‘Tis the season of restoration.

 By Kieran McCartan, PhD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born of rape: new legislation in the UK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTA 2023 Annual Conference review

By Kieran McCartan, PhD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTA 2023 Conference preview

Kieran McCartan

NOTA Conference Chair

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

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

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

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

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


Restorative Justice and sexual abuse: Emerging research from Scotland.

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

The field of sexual abuse can be emotionally charged, challenging, and often causes us to reflect on our lives and actions. There are times when professionals draw lines (quite often artificial) between people who work with those who have harmed and those that have been harmed. It is common to hear that professionals in each field have different agendas and want different things, to the point of being at loggerheads. We disagree, even as we acknowledge that it can sometimes appear that way when we make snap judgments of others without really understanding where they are coming from.

Instead, we would say that the “victim side” and the “offender side,” as they are often called, want the same thing (i.e., the abuse to stop, victims to be support and people who have offended to be held accountable and manage their risk moving forward). The real difference is in the perspectives they bring to their daily work. One area of rehabilitation and therapeutic work in the wake of sexual abuse that brings these sides together is Restorative Justice. We have discussed Restorative Justice on the blog before and recognize the sensitives it involves and the process for both sets of participants, so this is not a rehashing of old ground but rather an opportunity to discuss new research and practice. As much as any approach, Restorative Justice shows that there aren’t different “sides” to the issues, but diverse roles that we can all play in our attempts to end sexual violence.

Scotland has always had a reputation for being forward thinking in its approaches to health, justice, risk, and risk management, particularly in the areas of sexual abuse, drugs/alcohol, and youth crime. Recently, there has been momentum in Scotland to understand the role that Restorative Justice can play in helping to repair the damage created by sexual abuse. In 2021, a nationwide consultation was led by Thriving Survivors (with a number of other organizations across the sector) on  with survivors of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence to Establish Awareness, Opinion, and Demand Related to the Ongoing Development of a National Restorative Justice Policy and Practice Framework for Scotland. The consultation highlighted “the importance for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence that their voices are heard and that they have a choice related to how they deal with the aftermath of their victimization, including access to Restorative Justice.” This resulted in a series of recommendations including more research, development, and consultation on the issue, which led to the publication of a second report with some of the key players from the original, published last week, called “Restorative Justice & Sexual Harm: the voices of those who have harmed.

The new report is based on a mixed-methods research design with people convicted of sexual offenses and their views on the relevance, use, and impact of Restorative Justice. The research found that the 44 participants who understood what Restorative Justice is described it as a process led by those who have been victimized, and that if it was not handled properly, it could be retraumatizing and activating for victims; caution is required. The participants felt that the benefits of doing Restorative Justice, if done properly and thoughtfully, outweighed any potential negative outcomes. This resulted in the authors suggesting that although cases should be looked at and considered in an individual light, they should be considered as people who can understand, be receptive to, and benefit from the use of Restorative Justice. The report gave some key recommendations, including that facilitators running Restorative Justice programmes in sexual abuse cases need to be specially trained; the consent of the participants need to be properly obtained; that the process needs to be trauma-informed; all participants should be fully briefed on what to expect from the process; if a traditional face-to-face approach is not appropriate then an alternative approach should be investigated; and the cognitive ability, neurological level, and psychological wellbeing of all participants should be checked as well catered to throughout the process.

In many respects, this publication reinforces previous research and policies in Restorative Justice (i.e., look at individual cases and then tread gently), but what makes it stand out is that it has been done with people convicted of sexual offenses. This is an important report in that it reinforces what a lot of research in the field of sexual abuse has indicated over the years: that people convicted of sexual offenses in the main want to understand the harm that they have done, become accountable, and move on an offense-free life. Additionally, this report also recognises the importance of trauma-informed approaches to this work, indicating that men convicted of sexual offenses offend have trauma histories that they are recovering from and that have contributed to their offending, and therefore the restorative justice process can help their healing.

The European Commission’s mapping criteria for Help Seeker and Perpetrator Prevention Initiatives in Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation.

