ATSA Forum - Vol. XXVII, No. 2
Spring 2015  (Plain Text Version)

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In this issue:
Regular Features
 Editor's Note
 President's Message
Featured Articles
 Applying the Self-Regulation Model to Community Supervision
 How to develop good public understanding of child sexual abuse and its management.
 International Membership Survey Results
 Protective Factors for Sexually Violent Offending
Students' Voice
 Online Sexual Offenders’ Implicit Theories
Book Review
 Trauma-Sensitive Yoga in Therapy
ATSA Forum Survey
 ATSA Forum Newsletter Readership Survey
 Call for Board Nominees
 Awards & Grants
 Ethics Violation
 New ATSA Members
 Safer Society Press

How to develop good public understanding of child sexual abuse and its management.

What follows is the transcript of the first online debate which occurred as part of The Leverhulme Trust funded “How to develop good public understanding of child sexual abuse and its management”. The Community Engagement and Partnership Working with Sexual Offenders International Network is a collaboration of seven academics from six universities across five counties. We also have a number of national and international partners. It is an international partnership, designed to engage practitioners, academics and policy makers on issues of sexual offender risk management and public protection. The network is also committed to public and societal education on issues of sexual offender etiology, offending, management and reintegration.

This represents the second of six discussions scheduled to take place throughout 2014 - 16 to examine the Community engagement and partnership working with sexual offenders. The debates are a series of discussions between invited practitioners, academics and relevant parties on a variety of issues relating to sexual offender management and reintegration. All of the debates will be published in the ATSA Forum as well as on the international networks website:


The aim of the current debate is to discuss streamlining and articulating an accessible public health approach to sexual violence. The debate included below occurred over a two -week period in October 2014, through an online social networking site.

19 participants from 6 countries (UK, USA, Holland, Latvia, Canada, and Australia) agreed to participate in the debate. They were invited to take part because of their interest and expertise in this area. The participants were selected from academic backgrounds and practitioner groups. All participants are identified below only via the institutions or organisations on whose behalf they spoke:

  • Participant 1  - from CoSA Canada
  • Participant 2 – from Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, Canada
  • Participant 3 – from De Montfort University, UK
  • Participant 4 – from University of New Hampshire, USA
  • Participant 5 – from the Centre for Effective Public Policy, USA
  • Participant 6 -  from McMaster University, Canada
  • Participant 7 – from Valerian Consulting, Canada
  • Participant 8 – from Avans University, The Netherlands.
  • Participant 9 – from the University of the West of England, UK.
  • Participant 10 – from State Probation Service of Latvia, Latvia.
  • Participant 11 -  from  University of Massachusetts – Lowell, USA
  • Participant 12 - from Bravehearts Inc., Australia.
  • Participant 13 - from Avans University, The Netherlands.
  • Participant 14 - from the University of Tasmania, Australia
  • Participant 15 - from Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, UK.
  • Participant 16 - from Leeds Beckett University, UK
  • Participant 17 - from Griffith University, Australia
  • Participant 18  - from the University of Leeds, UK
  • Participant 19 – from McMaster University, Canada

The debate below is a faithful representation of what was said, nothing has been otherwise altered (except in a very few places where minor adjustments were made for clarity and the removal of identifying features/comments —Editor). Please note that the views expressed in the debate are those of the individuals making them and not necessarily those of the organization that they work for. The format includes an opening statement, in this case by the representative from, followed by an open discussion including all participants and the debate is then summarized. Readers are reminded that this was originally an online discussion, and that grammar, etc. were of lesser importance in favor of free expression of thought and opinion.

Participant 1

We've seen the headlines:  “Inside the mind of a monster,” and, “Torturer of the West Gets 10 Years,” and others like them. We hear the stories of child sexual abuse allegations involving rock stars like Michael Jackson and Gary Glitter, or of television personalities like BBC’s Jimmy Saville, and actors such as Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman). 

Recently, sports figures, particularly those involved in such university and college sports as football and hockey, have rounded out the evening news. Recall the stories about Jerry Sandusky from Pennsylvania State.  In Canada, two prominent universities (University of Ottawa and Western University) controversially suspended their hockey programs because of allegations made against a handful of players and coaches.

As professionals who work every day in research into and treatment of child sexual abusers, these stories can frustrate us. We know they do not reflect the true nature of child sexual abuse, nor do they accurately characterize those who sexually abuse.   Yet they are what average citizens consume to “educate” themselves about child sexual abuse.

Most citizens do not know what we know: that somewhere between 70-80% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the victims know (Finkelhor, 1994; Ministry of Justice, British Home Office, 2013), and that most of these assaults go unreported because the victims, “. . . ‘didn’t think the police could do much to help’, that the incident was ‘too trivial or not worth reporting’, or that they saw it as a ‘private/family matter and not police business’”( Ministry of Justice, British Home Office, 2013,). 

Few people would know that child sexual abusers do not necessarily use physical force, but groom children through play, deception, threats, or other forms of coercion to engage children and maintain their silence. The notion of “stranger danger” is rampant and fed by headlines like those cited. Yet we know that assaults by strangers are infrequent and that the most common perpetrator is a family member, other relative, or someone close to the victim.

