, risk, and danger for children or adults occur, we advise you to consult and engage services and assessment tools specific to that field of practice.  
  • We have appreciated feedback from a range of people who took the time to raise a number of issues about the original document. We have considered this feedback and be more explicit regarding the target group whom we deem at the highest risk of abusive practice/family violence during this period. The purpose of this ‘pocket tool’ should be used as a guide to conversations that workers could have with people on their caseload already.

Static, Stable, Acute and Protective Risk Assessment

Not everyone who has used abusive practice/family harm is at risk of escalation during this period of time. In order to understand good risk assessment, we can think about four factors that intersect and change, depending on what is happening in somebody’s life. The framework below has been developed in relation to men’s risk of violence towards others. There will be unique factors that exist across diverse populations including LGBTQ and where women are the main perpetrator of abuse.

Static risk factors or what is commonly known as tombstone factors are unchangeable. These relate to historic aspects in someone’s life such as early childhood trauma, witnessing family violence as a child, early onset of abusive behaviour within relationships, nature, and severity of abusive behaviour, violence across multiple relationships, et cetera. We always say that these factors are the best predictor of future behaviour. They provide our starting point and who we should take a closer look at, given that the collective impact of these behaviours means that a person has a higher probability of being abusive in the future. It doesn’t mean they will, it does mean they may have a higher propensity.

Stable risk factors are what I might describe as the big drivers for abusive behaviour. These include attitudes and beliefs about violence as a problem-solving method, attitudes towards women, peer relationships, emotional regulation skills, relationship to addictive substances, and adult attachment issues. Effective interventions attempt to undermining and disrupt these drivers of behaviour, thereby reducing the influence of these factors.

Acute risk factors move quickly. These can be seen as subgroups of stable risk factors and include issues such as jealousy, substance misuse, escalation in disagreements, while static and stable indicators help us to predict issues of severity and frequency of behaviour, anticipating acute issues is the key to reducing the immediate risk of harm.

Protective factors act as a buffer to the static, stable and acute risk issues. These include attitudes of respect, problem-solving skills, emotional regulation, cognitive coping, distress management, and lifestyle management.

Signs of Safety (adapted from Turnell and Edwards 1999)  

Signs of Safety is a social work tool and framework to engage ‘with clients’ and encourage detail and summary of risk and protective factors. We use the Signs of Safety tool to summarise and promote thinking of the detail of static-stable- acute risk and to promote reflection focused conversation. As such, the framework essentially aids the formulation of the ‘picture’ of risk.

Signs of Safety recognises professional judgement is inherent in assessment and needs to be combined with actuarial tools used – a balance to each other, as it were. Similarly, actuarial tools without an appropriate structured ‘interview / engagement / interpretation’ can produce skewed results. The tool is not, therefore, intended to have an actuarial outcome measure but to promote a reflection-discussion of the question, ‘What is the risk picture here?’ and the judgments or ‘calls’ you make as practitioners.

Too often assessments only focus upon the ‘risks’. This framework invites the practitioner to weigh also to consider ‘what is protective’? Such questions are perhaps, never more relevant than in this lockdown circumstance and ironically staying in ‘bubbles of safety’, where clients and practitioners are dealing with risk in real-time. The COVID-19 questionnaire invites where possible, to open this inquiry with the client, and the two-scale questions on the Signs of safety form, aim to promote well-considered judgment.

If necessary, we urge engaging much fuller tools (in New Zealand, for example, the Ministry of Justice Code of Practice for Assessment). They require the ‘inherent professional judgment’ when interpreting what the ‘risk -picture’ looks like and respond to any changes in acute risk accordingly. We also strongly suggest staff seek supervision and ask the question “Is there another way I should be looking at this situation?”

The tool is intended as a framework guideline and we offer this ‘open source’ to fellow practitioners in the front-line. We wish you safety and wellness in these demanding and perplexing times.

The Framework and Principles for Assessment of Men’s Acute Violence in Relation to Covid 19 can be found here.

Reference:

Turnell, A. and Edwards, S. (1999) Signs of Safety A Solution and Safety Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework, W.W. Norton and Company

Sessions held on the phone: some ideas and helpful pointers for clinicians

By Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust Be Safe Service

In the context of this unprecedented national situation, it seems increasingly likely that telephone calls will become the safest way in which we are able to remain supportive and in contact with families and hold appointments over the next period of time. This document is intended to give clinicians some helpful ideas about how to manage calls and some creative ideas in response to this situation. Making calming and continuing contact with young people and their families is likely to serve a very important stabilising function at this difficult time.

