It is a pleasure to write this public policy update for The Forum as my first official communiqué to the ATSA membership. Since beginning as ATSA’s Public Policy
Consultant in April of this year, I have had a chance to speak with many of you via email and phone, but writing for The Forum provides an opportunity to address the entire membership and to share the progress and accomplishments of our organization’s public policy work.
ATSA’s overarching public policy goal during this eight-month period has been to create and install an infrastructure for the policy, legislative, and media work of the organization. The primary aim of ATSA’s Public Policy Committee is to promulgate empirically driven policies to reduce the harm of sexual abuse. Over the last five months, I have worked with the ATSA Public Policy Committee to brainstorm and design a collaborative process for policy work. Through the guidance and support of individual committee members on different topic areas, we have accomplished a wide range of activities.
To date, I have worked to develop systems for documenting requests from within and outside of ATSA for media and other assistance pertaining to policy questions and projects. I have communicated with individuals and organizations with whom ATSA would like to build relationships and create alliances. Between April 1 and August 31 this year, I fielded 109 requests for policy information, assistance, and resources, as well as 24 requests from members of print, television, film, and radio media for expert information and input. Media requests have largely been referred to various members of the ATSA membership. During this period, I also conducted over 30 in-depth conversations with potential and developing allies for current and future policy and legislative endeavors. Additionally, I have developed archives of news articles that cite the work of and/or include interviews with ATSA members, as well as a database of federal legislators and congressional staff members who have expressed interest in (or who have developed legislation) regarding sex offenders and sexual abuse.
Additionally, I am conducting a comprehensive review of organizations, agencies, and institutes working on issues related to sexual offending, prevention of and response to sexual abuse, and federal and state policy development and advocacy. Designed to assist ATSA in identifying and creating strategic relationships with allies and resources for future policy advocacy undertakings, the review currently includes over 130 organizations in a total of 20 categories.
The policy committee has already made extensive use of this agency review in its outreach to a number of organizations for the creation of a coalition for policy advocacy visits to Washington D.C. We have appointments scheduled in November to meet with Ernie Allen, the President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as policy staff at the National Center for Victims of Crime and several members of congress. Through these efforts, ATSA, together with allies such as the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the American Psychological Association, can establish itself in congress as a central and credible resource for policymakers grappling with issues related to sexual abuse. By working cooperatively with a coalition of groups with disparate approaches to sexual abuse, ATSA aims to strengthen its voice in influencing and shaping policy, shifting public opinion, and altering the media’s approach to discussions of sex offenders and the prevention of sexual abuse. The recent passage of the federal Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act illustrates all too clearly the importance of having ATSA active in discussions and accessible to policymakers for the creation of legislation that has such direct and stringent consequences for the clients that ATSA members serve, their families, and the reduction of sexual abuse in society.
I recently helped draft a letter to a member of congress expressing support for the development of a federal risk-based classification system for sex offenders. As well, I developed a list (and analyses) of sexual abuse-related legislation proposed in the current session of congress, researched various aspects of S 1086 and HR 4472 that ultimately became the Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act, and provided assistance to various states in developing and implementing opposition to Jessica’s Laws and residency restriction legislation. In August, I represented ATSA at a seminar on sex offenders in Washington D.C. sponsored jointly by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the National Academies of Science (NAS). NAS’s Committee on Law and Justice is considering the development of empirically based recommendations for federal legislation regarding sex offenders that will build true and maximal public safety. In addition to my participation at the seminar, several ATSA members offered expert testimony (though not necessarily in the role of “ATSA member”), including Robert Prentky, Kurt Bumby, Judith Becker, and Kim English. I will continue to work with members of the NAS Committee on Law and Justice, as well as NIJ, to create research and policy opportunities that support the efforts of ATSA and have the potential to improve sex offender-related policy in the United States.
With input from the Public Policy Committee and the ATSA Board of Directors, I have also developed a list of media experts for the organization. Pending approval from the identified individuals, the list will help refer media requests to appropriate ATSA member experts on a variety of research, clinical, and policy topics related to sex offenders and sexual abuse. In the future, we would like to be more proactive in encouraging the media to make use of the expertise that ATSA members can offer in order to promote journalistic stories and portrayals that avoid sensationalized and inaccurate information about sex offenders and risks for sexual abuse.
In the 20 weekly hours I serve as the Public Policy Consultant to ATSA, I am also beginning to develop a long-term strategic plan for the policy work of the organization. Together with Public Policy Committee members, I am identifying the key arenas in which ATSA will work to influence sex offender-related policy and legislation for the future, as well as the goals, objectives, and tactical strategies needed to achieve them. The strategic plan will outline phases of policy work for the next three calendar years along with evaluation tools to assess their effectiveness.
Finally, allow me to add that in over six years as an ATSA member (including three years with its Public Policy Committee), I have remained deeply invested in and committed to the policy success of our organization. I am excited to participate as the Public Policy Consultant in the life and mission of ATSA and pleased to assist the organization in using public policy advocacy and analysis to influence sexual abuse prevention and intervention. Through thoughtful strategic planning, coalition building, media outreach, legislative advocacy, and activation of ATSA’s members, I believe we can guide public will and relevant institutional systems to help the field of sex offender treatment and research to protect the public from sexual abuse.
I look forward to hearing from each and every member of ATSA and to meeting you in person at the upcoming conference at the end of the month. Please consider coming to the Saturday morning (7:45 to 8:45) Public Policy Discussion Breakfast. It is open to all members, is free, and provides a chance to not only hear more about the proposed policy advocacy directions of the organization, but for you to express your thoughts on the subject. I value your ideas, feedback, and questions. This is your organization and I want to know what you envision for its policy direction and future. Please look me up at the conference, or feel free to contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (413-586-9123).
I am grateful for and moved by the work that ATSA members do. I look forward to our advancing the policy goals that assist in the prevention of sexual abuse and promoting public safety. [