As professionals, apart from our research and practice, we are also called to provide information and education about the nature of child sexual abuse in our communities. The question is: how do we engage our fellow citizens in meaningful exchanges that impart accurate knowledge about child sexual abuse? Do we go directly there, or are there less threatening ways to broach the topic by talking more generally about child and family safety, healthy parenting practices, and human sexuality? I have learned that the idea of someone sexually abusing a child is so utterly abhorrent to most parents that they simply do not want to think about it, let alone talk about it publicly. I recall an instance in a community that shall remain unnamed, where I was called upon to conduct a public seminar on the nature of sexual abuse. It was well advertised weeks in advance in multi-media releases.  No one came! Mind you, the new dog-licensing bylaw meeting in the room next door was overflowing (we gave them our coffee and donuts).

On the other hand, in my work with Circles of Support and Accountability, I am asked frequently to deliver orientation sessions and full-day training to small groups of volunteer citizens. When these folks receive the information I have around sexual abuse, they are usually quite surprised: “So what we've been reading in the newspaper and seeing in the movies isn't all true?”  And they are usually grateful. I find these occasions among the most rewarding in my practice. Yet, these are small groups, and they are comprised of people who are, shall I say, “given” toward volunteering to help a high-risk sexual offender integrate with the community. In terms of sex offender management, I recall explaining to my father-in-law’s hired farm hand that there’s actually quite a lot we can do to help released sexual offenders manage their risk in the community. It was a long time ago, but his reaction after giving my suggestions careful thought, was to pull a shotgun from under the driver’s seat of the International Harvester grain truck we were riding in, and just as carefully explaining to me (after nimbly saving the bottle of whiskey he had accidentally dislodged) that he would know exactly how to help “them” manage.  I Participant 17ess that’s a variation on the containment approach, and maybe that’s about choosing your audience. But it reminded me that in order to develop a good understanding of sexual abusers and their management, we need to engage with our communities appropriately. As well, I am also reminded that there is never a giant, homogeneous “public” in our cities and towns; just as there are many communities within a city boundary, so, too, there are many “publics,” each with different expectations – and varying capacities – for knowledge and understanding. 

What are your thoughts?  To help us begin thinking about this important part of our work, I would like to pose a few questions:

-          How do we engage our communities in an appropriate and informative dialogue around the topic of sexual abuse, particularly the sexual abuse of children?  Are there instances of “best practice,” and “promising practice?” Have you been part of or witnessed particularly creative ways of accomplishing such a dialogue?

-          Do we first have to address our own Participant 12ases?  What about containment versus integration strategies? Is it either/or?

-          Is there a part of our professional preparation around public education and communication we need to think more about?

-          What do we mean when we say we want develop an “understanding”? Is it just a recital of statistics?

-          How do we address the fact that the topic of sexual abuse of children justifiably brings with it fear, loathing, and deeply felt anger? How do we enter into those feelings in our communities and help people cope?

Participant 2

There are a lot of questions here so I will focus on only two points to begin with:

1. How to raise the topic of child sexual abuse with the community.

I think we could be more effective to the extent that we built partnerships with others concerned about child maltreatment more generally and spoke to the PREVENTION of child sexual abuse rather than treatment and management of sex offenders (though treatment and management would be part of preventing future child sexual abuse).

I have argued for years that the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) will have less of a voice as long as it is seen as an advocacy or professional group concerned about treatment of sex offenders; the same issue faces NOTA (National Organisation for the Treatment of Sexual Aggressors) or IATSO (International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders) face. I realize that treatment of sex offenders is the root of these organizations, and remains an important and majority part of the membership. But most of the general community doesn't care about the offenders, doesn't believe in rehabilitation, and would prefer incarceration (or worse). Those are prejudices that we must tackle, along with the correlated anxiety, fear and loathing, but we will also be hobbled if that is the main route we take.

I have suggested -- with no discernible impact -- that ATSA should consider changing its name to the Association for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse (APSA).

2. What is the most effective way towards public education and understanding?

I think social media and traditional media are key. People often don't have the time, patience or inclination to attend public lectures or similar kinds of educational meetings, and often the ones who show up are already part of the choir (or, at least, familiar with the choir). And it's a lot of effort to talk to small groups of people at a time, to uncertain impact. Compare that with the time and energy it takes to engage a journalist or someone with a similar platform who could influence the discussion for thousands or even more people.

As an illustration, I spent some time talking about pedophilia and child sexual abuse with Luke Malone, who produced a story for a popular radio show in the US, This American Life, with an audience reach of approx 2 million listeners. This story generated a lot of subsequent online discussion in other media outlets and on blogs. There was also a follow-up story on Medium, a publishing platform that also got a lot of attention.