I found this a helpful read- https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/2020/03/17/supporting-children-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/

Our primary contact will be the parents, but it may feel possible to have helpful talks and appointments with young people over the phone. If we are talking with young people it might be helpful to establish who is around and available after the call should the young person feel distressed or need support and remind them that if we feel worried we will call parents/carers to let them know following the call.

Be aware that some resources are not appropriate for everyone and may go out of date as the advice changes so please check appropriateness before recommending.  and you may have many more to add.

General wellbeing checks over the phone

Exploring creative ways to stay busy in the home

  • Building in time in which children and young people can play or be in their rooms having quiet time alongside time when parents and children come together to feel more connected might help structure the day.
  • Thinking of something new and novel that could be done each day e.g. tidying rooms, helping with any chores, garden work or DIY, starting any creative projects together, researching new topics on the internet, arts, and crafts, board games, cooking. If children or young people are off from school, they are likely to be given home packs so parents might help children and young people to structure their time around this.
  • Regular mealtimes and bedtime routines might be even more important in times of uncertainty than they are normally.
  • Helping families to think about ways to do any exercise in the home might also be really helpful and finding fun videos online to help do this. https://youtu.be/d3LPrhI0v-w

Managing uncertainty and anxiety –

  • Recap on any emotional coping strategies already covered in sessions might be helpful alongside exploring family strengths and resources.
  • It’s important that parents keep up to date with announcements from the government and public health England (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/) but it might also be worth highlighting that reading lots about the situation on social media can also increase anxiety in ways that may not be manageable or helpful for some parents. It might be helpful to, therefore, think with parents about striking a balance around this and monitoring how social media is affecting parents’ own mood and anxiety.

Free resources to assist with calming and reassurance – 

https://blog.calm.com/take-a-deep-breath

Assessing risk and safety planning on the phone –

  • Calls can establish if any new concerns or any risk issues have emerged or increased and how to have the parents managed these. Clinicians need to update risk information on care notes so that if other clinicians need to take over calls and support if primary clinicians themselves are not at work. Remind parents that they must let us know if new concerns emerge and that we will be endeavoring to provide those in most need with additional support.
  • Remind young person and parents of any agreed safety or risk management plans. Check if they have printed copies of these at home and if not send out. It might be that any existing safety plans need to be amended to reflect more time being spent in the home.
  • If there is a history of self-harm or suicidality parents should remove all sharps and all medications should be locked away as per any risk planning.
  • Parents of young people with siblings or other foster children need to be reminded about bedrooms and bathrooms being private spaces and that supervision of children and young people needs to be tight whilst everyone is in the home all the time.
  • It might be helpful for families to agree a family plan or contract at this time that helps them to deescalate conflict should this arise and how people can have space and calm down if they are not leaving the house
  • If children are off school and the safety plan advises that they should not be left unaccompanied we will need to think supportively and creatively with parents who may be on low wage incomes, liaise with social care and other agencies such as citizen advice to help parents feel able to stay at home to support young people who are deemed at risk.

Useful places to signpost families for mental health support

Love in the time of COVID?

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

Please note this is a joint blog with ATSA/SAJRT blog site, take care, Kieran.

Like everyone else, we’ve had our share of worries and concerns as we enter the rising side of the COVID-19 curve. Canceled trainings, travel, and classes, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of loved ones have shaped the lives of many for a long time to come. For many of us, it’s the state of not knowing that is the most frustrating. On the other hand, there are some areas of good news, such as indications of decline in some areas, and medical advances in others. And proving the axiom that “Alone I travel faster; together we travel further”, the word “caremongering” has entered our lexicon.

At this writing, numerous state chapters of ATSA, regional branches of NOTA (NOTA Scotland) and ANZATSA have had to cancel or postpone their conferences, workshops, seminars and trainings.. Ditto with the otherwise seemingly indestructible NAPN conferences. Many trainers are taking to web-based and videoconferencing technologies, where the questions of the day involve the best ways to break participants up into small group discussions and paired practice exercises. Everywhere we look, discussions abound about how to balance the needs and rights of our clients with our own obligations for self-care and safety. These discussions have ranged from how many clients in group therapy in some areas to whether or not clinicians can work with videoconferencing platforms and which methods adhere to confidentiality laws. Additionally, these discussions raise questions of access to online technology, which can be a challenge to some of our clients because of the conditions to their license conditions, the speed of internet in certain areas and whether professionals can work from home (i.e., access to encrypted networks and client reports).

