ANZATSA Biennial Conference 2019

By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rehabilitative Climate and the Experience of Imprisonment for Men with Sexual Convictions

Dr Nicholas Blagden, Co-Head Sexual Offences Crime and Misconduct Research Unit, NTU

Ralph Lubkowski, Governor HMP Stafford, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service

For men convicted of a sexual offence life in prison is not easy and can often be a brutal experience. They are despised by all for what they have done. They may have lost, or fear losing, the support of those who care for them. They will be at the bottom of the prison hierarchy, living in constant fear of being identified as a ‘sex offender’ and will often be the victim of physical and verbal assaults (Schwaebe, 2005). The difficulties facing these men are innumerable. Yet, despite all of these issues, we still expect these men to be rehabilitated, to volunteer willingly for, and commit to, treatment where the intimate details of their lives are laid bare (Ware & Blagden, 2016). Treatment must seem like a frightening prospect on many levels. It is important to note that while a populist response to this may be that such individuals ‘deserve’ to feel that way, it does little to help rehabilitate individuals. The goal of prison and prison rehabilitation for such individuals must be to prevent other victims and to help men lead meaningful and pro-social lives, because this is what will keep people leading offence-free lives. We know that harsh environments make people worse and not better and negatively impact both staff and prisoners (Chen & Shapiro, 2007).

However, despite the environment being highly adversarial for those convicted of sexual offences, there is very little research considering the impact. The prison climate and the attitudes of staff in that prison play an important role in successful treatment and rehabilitation of offenders. In an era when the treatment of men with sexual convictions is contested and even questioned, there is a real need to take seriously the environment in which such individuals reside and understand the opportunities within that environment to help men flourish.

Rehabilitative climate of prisons for men with sexual convictions

Men convicted of sexual offences represent around 18% of those serving a prison sentence. This has brought challenges e.g. where to locate such individuals, as many are separated onto ‘vulnerable prisoner units’, but still experience threats and fear from others. One solution in England and Wales has been to increase the number of prisons specifically for men with sexual convictions.

There is some debate as to whether housing men with sexual convictions together is a good idea. Some suggest that they may share deviant fantasies, groom others including staff and create an overly sexualised environment. These are important issues, but the incidence of such events happening is not as frequent as we might think. Recent research (see e.g. Blagden & Wilson, 2019, Blagden et al, 2016) has found incidences to be unexpectedly minor given the sample. Instead in these research studies participants expressed that they were experiencing the prison as a “different world”, one in which they were less anxious and less fearful. This was helping men have the ‘headspace’ to contemplate change.

Prisons for men with sexual convictions with a good rehabilitate prison climate promote constructive and meaningful relationships between prisoners and staff and provide opportunities for meaningful experiences to allow men the possibility to try out new identities. Relationships matter in prison, especially for this client group, as they can be testing grounds for future relationships and identities. An important aspect of meaningful relationships for this client group (and others) is creating opportunities for reciprocal relationships i.e. those that promote shared exchanges, shared learning and understanding. Two things which have been important for creating reciprocity within prison are peer support and active citizenship. Indeed, the reciprocal aspects of these have been found to galvanise staff-prisoner and prisoner-prisoner relationships, which is important as the relational properties of both are linked to the ‘self-change’ process (Mead, Hilton, & Curtis 2001). HMP Stafford is a prison that has an active citizenship focus. Active citizenship at its heart is about creating a community and a shared sense of ownership of the space they inhabit, it helps prisoners to engage more with the people and the world around them, to reintegrate in the community (Edgar et al, 2011). Finally, we will look as what active citizenship looks like in practice.

Rehabilitative Climate in Action – Active citizenship

In 2016 HMP Stafford was rerolled to hold exclusively people convicted of sexual offences (PSOCOs). This dramatic shift in population was closely followed by a new focus on Rehabilitative Culture across the prison estate. Stafford’s approach to these two new opportunities was Active Citizenship, a simple concept of recognising, reinforcing, and recording acts seen to be doing good for the community, environment, and others. Visually striking and simple promotional materials were produced, and staff and resident champions appointed to drive the concept forward.

Initially the result was that residents strived to be in jobs linked to “citizenship” such as carers, listeners, or resident’s council reps. Citizenship was regarded as a position to be attained, and closely linked to employment or activity. There were no financial rewards, nor was it directly linked to the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme. The only tangible benefit was a badge, however being recognised as an Active Citizen created a new identity for those willing to do good, and built a momentum behind the idea of contributing to the prison community.

As Active Citizenship embedded, it evolved. Residents looked for new opportunities to contribute, and staff recognised and valued these small acts of kindness. Citizenship became less linked to specific roles or activities, and more of a way of life. Even the badges, albeit still worn proudly by those that received them, became less significant. Contributing to helping others and making Stafford a better place became a shared objective for staff and residents, the act itself being the reward. This has led to a remarkable transformation in the past 18 months. Trust has built between staff and residents, with a progressive and innovative climate resulting in what at times seems like an avalanche of new initiatives and opportunities. Many of these have been created and driven by residents and front line staff, often in their own time and with little or no resource.