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

Earlier this week, the European Commission published a new document titled “Help seeker and Perpetrator Prevention Initiatives – Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation.” Its aim is to support initiatives for Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) help-seeker and perpetration prevention. The idea is that by creating a common taxonomy of prevention programs for several different stakeholders, we can collectively understand and share best practices around CSA prevention initiatives. The report is a step towards the creation of a European Union (EU) knowledge platform on CSA prevention initiatives, which will support EU Member States to develop and roll out tailor-made prevention policies according to their respective cultural and societal environments and needs.

On May 11, 2022, the European Commission published a proposal to prevent and combat CSA, with a strong emphasis on prevention; but even though preventing and combatting child sexual abuse is a priority of the European Union, there has been no common EU-wide approach or concrete framework to highlight what member states had already accomplished. A plethora of different terminologies and taxonomies exist to describe prevention programmes (a common issue across the EU in general), making the information about such initiatives limited, unclear, and unstructured.

Collectively the JRC, DG HOME, the newly emerging prevention network developed by the team, , and a number of interviewed practitioners and experts reached a common consensus on the idea that to raise awareness of existing prevention programmes for people at risk of committing sexual offenses it was necessary to categorize and evaluate them. For this purpose, a dedicated working group was established, and the output of this common effort are 14 classification criteria that will support EU Member States to develop, implement and research prevention work in different countries. The 14 agreed classification criteria are:

  1. TARGET identifies to whom the initiative is addressed, such as people who fear they may offend.
  2. CONTEXT refers to the environment in which the intervention is given.
  3. METHODS refers to the tools, treatments, support opportunities and programmes proposed to the targets.
  4. INITIATIVE PROVIDER refers to the nature and main activities of the entity or initiative provider that is offering the program and/or treatment as well as  the one that implemented it.
  5. FUNDING refers to the money allocated to the program and/or treatment.
  6. COSTS refers to the costs that would be sustained by the entity proposing/setting up the program
  7. THE FOUR PREVENTION STAGES (Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Quaternary, described in previous blog posts and the extant literature).
  8. EVALUATION aims to capture the outcomes of the initiatives.
  9. ACCOUNTABILITY of the programmes refers to the processes and mechanisms put in place by the initiative provider to appraise the programme at different stages to ensure that the programme remains accountable, and that it is working towards the goals.
  10. LEGISLATION refers to the legal national framework under which the specific programme/intervention is being deployed.
  11. COLLABORATION refers to the synergies and complementarities that can be established with different entities involved in the prevention of CSA.
  12. DISSEMINATION refers to the actions taken to raise awareness about the prevention initiative among (potential) stakeholders.
  13. TARGETS’ RIGHTS are explored in terms of privacy, anonymity, and safety to preserve and assure confidentiality, assurance of empathy, etc.
  14. ACCESSIBILITY refers to several elements of the preventive programme that can be related to: the language of the resources, the availability of complementary tools to the traditional text-based ones, the standardisation of tools provided, and he cultural responsivity factors.

(The criteria are adapted/replicated from document)

The 14 classification criteria were then applied to five case studies (PedoHelp – France; Parafilik – Czech Republic; Out of the Net – Spain; Sexual Aggression Control – Spain;  Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) – European union-united kingdom) to see how they aligned. The results indicated that the five case studies did align and that the criteria were useful in the development and implementation of prevention programs. Additionally, the report goes on to discuss a series of international prevention mapping tools (i.e., INHOPE prevention initiative report, Eradicating Child Sexual Abuse (ECSA), PedoHelp, Helplinks (a Europol website as part of the Police2Peer project) and the UNICEF promising programmes to prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation report. The report finishes off with a series of smaller sections describing relevant information on several programmes for people who fear they may offend, for people going through criminal proceedings and post criminal proceedings, as well as those for minors.

This is an invaluable resource for policy makers, practitioners, and researchers alike. The report demonstrates the development of good practice available in developing interventions for people at risk of committing a sexual offence or those who have. I would strongly recommend looking at it and learning from its findings.