One opportunity that we all have in these uncertain times is to work on our messaging. As the world talks about “social distancing”, we are painfully aware of the elements of social isolation that have long been recognized as a risk factor for offending and re-offending. Professionals in our field find themselves in a subtle bind: Social isolation is a risk factor in some respects, and yet social distance is a protective factor in others. How do we ensure that we don’t approach clients as if they are one more surface to sanitize?

Maybe it’s time to move beyond focusing on the construct of social distance and turn our message in other directions. Instead, we might think of this in terms of promoting “physical distance and safety” and “creating a healthy space”. From a prevention perspective, social distance can facilitate abuse and create the conditions where people at risk of committing an offense, whether for the first time or as part of an ongoing pattern may be more likely to do so. For this reason, we should also think of increased social isolation as an opportunity for us to intervene and talk about prevention.

Of course, creating and transmitting healthy and safe spaces can begin with maintaining a positive and hopeful attitude (which itself is a protective factor against illness) and with being careful with media coverage. In some ways, the rapidly escalating strong emotions inspired by media coverage may be a bigger risk factor for negative outcomes all around. As one comedian observed, “If I don’t watch the news, I’m uninformed. If I do watch it, I’m misinformed.”

The messaging from leaders is also a lesson for all in our field and provides an opportunity to reflect on what messages our clients and colleagues get from us. One world leader has already tried to monetize the eventual vaccine. Another has blithely reminded us that many of our loved ones will die. Yet another, from Ireland — a country that knows about staring directly into the eyes of violence, starvation, and despair— reminded his country that “Together we can save lives.” This last example gives us an opportunity to reframe our message to our clients, ourselves, and each other: at the very least, we’re all in this together. That’s one small step we can take to reduce social isolation.

Finally, there is one small message that we can remind ourselves about providing excellent assessments and treatments to people who have abused. For years, our field has grappled with providing the best evidence-based services, while implementation science has reminded us that optimizing service delivery can take years. Every time we’ve thought about the importance of implementing best practices, we’ve also thought about how long it takes to implement even the most basic of safety interventions, such as handwashing and seat belt usage. One silver lining to the Coronavirus crisis is that at least handwashing is up. As with reducing sexual violence, simply getting people to talk about the issues and forge a way forward can change lives for the better.

Many organizations have offered advice for professionals in this field;

British Psychological Society: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-33/april-2020/coronavirus-psychological-perspectives

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy: https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-us/contact-us/faqs-about-coronavirus/

Centers for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/index.html

Yorkshire-Humberside NOTA roundtable

By Jenny Greensmith-Brennan, Safer Lives

You may have heard that the NOTA conference is to be held in Leeds this year. It is common practice that the local branch is involved in the sourcing of speakers, venues and entertainment, amongst other things. This was proving difficult in Yorkshire as the local branch had not met for 18 months and had no Chair or Secretary to get things moving again.

After discussions with the General Manager, a small group of local members decided to reconvene the branch but with a different ethos. One of collectivism, as little hierarchy as possible and roles for any person who wanted them. There is a variety of reasons for this, but they are for another day.

We arranged a branch event on February 28th and 27 people attended. We asked if people e would be happy to informally talk about their work, to share their roles with others so we all could go away having learned something.

Andy Green chaired the day and six people spoke for 10/15 minutes each. This included those working in custodial settings, the community, with young people, with adults, with those who have harmed, with those who have not harmed., academics, researchers, public sector and private sector workers. There was a mild amount of panic as some realised PowerPoint was not readily accessible but once we were passed that we talked and we ate and we drank (it was a Friday, there was a pub involved)

Kieran McCarten kindly came up from where he’d last managed to lay his head and spoke about the role of hope in what we are all trying to do; support people to move on from their past harmful behaviours or to seek a hand in not harming in the first instance.

The bonus of the day, for me anyway, were the conversations with people I’d never met before. The faces I could now put to names. There appeared to be an enthusiasm to support each other just for the sake of support.

It was simply a very good day. All it needed were a few emails to get 27 people in a room to talk about where we go from here. 27 people who had to organise their overloaded diaries to join us. We spent the last hour of the day figuring out how we could involve more people. How we would communicate, what we wanted our branch to be about, how we ensured fairness of future meeting locations and ideas to be discussed.

Perhaps most importantly, should Humberside really be known as East Yorkshire?

It was evident that we are branch members recovering from years of austerity that applied brakes to anything above the ‘day job’. Not all who were at the meeting will get funding to attend the Conference. One person had needed to take a day’s leave to simply attend this meeting. As an ex probation officer who now has the luxury of more choice when organising my diary and priorities, I understand the pressures on some people in the room. The parallel with some of our clients and service users is not lost. When barriers are in place to any kind of development or reflection it may be easier to stay exactly as you are. With that in mind, I reiterate the thanks to all who attended, speakers, listeners, and doodlers. We’ve got this.