Stafford is now a place where residents are given a real opportunity to change and grow, a community where people care for each other and where hope flourishes. We do not shy away from the reality of what our residents did, or what difficulties they will face after prison but Citizenship has created a climate where they can rebuild and renew themselves. They feel valued and empowered, enabling them to confront their previous life and wrongdoing and move forwards. We are still on a journey, and there is more to do, but the foundations have been built allowing us to build something truly remarkable.


Blagden, N., & Wilson, K. (2019). “We’re All the Same Here”—Investigating the Rehabilitative Climate of a Re-Rolled Sexual Offender Prison: A Qualitative Longitudinal Study. Sexual Abuse, DOI: 1079063219839496.

Blagden, N., Winder, B., & Hames, C. (2016). “They treat us like human beings”—Experiencing a therapeutic sex offenders prison: Impact on prisoners and staff and implications for treatment. International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology60(4), 371-396.

Chen, M. K., & Shapiro, J. M. (2007). Do harsher prison conditions reduce recidivism? A discontinuity-based approach. American Law and Economics Review9(1), 1-29.

Edgar, K., Jacobson, J. and Biggar, K. (2011), “Time well spent: a practical guide to active citizenship and volunteering in prison”, Prison Reform Trust, London, available at: Documents/Time%20Well%20Spent%20report%20lo.pdf (accessed July 8th, 2017)

Mead, S., Hilton, D., & Curtis, L. (2001). Peer support: A theoretical perspective. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal25(2), 134.

Schwaebe, C. (2005). Learning to pass: Sex offenders’ strategies for establishing a viable identity in the prison general population. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology49(6), 614-625.

Ware, J. & Blagden, N. (2016), “Responding to categorical denial, refusal, and treatment drop-out”, in Boer, D.P. (Ed.), The Wiley Handbook on the Theories, Assessment and Treatment of Sexual Offending, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, West Sussex, pp. 1564-71.

Finding pathways to prevention: An international consensus position for better management and prevention of online child sexual offending behavior

By Maggie Brennan, PhD, Derek Perkins, PhD, Hannah Merdian,PhD

A new report released today (Friday 21 June), involving over 2,000 experts in online child sex offending has made strong recommendations on how to better prevent the growing problem of child sexual offending on the internet. 

Recent surveys have found that technological developments are limiting the international capacity for the prevention, detection, and prosecution of online child sexual offending behaviour (e.g. NetClean, 2018). Moreover, “investigators still have to deal with significant numbers of offenders committing preventable crimes such as viewing and sharing indecent images and videos known to law enforcement” (National Crime Agency, 2018).

The recommendations come amid the group’s concerns about ‘epidemic levels’ of child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) offending online. The number of UK-related case referrals received by the National Crime Agency from the online industry almost trebled between 2016 and 2018 – rising from 43,072 case referrals in 2016 to 113,948 in 2018. In the year 2018 alone, the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 18.4 million referrals of suspected online child sex offending cases from around the world (National Crime Agency, 2019). 

The report, developed by the International Working Group for the Prevention of Online Sex Offending (IWG_OSO), features input from a range of experts in the behaviour of online child sex offenders, including the UK National Crime Agency, Interpol, Public Health Canada, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and the Universities of Plymouth and Lincoln, UK. 

In order to scope the nature of, and professional opinions on, the management and prevention of CSEM offending, the IWG_OSO: (1) reviewed the literature on online sexual offending; (2) conducted a Delphi survey with international experts in the management and prevention of online child sexual offending behaviour; and (3) conducted a multi-annual series of consultation events with international stakeholders in the relevant areas. 

The consultations were held between 2014 and 2019 at a range of key events, including at the IATSO and NOTA conferences, and involved clinicians, law enforcement professionals, researchers, policymakers, and offender managers and other stakeholders.

The report highlights that the prevention of online child sexual offending behaviour requires more public engagement to raise awareness and understanding of this problem, closer collaboration between behavioural experts and the online industry, a better balance between punishment and early intervention with potential offenders, as well as increased primary prevention measures to address the underlying causes of online child sex offending.

The report, entitled Best Practice in the Management of Online Sex Offending, is being officially launched on Friday 21 June at the NSPCC headquarters in London. Its recommendations for better management and prevention of online child sexual offending include:

  • Closer collaboration between behavioural experts and the online industry: Experts involved in researching, treating and preventing online child sex offending behaviour should work more closely with the online industry to help design barriers to the commission of sexual offences online. This might include collaborative work to design-out an offender’s ability to produce, share and access CSEM in online platforms and services involved in these offences, as well as further expansion of deterrence messages and splash pages into pre-offending locations online.
  • Increased public engagement with the problem of online child sex offending behaviour: Through, for example, media-supported public awareness campaigns, to increase public understanding of the problem of online child sexual offending behaviour, and to reduce the fear and stigma involved for people who wish to come forward and seek help to manage their pre-offending sexual interest in children.  
  • Better balance between efforts to prosecute and punish online sex offenders with earlier intervention methods to prevent sexual offences occurring – particularly for people with a pre-offending sexual interest in children: For example, an expansion of anonymous helplines and online deterrence campaigns targeting potential online child sex offenders, as well as greater therapeutic provision in the community.

