Vol. XXX, No. 4
Fall 2018
Text Only Version
In This Issue
Regular Features
Editor's Note
President's Message
FAQ
Is there such thing as “sexual harm” or is it always Abuse or Trauma?
Featured Articles
Moving beyond the “sex offender” dialogue:
How ATSA members can promote person-first language
Pros and Cons of Manualized Approaches to Sexual Abuse Specific Treatment:
Experiences of Programs in Kansas & Oregon
The Clinical Practice Corner: Juvenile Practice
The ATSA Adult Clinical Practice Committee
Students' Voice
The ATSA Student Experience:
A Personal Anecdote on Attending the Conference and Joining the Student Committee
Book Reviews
Two by Jeglic and Calkins
The Safer Society
Handbook of Assessment and Treatment of Adolescents Who Have Sexually Offended
ATSA News
2018 ATSA Conference Events
Public Engagement Event
Welcome Incoming Board Members
2018 ATSA Awards
New ATSA Members
Newsletter Tools
Search Past Issues
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Print-Friendly Article
Forum Team
David Prescott
Book Review Editor

Sarah Gorter
Production Editor

Forum Editor
Contact the editor or submit articles to:

Heather M. Moulden, Ph.D.
Forensic Program
St. Joseph's Healthcare
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
E: hmoulden@stjoes.ca
P: (905) 522-1155 ext. 35539
FAQ
Is there such thing as “sexual harm” or is it always Abuse or Trauma?
By Danielle Arlanda Harris, Toni Cash, Kerri Wyeth & Kieran McCartan

Danielle Arlanda Harris, PhD, Griffith University
Toni Cash, and Kerri Wyeth, Queensland Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women
Kieran McCartan, PhD, University of the West of England-Bristol

We applaud Sexual Abuse’s recent guest editorial in which Willis and Letourneau (2018) promote the use of person first language. In light of #metoo and the “Weinstein event,” people are now engaging in nuanced public discussions about the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and sexual harassment. These are not the same thing, they do not have the same consequences, or carry the same penalties, and should not be viewed similarly. Here, we consider the specific phrase of “sexual harm.” As we continue to negotiate our use of language, we must also navigate both legislation and legal jargon as it is used across numerous jurisdictions.

“Sexual harm” is frequently used as a catchall phrase intended to include various types of violence, abuse, assault, and harm that results from sexual abuse or violence of a sexual nature. The idea of harm—as opposed to other language (i.e., abuse, trauma, etc.)—comes from the field of Zemiology, based on the idea that “harm” is more proactive and adaptive than other terms. However, the word “harm” is divisive, especially from the perspectives of criminal justice and victim advocacy groups who argue that “harm” lessens the impact and consequences of exactly what a person experiences as a result of sexual abuse.

According to the Queensland Department of Child Safety, Youth, and Women, the harm that a person experiences as a result of sexual abuse is either:

(1) Emotional/psychological harm,

(2) Physical harm or,

(3) Both emotional/psychological and physical harm.

For example, if a 16 year old girl discloses that her stepfather broke her arm three years ago, she would be referred to a doctor to ensure that the arm was set properly and the break has healed (treating the physical harm) and referred to a counsellor to attend to the emotional stress and trauma caused by the incident (treating the psychological harm). Likewise, if a 16 year old girl discloses that she was vaginally penetrated three years ago by her stepfather, she should similarly be referred to a doctor for an internal exam to ensure that there is no lasting damage, that her vagina has healed (treating the physical harm) and be referred to a counsellor to attend to the emotional stress and trauma caused by the same incident (treating the psychological harm).

Basically, if we understand the harm to be physical then we can target our intervention to the physical harm and if we understand the harm to be emotional then we can target our intervention to the emotional harm.

To be clear, “sexual violence” describes the behaviour that someone is responsible for committing. The “harm” is the resulting impact on the person who has experienced the sexual violence. Quite simply, when someone experiences violence, their resulting physical harm can be treated by a medical doctor and their resulting emotional harm can be treated by a counsellor. The challenge with the use of the phrase “sexual harm” is that it can lead to confusion over how best to help the actual harm that the person has experienced. By observing the presence of the resulting physical and emotional harm that results from the commission of sexual violence we can offer a clear direction for interventions that best cater to the needs of the individual and the actual harm they have experienced.

Hillyard, P. (with C. Pantazis, S. Tombs and D. Gordon) (2004) Beyond Criminology: Taking Harm Seriously, London: Pluto Press.

Queensland Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women https://www.csyw.qld.gov.au/child-family

Willis, G. M. (2018). Why call someone by what we don't want them to be? The ethics of labeling in forensic/correctional psychology. Psychology, Crime & Law, 24 (7), 727-743. 10.1080/1068316X.2017.1421640

Willis, G. M. & Letourneau, E. (2018). Promoting accurate and respectful language to describe individuals and groups. Sexual Abuse, 30(5), 480-483.

 

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