I do hope to see you in Leeds this year.

At the crossroads 2.0: Future directions in sex offender treatment and assessment

By Kasia Uzieblo, PhD, Minne De Boeck, PhD, & Kieran McCartan, PhD

NL-ATSA (the chapter of ATSA based in the Netherlands and Belgium), the University Forensic Centre) (UFC) and the University of Antwerp organized the second edition of the conference “At the Crossroads: Future directions in sex offender treatment and assessment” in Antwerp, Belgium. The second edition took place from the 6th – 7th February in Antwerp, following on from two days of pre-conference sessions focused on treatment and risk assessment. The conference was a real mix of research, practice, and policy with approximately 250 participants from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Iceland, USA, Canada, and UK; in addition, Zuhal Demir, Flemish Minister of Justice and Enforcement opened the conference and attended the first session on the first day. In this blog, we are going to take you on a whistle-stop tour of the event.

The conference had 2 pre-conference sessions, which were separate from but connected to the main conference, on Static-Stable-Acute training (Wineke Smid, Minne De Boeck, and Kasia Uzieblo) and how to effectively apply Risk-Need-Responsivity principles to treatment (Sandy Jung). The first day of the conference was all keynote sessions, which included, Maia Christopher (ATSA) on working with victims organization to co-create effective public policy;  Erick Janssen (KULeuven) on the relationship between arousal and emotions on decision making in risky sexual behaviors and/or sexual offences; Georgia Winters (Fairleigh Dickson University) on sexual grooming behaviour; Ross Bartels (University of Lincoln) on the sexual fantasies and their role, or not, in sexual offending; and Nicholas Blagden (Nottingham Trent University) in the importance of the rehabilitative climate and how prison can be a place for therapeutic change. The second day the conference had started out with two back to back workshop sessions: There were 5 sessions and they were repeated twice which enabled the attendees to get the most out of the conference. The workshop sessions were more practice-based and focused on online sexual offences (Hannah Merdian, University of Lincoln), risk communication (Daniel Murrie, University of Virginia), case formulation incorporating risk assessment (Leam Craig, Forensic Psychology Practice, LTD), sibling sexual abuse (Peter Yates, Edinburgh Napier University) and professional self-care (Joanna Clarke, Petros People). The second half of the second day focused on keynotes from, Klaus Vanhoutte (Payoke) talking about human trafficking, sexual exploitation and how the “lover boy method” could be used to understand this process;  Eric Beauregard (Simon Frasier University) on research and practice into serial sexual homicide and what that means for practitioners; desistance from online sexual offending (Hannah Merdian, University of Lincoln); and how we move on from the crossroads in terms of using evidence in policymaking (Kieran McCartan, University of the West of England). On the second day, like the first, there were about 10 poster presentations during lunch (21 in total) that highlighted the breadth and depth of research in the Netherland, Belgium, Germany and UK on sexual abuse, including, research on BDSM, Minor Attracted Persons, Stop it Now!, COSA & Circles Europe, and desistance.

The NL-ATSA conference really highlighted the diversity of sexual abuse and how wide, although interconnected, the field is. The multi-day conference connected all the domains from theory to treatment with each other. Current trends and lesser-known phenomena were also cited. For if we don’t understand sex and sexuality in everyday life, how can we tell normal/accepted sexual practices from “deviant”/non-normal ones? How can we understand the way that the public, as well as policymakers, attitudes to sex and sexual abuse are formed, and therefore how they impact real-world responses to sexual abuse? If we do not know the difference between fantasying and doing, or viewing and doing, how can we present first time offending or recidivism? If we do not know how people groom, offend or behave, how can we prevent or respond to sexual abuse? This also means that we must hear the client as the service user and recognize professional experience and knowledge to frame best practice. So that we can build rehabilitative climates that are fit for purpose, help treat people and stop burn out in staff. Therefore, we must recognize that rehabilitation is possible and that desistance can happen. The evidence base in sexual abuse is often varied, but we do know that treatment/interventions are more effective than doing nothing. Do we acknowledge that enough? And how do professionals and researchers convey that to the public and policymakers? This conference highlighted and incorporated all these points. Yes, we are at a crossroads and we have been there for a time, but we need to go forward not back. We go forward together united in a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency way and by connecting all the different subdomains within our field. The conference reinforced the importance of international collaboration, conversation, and research.