The IWG_OSO was set up in 2014 with the support of the International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders. Its members and consultees include experts in online child sexual offending behaviours, from law enforcement, academia, children’s charities, offender support services, therapeutic providers and the online industry.

The full report can be found at:


National Crime Agency. (2018). Supplementary written evidence submitted by the National Crime Agency (NCA) (PFF0011). Retrieved from: http://data.parliament .uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/policing-for-the-future/written/82068.pdf

National Crime Agency. (2019). NCA shines light on online CSAE for public inquiry. Retrieved from

NetClean. (2018). The NetClean Report 2018. Retrieved from https://www.netclean .com/netclean-report-2018/#insiktermobil

Risk Management and Prevention

By Kieran McCartan, David S. Prescott, LICSW & Katherine Gotch, LPC

The field of sexual abuse continues to embrace a prevention narrative and its real-world application. Although the sexual abuse prevention narrative has traditionally focused on the prevention of reoffense (tertiary prevention – see below) or providing broad-based community/societal messages (primary prevention), there has been a focus more recently on the development of services for populations at risk of offending (secondary prevention), as well as considerations regarding the role of effective risk management and safeguarding practices after conviction to ensure our interventions themselves do not cause harm (quaternary prevention).

A major challenge in the prevention of sexual abuse is not in the framing, which is appropriate and fit for purpose, but rather the development of the evidence-base and its practical, real-world application. People and policy makers recognise that prevention of abuse is better than after-the-fact responses as prevention results in no more victims. However, prevention also creates complicated (and some would even argue, complicit) narratives around people who commit sexual abuse as prevention efforts are offered from a holistic, life-course perspective. This requires communities, individuals, and policy makers to acknowledge the complexities inherent within the perpetration of sexual abuse, something which is especially difficult within legislative systems which often require black and white solutions to complex problems. Some have also felt that a holistic, life-course perspective is used to justify and explain away sexual abuse, which is not the case at all! Prevention efforts become more effective when they are based in solid knowledge about those who abuse and this information is then incorporated within all levels of prevention. There is more to preventing sexual abuse than tick-box criteria of adverse experiences, past trauma, mental health issues, and poor socialisation – effective prevention efforts recognize the impact of contextual factors on the antecedents of sexual abuse and emphasize knowledge about how interventions can be most effective at different points to stop abuse from happening at all levels. It is about incorporating what we now know regarding the aetiology of offending and embracing the importance of recognizing warning signs, talking about problematic behaviour and developing healthy lifestyles, including support systems, that lead to effective prevention efforts.

Preventing sexual abuse is also about effective risk management, either by the individual themselves or in conjunction with their families/peers or a third party if needed (e.g., probation, parole, counsellor); however, we do not often frame the prevention of sexual abuse in risk management terms. Risk management is often seen as a punitive, controlling and restrictive standpoint – something that is done to an individual rather than with an individual. However, as research and practice have shown over the years, the effective reduction in reoffending or the curtailing of first-time offending is most successful through a partnership among stakeholders and with buy-in from the individual in question. To this end, we offer that effective risk management neatly sits within the public health prevention framework and should adhere to the socio-ecological model of prevention:

Primary Raise public awareness of the reality of sexual abuse and dispel common myths about victims and preparators. Which enables individuals and communities to be better at identifying sexual abuse, risky behaviors and be better able to support people impacted by sexual abuse. Increased education leads to increased awareness and more proactive behavior.   For instance, public education campaigns, bystander intervention, Eradicating Child Sexual Abuse, etc.
Secondary Enabling “at risk” populations to understand their potential risks, triggers and the potential outcomes of them. This means that they can seek appropriate support and be empowered to seek help. Individuals and communities better understand risk and therefore are better able to help people manage their own (potential) risk.   For instance, Project Prevention Dunkelfeld, Stop SO, Safer Living Foundation, Lucy Faithful, Help Wanted!, Stop It Now!, The Global Prevention Project, etc.
Tertiary Working with people convicted of sexual offences to hold them accountability for their past problematic behaviour, get support and move forward, integrate back into their communities. These interventions move people towards an offence free lifestyle and encourage desistence. They help people manage their own risk (i.e., treatment programmes and interventions).   For instance, treatment programmes and interventions for people who have committed sexual abuse, etc.
Quaternary This enables people to successfully integrate back into the community by protecting people from collateral consequences or risk management policies and practices. This is done through supportive integration programs that help the person who has sexually abuse, aid their re-entry and support them pro-actively to negative the range of policies and practices that negate their integration.   For instance, Circles of Support and Accountability (UK, Circles 4 EU, Canada, & USA), etc.

For risk management to work as an effective prevention strategy, it requires a foundation in the socio-ecological model that is complemented with multi-agency and multi-disciplinary collaboration in conjunction with individual involvement. Prevention is most effective and impactful when all aspects of our knowledge are incorporated into a holistic approach to understanding sexual abuse which includes risk management strategies such as the individual knowing their risk and how to manage that risk both pre and post offending.

Reducing harm in individuals who commit sexual abuse

By Kieran McCartan, PhD, & David Prescott, LICSW

Professional discussion about preventing sexual abuse is often couched in absolutes, especially when it comes to anti-social behavior. In our field, we often talk about eliminating abuse and/or stopping people from abusing, whether before it starts or after it has occurred. We find ourselves asking… is it really that easy? It is striking how rarely our discussions focus on harm reduction or how we might influence the nature of offending, offenses, or reconviction. By thinking in absolutes, we may be cutting ourselves off from innovative research and treatment practices.

Ultimately, all of our efforts are aimed at moving an individual from one end of a spectrum (offending) to the other end (desistence) in a short, often pre-determined time. In reality, meaningful behavior change takes time, faces unpredictable challenges, and has its stumbling blocks; genuine change can be a messy process. All of this begs the question of whether we are setting ourselves up for failure when we recognize only black or white in the management and treatment of people who sexually offend?

A client treated by the second author (David) many years ago serves as an example. This young man entered treatment after an extremely serious sex crime. After nearly two years of treatment, he re-entered the community where he lived safely for one year. He then committed a lesser property crime. It was at that point that he realized what lay ahead in his future if he didn’t make even deeper changes. He lived offense-free as a stable and occupied person for many years thereafter. What can we make of this trajectory? Some would believe that his subsequent arrest is an indication that treatment didn’t work. Others would be encouraged by the fact that the severity of his behavior had decreased significantly. He would be coded as a recidivist in some studies but not those focusing solely on sexual re-offense. We believe his case highlights how a harm reduction perspective can be helpful. Harm reduction policies and practices build upon the notion that people desist from specific harmful behaviors one step at a time, are guided in that process by professionals and the system is set up in a way that enables positive change. In many respects harm reduction policies are very closely linked to the notion of quaternary prevention (that is, actions taken to protect individuals from interventions that are likely to cause more harm than good). This approach is built on the understanding that behavior change takes time.

Harm reduction can be a perspective, approach, or outcome. The key element is that the person in questions stops most damaging behavior and engages in a process of working on their other problematic behaviors systematically. A focus on reducing harm or the most problematic behavior, at the expense of other behaviors, is not an excuse for offending or an apology for it. It is a central part of many criminal-justice approaches (such as with youthful offending), health care (for example, drug addiction) and mental health treatment populations. Yet harm reduction is not fully embraced when it comes to working with people who commit sexual abuse.

In treating addictions, professionals do not expect a heroin addict to stop completely overnight. Instead, they consider intermediate approaches such as Methadone or Suboxone. Likewise, with alcohol abuse we talk about reducing an individual’s daily intake and enabling them to cut down their dependence over time. When it comes to the field of sexual abuse, the expectation placed on those who have abused is that they must recognize and eradicate every aspect of their problematic behavior overnight. In some areas, even minimizing the harm of one’s actions has been enough to deny entry into treatment programs. Keeping people out of treatment doesn’t make them less likely to cause harm.

Practitioners in our profession don’t talk in terms of reducing harm, especially from a policy, political and public view; instead we often talk about complete and immediate harm eradication. This is likely because the narrative surrounding the reduction of harm in regard to people who commit sexual offenses can be (and often is) misconstrued as an absolution for problematic behavior. Harm reduction requires nuanced thinking and practical approaches, and too often flies in the face of our more absolute ideals.

Recalling the earlier example, yes, he still committed an offense and still displayed problematic behaviors. However, the level of harm was reduced substantially. This does not justify his property crime, but history showed it to be a lesser crime on the road to desistance.

It seems worth mentioning that the recent evaluation (2017) of the prison-based Core Sex Offender Treatment Programme in the UK (which ultimately lead to its being abandoned) demonstrated a reduction in harmful behavior by participants. Within the outcomes, it found that there were a group of service users that were reoffending, but not at the same level or in the same fashion that they originally offended. Asking questions about the nature and use of interventions that contributed to de-escalation of these people’s offenses, and the time frames in which they took place would have been helpful.

Likewise, Karl Hanson recently spoke at the ATSA 2018 conference in Vancouver about how risk is dynamic. He argued that with the correct support and interventions, risk can drop from high to low over a 20-year period. All of this begs the question, how long does behavior change take and what does the journey look like?

The skipping over harm reduction in treating sexual abuse is particularly worrisome when its core tenants correspond to desistence, strengths-based approaches, and the Good Lives Model. Integrated treatment that focuses on harm reduction reflects research on offending behavior across the lifespan. We hope our field will recognize through the research on adverse childhood experiences and the increasing use of trauma-informed care that the path towards offending is long and nuanced. Why would we think that the path to desistence and non-offending wouldn’t be equally complex?

Beyond Referrals: Multi-agency enablers and barriers to addressing harmful sexual behaviour in schools

Dr Jenny Lloyd, Research Fellow, University of Bedfordshire

Note: This article was originally printed in the March/April 2019 edition of NOTA news. Kieran

“It occurs so much through the day that you kind of blank it out… in that moment you either choose to reprimand that student and deal with the backlash and get even more verbally assaulted, or you choose to get the work done for that lesson and ignore that behaviour” (School staff focus group).

Young people report experiencing sexual violence and abuse at school by their peers. From sexist name calling in the corridor, unwanted touching in the playground and abuse through image sharing online, schools are places where young people display and experience harmful sexual behaviours (HSB). In my session, I presented findings from a research study looking at multi-agency enablers and barriers to addressing HSB in schools in England. The study was led by Dr Carlene Firmin and supported by myself and Joanne Walker at the University of Bedfordshire.

In the UK multiple calls have been made for schools, the government and agencies to do more to tackle sexual harm and abuse in schools between students. In 2015 the BBC revealed that more than 4000 allegations of peer-on-peer sexual abuse and 600 rapes were reported in schools between 2011and 2013. Evidence submitted to the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) inquiry in 2016 revealed that 29% of 16-18 years olds had experienced unwanted touching at school and 71% of boys and girls aged 16 -18 heard terms like ‘slut’ used towards girls daily or a few times a week (YouGov 2010).

Until recently, statutory advice and guidance to schools for peer-on-peer sexual abuse have focussed on the need for referrals to social care and the police. But referrals are not enough. From speaking with schools and practitioners we have learnt that many schools face challenges of what changes to make within schools when harm happens there. The research, therefore, aimed to support schools to move beyond referrals to social care and consider the factors within schools themselves that can prevent and respond effectively to HSB. 

While the research highlighted the prevalence of HSB in some schools it also identified the successful work of school practitioners to identify and prevent HSB and the important roles of peers in supporting one another. However, we also identified a number of challenges in relation to the practice, as this extract shows:

“We had a student who reported that she was sexually assaulted by another student, and I don’t know if anything ever happened from that.  I don’t think she knows, she didn’t feel like anything happened from that, and so she was really, it definitely upset her, because she was being really, one, her behaviour was quite bad, but I think it was because she was angry. And I ended up having a conversation with her, just saying “you’ll leave school and encounter situations like this outside of school, you’ve got to learn to like be resilient”.  That was sort of the only thing I could really say to her, just help her to understand that [inaudible 24:29], society [inaudible 24:31], it’s not just, you know, like, yeah, which is kind of a sad conversation to have, but at the same time it’s realistic I guess.”(Staff focus group 1).

Analysis highlighted four keys areas: the structures and systems in use by schools; approaches taken to prevent harmful sexual behaviours; how schools identify HSB; and, the response and intervention following incidents. Furthermore, the research suggests that preventing sexual harm in schools should not just fall upon education providers but requires multi-agency and holistic responses. This needs schools and multi-agency partners to work together. Inspectorates play a key role in addressing the issue and identifying safeguarding concerns. However, in order to do so, schools, agencies and inspectors need to know what enables and prevents HSB developing. 

As a result of this work, the research team have developed a range of tools and resources, designed for senior leadership and designated safeguarding leads that support secondary schools and Further Education providers to assess how they are responding to sexual harm in schools. 

The tools cover a range of factors identified as playing a role in addressing HSB in schools, including what the referral pathway is for school staff; the relationship between the school and local partnership; the role of the physical environment of the school; and, the quality of education on relationships and sex. 

The resources include a traffic-light tool for self-assessment and a series of webinars. These tools offer a framework for considering changes within school. The resources can be accessed free here:
For more information on the study please contact

Lloyd, J. (2018) Abuse through sexual image sharing in schools: response and responsibility. Gender and Education.

Prevention programmes aimed at carers need to look beyond awareness raising and confidence building


Prevention programmes aimed at carers need to look beyond awareness raising and confidence building

By Mike Williams, NSPCC

Prevention programmes aimed at family members are big business these days. Sexual abuse prevention programmes, in particular, have a history stretching back to the 1970s in the United States of America, where they were first developed. The first programmes were delivered to children, and in the 1980s they were extended to parents.  Programmes delivered to parents take the form of one-off meetings, two to three hours long. Programmes aim to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and intentions, increase carer communication with children about abuse and improve behaviours believed to reduce risk. Programme effectiveness is determined by measuring user change against these outcomes.

 Although helping carers to improve knowledge, attitudes, communication and behaviours is laudable, it is questionable as to whether achieving these outcomes reduces the likelihood of children being abused. The use of these outcomes as indicators of programme effectiveness rests on several questionable assumptions:

  • Gains in knowledge and attitudes lead to behavioural change.
  • Carers’ reported increases in desired behaviour are accurate.
  • Changed behaviours effectively lower likelihood of abuse.

Evaluation of prevention programmes targeted at children suggest these assumptions do not always hold, that is to say, positive programme outcomes do not necessarily lead to a reduction in abuse. Increases in correct verbal responses do not always lead to an improvement in behavioural response. Using learned self-protective behaviours to guard against threats or attempted assault does not always impact on whether abuse occurs. Children who understand prevention messages can go on to be sexually abused.

Could it be, therefore, that prevention programmes are missing a vital piece of the jigsaw? Could it be that prevention programme organisers have failed to understand the challenges to identify and lower risk?

A recently published report on work done to support mothers lower risk in the home suggests the answer to both of these questions is yes. The work was done with Somali mothers but the findings are applicable to female carers across communities and to a lesser extent, male ones. The report has identified a number of issues that prevention programme organisers, focused on informing mothers about abuse and prevention behaviours, should attend to:

  1. Mothers need to be persuaded that their children may be at risk of abuse, not just informed. Getting people, with whom mothers can identify, to recount personal stories of abuse is a good method of persuasion.
  2. The journey towards identifying risk in the home is an emotional one, not just an intellectual one. Some mothers may find contemplating  the risk of abuse and discussing the issue with family members sufficiently distressing that they cannot accept the possibility of abuse. In these cases, they may require one-to-one counselling to effectively address the issue.
  3. Mothers need to find a way of accepting the possibility of abuse in their community, family and home while maintaining a sense of pride and respect for these same things. It could help to introduce the idea that while communities have values and standards, not everyone chooses or is capable of meeting them.
  4. Mothers considering the possibility of abuse, like mothers handling disclosures of abuse, experience ambivalence about whether abuse can happen. Successful acceptance of the possibility of abuse may require programme organisers to give mothers the space to express and work through their ambivalence.
  5. Mothers may accept the possibility of abuse without attempting to assess the actual risk posed to their children. They may need encouragement and support to carry out such an assessment, and support to ensure that the assessment is accurate.
  6. Mothers may identify areas of risk, without feeling able to safely negotiate and lower that risk. They may need support to think about how they can either discuss the issues safely or sidestep explicit discussion and find indirect ways of effectively lowering the risk. They may need support to deal with the fact that there is no easy or safe way to lower the risk.
  7. Part of the distress experienced by mothers when contemplating discussing the issue of abuse with family members is a fear of the consequence of breaking with expectations that women should not discuss sexual matters or question the integrity of men. Helping mothers protect their children may be facilitated by campaigns directed at men and women to effectively challenge community attitudes on what is acceptable for women, men and children to discuss.

In short, while the traditional focus of prevention programmes on improving knowledge, raising confidence and increasing communication with children may make the difference in some cases, where programmes do not work with carers to address the perceptual, emotional and social barriers to identifying risk and taking action, they risk failing some children. Supporting carers in identifying and overcoming the challenges is likely to be more resource intensive than a blanket information campaign, but it may turn out to be a more effective, and therefore a more cost-effective method of preventing abuse.

This blog article relies on research and evidence that is referenced in the full report, which you can read here:

You can read a report on how the programme organisers worked with the Somali community in a collaborative fashion to develop the work with mothers here:

NOTA Annual Conference 2018


NOTA Annual Conference 2018

Kieran Mccartan

Kieran Mccartan

The annual NOTA conference took place from the 19th – 21st September in Glasgow. The conference was a real mix of research, practice and engagement with colleagues from across the UK, Ireland and internationally (with attendees and speakers from a range of countries including the USA, Australia, Norway, Ireland, and from all four countries of the UK). In this blog I am going to take you on a whistle stop tour of the event.

The 2018 plenaries combined research, practice and innovate approaches from a very international group of speakers. The conference started on the Wednesday with two keynotes addressing the reality and impact of Pornography on youth understandings and perceptions of sex as well as their sexual experiences (Maree Crabbe) followed by an overview of the research on systematic pathways of development across the lifespan, ACE’s and the impact of trauma (Dr Jamie Yoder). The second day of conference (Thursday) had keynotes that talked to current research and understandings around normal sexuality, deviant sexuality and whereof our morality and ethical principles come into play in debate as well as treatment (Dr Rajan Darjee); as well as presentation of focusing on trauma inform care and practice on the frontlines in Scotland (Dr Lisa Reynolds). The last day of the conference (Friday) had 4 keynotes, the first two focused on a range of topics including, the effectiveness of professionals perspectives terminology, learning and good practice around Child Sexual Exploitation (Jessica Eaton); and an update on desistence research and the importance of community engagement and the “service user” voice in the integration of people who have committed sexual offences into the community in a pro-social way (Dr Beth Weaver). The last two keynotes of the conference focused on sexual abuse in Scottish Football, discussing the work of the review and the interim report into the scale and nature of said abuse (Martin Henry); and finally, a presentation on the reality, impact and scale of sexual abuse with private schools over the past 30 (or so) years (Alex Renton). All the keynotes tied together ideas of the importance of Adverse Childhood Experiences in the lives of people who sexually offend, the roll of trauma in shaping their behaviour and that prevention is needed, but more centrally that prevention is everyone’s responsibility.

The workshops spanned a full range of topics and speakers (of which this is just a flavour) including, integration of people who have sexually offended back into the community (Karen Parish & Jane Dominey; Kieran McCartan; Tammy Banks & Sarah Thompson); public health approaches to sexual abuse and prevention (Kieran McCartan; Tamara Turner-Moore; Tammy Banks; Stuart Allardyce; Nicolas Blagden; Donald Findlater); online offenders (Donald Findlater; Roger Kennington); youth who sexually harm (Simon Hackett; Dale Tolliday; Jacqueline Page; Stephen Barry; Carol Carson; Stuart Allardyce & Peter Yates); female sexual offenders (Andrea Darling); treatment (Eleanor Woodford & Ben Evans; Gallagher; Geraldine Akerman); sexuality and sexual abuse (Michael Miner; Rajan Darjie) as well as pornography (Maree Crabbe). The workshops were a good mix of research, evaluation, practical working, professional learning and knowledge exchange.

In addition to the traditional conference activities NOTA 2018 also had an engagement event. This year we changed our focus from members of the public to professionals. We advertised the engagement event to professionals who have safeguarding as part of their jobs, but that safeguarding is not their main role (and therefore would not be attending the NOTA conference) including, teachers, foster carers, members of charities and NGO’s, etc. We had 150 participants sign up to attend the event but, unfortunately, bad weather in Glasgow lead to the closing of Glasgow Central Train Station which resulted in approximately 50 – 55 people attending; which, in the circumstances, was a good outcome. The session heard from national (Stuart Allardyce, Graham Goulden & Kieran McCartan) and international (Maree Crabbe) speakers about the impact of pornography on youth, especially young men; what we can do to reduce toxic masculinity and the “crisis” surrounding young men; and how to promote positive, healthily sexuality.

NOTA 2018 also was covered by the Scottish Herald, which had a two-page piece in the main edition and this was republished on their website as well. The herald piece focused on the prevention of sexual abuse, including interviews with Stuart Allardyce, Marre Crabbe, Graham Golden, Lisa Reynolds and myself. For those interested please access it here.

NOTA 2018 fitted a massive amount of material in across three days, which left me informed, refreshed and looking forward to next year’s meeting in Belfast.

Restorative Justice or Dangerous Liaisons?


Restorative Justice or Dangerous Liaisons?

This Blog is a reprint of an article in NOTA NEWS 85. The NOTA NEW article is based upon research conducted over a three-year period resulting in a book chapter published in 2017 (Wager & Wilson 2017). The publication of the chapter and its contents also formed the basis of a workshop at last year’s NOTA Conference held in Cardiff.

Nadia Wager (Reader in Criminology, University of Huddersfield)
Chris Wilson
(PhD Student, Cardiff University)

This Blog is a reprint of an article in NOTA NEWS 85. The NOTA NEW article is based upon research conducted over a three-year period resulting in a book chapter published in 2017 (Wager & Wilson 2017). The publication of the chapter and its contents also formed the basis of a workshop at last year’s NOTA Conference held in Cardiff.

It has been a commonly held belief that restorative justice has no place in the field of interpersonal and gender-based violence. However, recently, this widely held orthodoxy has been challenged with the development of a number of small projects that seek to facilitate victim-initiated restorative justice. The positive outcomes for those who have engaged with these projects (Koss, 2014) have led to some practitioners re-evaluating their previously held beliefs on the subject. Evidence of this sea change was seen at the 2015 NOTA National Conference in Dublin, where delegates heard the powerful testimony of both the survivor and practitioner’s experience as to the benefit of such a process. The growing evidence of a positive therapeutic impact relating to victim-initiated restorative justice requires serious consideration for both policy and practice.

In 2002, the UK government funded three Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) pilot sites, introducing the Canadian scheme into the British Criminal Justice System. CoSA is based upon the three restorative principles of repair, stakeholder participation and transformation (Newell, 2007) and seeks to safely reintegrate known sex offenders being released from prison back into the community. It achieves this by recruiting volunteers to represent the local community and support an offender in their acquisition of social capital and realization of the Good Lives Model (Ward and Stewart, 2003). The success of the scheme in the UK was due to its adaptation to work in partnership with the statutory agencies, through the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (McCartan, 2018) and that success can be measured, in part by CoSA’s growth across the UK and Europe. By 2016 there were 16 projects delivering CoSA in England and Wales with projects established in Scotland and 8 other European countries.

Evaluation of the government funded pilot projects highlighted that significant numbers (25%) of its volunteers were survivors of sexual violence (Bates et al., 2007) and that this percentage appeared to be replicated as new projects became operational both in the UK and across Europe. In 2012, Circles UK commissioned work to explore restorative practice that contributed to the wellbeing of the survivor-volunteer. This initially concerned itself with the examination of the attitudes and beliefs of CoSA Coordinators towards this group of volunteers. The methodology used for this was a web-based survey followed by a workshop.

There is no national policy relating to CoSA Coordinators asking volunteers about their potential survivor status, therefore practice is inconsistent. Both the survey and workshop evidenced a collection of strong emotional reactions and opinions from all Coordinators, those in favour and those opposed to asking such a question. Those who did ask the question appeared to have found sensitive ways of doing so, recognising that disclosure may not only be difficult but will come if and when the person is ready. However, those that asked the question perceived it as important to know and saw benefits relating to their duty of care towards the volunteer. Those Coordinators reluctant to ask the question, perceived doing so as too intrusive and insensitive. More concerning however, was that among some existed a belief that to ask such questions could potentially result in opening ‘Pandora’s box.’

What was of interest, whether for or against, was the degree to which some Coordinators pathologised victims of sexual crimes. Such a perspective should not come as a surprise, the majority having previously worked in an environment where pathologising victims of sexual crimes was institutionalised (i.e. it is only relatively recently that it has been argued that such experiences would preclude a person form working on Sex Offender Treatment Programmes for fear of the Prison Service being sued (Brampton, 2010)). It was therefore evident that any further work on this subject needed to promote a Salutogenic (focusing on strengths, coping and resilience) approach (Antonovsky, 1987) challenging this pathological perspective of survivorship.

The next stage of this work was facilitated by the Circles South East project and consisted of a study interviewing 13 volunteers, 5 of whom were survivors, about their motivations and experiences of volunteering for CoSA. The accounts of the survivor-volunteers suggest that they do not enter into their volunteering role as a means to make sense of their own experience, neither is it about a process of self-healing. Rather, they volunteer for CoSA once they have transitioned from victim to survivor or have found a renewed sense of strength or purpose arising from a new life transition or overcoming adversity.

The study’s core theme of ‘resilience and recovery’ highlighted the differing ways in which all volunteers perceived survivorship. Pathologising survivorship was not just restricted to some of the Coordinators but was also evident in the 8 volunteers without first-hand experience of sexual victimisation. They felt that survivorship would have an impact upon the volunteering role and would serve as an intrinsic motivation for volunteering with CoSA. They believed that survivors, unlike themselves, had the potential to be less resilient and more shockable, therefore should be assessed to ensure they have recovered from their experiences. Conversely, the 5 survivor-volunteers did not see their survivor status as defining their identity. For some, the abuse was not deemed to have had a detrimental effect on their well-being and others discussed how they had transitioned from victim to survivor before coming to CoSA. Their expressed motivations for choosing CoSA were similar to all volunteers and, in contrast to seeing themselves as inherently shockable, the survivor-volunteers discussed strategies that they used to maintain their resilience.

The fact that the study was able to evidence the three restorative principles identified by Newell (2007) is testimony to the professionalism and quality of volunteer management and supervision provided by Coordinators and other professionals. Survivors who volunteer with CoSA are afforded the opportunity to objectify aspects of post-traumatic growth, such as compassion and altruism consistent with the principle of repair. Stakeholder participation is realised through the openness to the notion of survivors volunteering for CoSA and the commitment that CoSA has to ensuring that the survivors (as with all volunteers) are appropriately trained and supported. The facilitation of stakeholder participation should lead to a positive change in the way survivors are conceptualised by others, transforming the concept of survivorship into images of strong, resilient, compassionate and self-managing individuals who are fully functioning members of their communities.

The 2017 NOTA Conference workshop provided an opportunity not only to share the findings of this study but also to ask the practical questions of its delegates ‘when does a victim become a survivor?’ And ‘when does the label of survivor no longer apply’? This study highlights the importance of CoSA delivering a fair and balanced service. It cannot be acceptable to state that an offender is more than the sum of his or her offending behaviour and yet to continue to pathologise those who have been victimised. The survivor-volunteer occupies a unique space in CoSA, the dynamic and restorative nature of which we are still yet to fully understand.


Antonovsky A. (1987). Unravelling the mystery of health. How people manage stress and stay well. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass

Bates, A., Saunders, R., & Wilson, C. (2007). Doing something about it: A follow-up study of sex offenders participating in Thames Valley Circles of Support and Accountability. British Journal of Community Justice, 5, 19-42.

Brampton, L.L. (2010). Working with sexual offenders: The training and support needs of SOTP facilitators. PhD Thesis, University of Birmingham.

Koss, M (2014) The RESTORE program of restorative justice for sex crimes: vision, process and outcomes, Journal of Interpersonal Violence Vol 29(9) 1623 – 1660.

McCartan, K (2018). The importance of multi-agency and partnership working in the field of sexual abuse. Confederation European Probation (CEP) Newsletter April 2018


Newell, T. (2007). Forgiving Justice: A Quaker vision for criminal justice. Swarthmore Lecture 2000. London: Quaker Books

Wager, N. & Wilson, C. (2017) Circles of Support and Accountability: Survivors as Volunteers and the Restorative Potential. In M. Keenan, E. Zinsstag and I. Aertsen (eds). Sexual Violence and Restorative Justice. London: Routledge

Ward, T. & Stewart, C. (2003). Criminogenic needs and human needs: A theoretical model. Psychology, Crime and Law, 9, 125 – 143