I spent even less time talking with a law professor who just wrote a New York Times op-ed about viewing pedophilia as a mental disorder and disability (New York Times has a paid circulation of approx 2 million but many more people reads its articles for free online). This just appeared but I'm sure that it will generate A LOT of discussion about how we as a society are going to address the issue of pedophilia, and what the implications of that response are for child sexual exploitation and abuse.

I don't know how effective I am at these media involvements, but I do know that I received no formal training or mentorship on it. It's something that I enjoy and that I have learned to do on my own, reading advice online, talking to others, and getting experience from speaking with newspaper, magazine, radio and TV reporters. I also know that many people active in our field are nervous/wary about speaking with reporters, but I think it is very important and well-worth investing time, energy and resources into.


I have read both posts with interest and take the point that speaking about the prevention of sexual violent is probably more ‘worthy’ and more likely to achieve engagement than speaking about treatment or interventions with sexual offenders. Fundamentally it also indicates a change in perspective and thinking. I am going to comment on two points to date:

On practical engagement- I am not surprised no-one came, and have encountered this when evaluating engagement and public outreach programmes. However, targeted communication appears to be more successful, and we have argued in the past for using existing community leaders and opinion formers as they are likely to be trusted, respected, well networked, and usually have a proven competence in carrying or mediating messages.  Interestingly this approach has been applied recently in the Northern Irish context with PARTICIPANT 15using local community leaders to discuss the re-integration of sex offenders into communities (Maxwell and McLean forthcoming).

There is also a growing literature on how to empower bystanders to take action, for example the ‘bystander programme’ (Tabachnick 2008; Banyard, Plante and Moynihan 2004).

Whilst positive media encounters reaching large audiences are very welcome it seems to be me that this will always need to be complemented by local initiatives of the type above.

Is it containment or reintegration?

No, I think this is a false and unhelpful dichotomy.  In 2008 I argued for an approach called ‘protective integration’, working on integrating sex offenders (all offenders) as safely as possible using multi modal approaches that might for example have elements of a containment or community protection approach such as curfews or residence restrictions, combined with supportive and integrative approaches such as Circles of Support and Accountability.  Indeed some jurisdictions do operate a mixed economy of both approaches to sex offenders (to a lesser or greater degree: England and Wales; the Netherlands), and most responses are actually on a continuum.

I think this ‘either or’ has been unhelpful in developing policy and practice strategies to effectively manage sex offenders in the community, and often does not reflect more recent practice.

Finally, emotions matter, you have to acknowledge them and work with them.  We have at times, particularly at policy level, been inclined to characterise the ‘public’ as irrational, emotional or ill-educated about sex offending.  This is in large part because we fail to properly acknowledge the role of affect and emotion in perceptions and responses to child sexual offending.


Banyard, V.L., Plante, E. G. and Moynihan, M. M. (2004) Bystander education: Bringing a broader community perspective to sexual violence prevention.  Journal of Community Psychology, 32 (1) 61-79.

Kemshall, H. (2008) Understanding the community management of high risk offenders. McGraw-Hill.

Kemshall, H. (2012) Public sector and voluntary responses: Dealing with sex offenders.  In J. Brown and S. Walklate (eds.) Handbook on Sexual Violence. Chap 20.  London: Routledge.

McCartan, K., Kemshall, H., Tabachnick, J. (forthcoming) The construction of community understandings of sexual violence: rethinking public, practitioner and policy discourses. Journal of Sexual Aggression, forthcoming, and on this website.

Tabachnick, J. (2008) Engaging bystanders in sexual violence prevention.  Pennsylvannia: National Violence Resource Centre.

Maxwell, F, and McLean, S. (forthcoming) Sex Offender (re)integration into the community: realities and challenges. Journal of Sexual Aggression, forthcoming.

Participant 2

I think that participant 3 makes a number of important points, including the tendency to dismiss public reaction as emotional or irrational, when of course emotions influence perceptions and responses. I would suggest that a focus on prevention and child safety will be more likely to elicit emotions like compassion, empathy, and curiosity whereas a focus on treatment of offenders is more likely to elicit emotions like fear and anger.

I also want to emphasize that I wasn't suggesting an either/or for engaging in local efforts vs. mainstream media. I think the media are more effective for broad public education and engagement, but the local initiatives are essential to actually getting things done, e.g., informing the local community about new policies or practices, building partnerships.

Participant 3

Yes I agree on prevention more likely to gain positive emotions, and positive responses and I think you present the complementary strategy I was grasping for exactly!

Participant 4

A couple of suggestions:

1) Take every opportunity to emphasize the diversity of the dynamics and the offender population.  In particular, useful to talk about juvenile offenders, female offenders, remorseful offenders, rehabilitated offenders.

2) Might be good to find survivors who can articulate the commitment to rehabilitation, and the complicated feelings they may have about overly punitive reactions.

3) Need to emphasize our successes more, particularly the declining rates (you'd expect me to make a pitch for this), but also some of the evidence about therapy and management.  People need to see that we are making progress.

On the Margo Kaplan op ed in the New York Times today, I thought it was interesting but many aspects of it concern me.  Because there are serious dangers in this policy area, we have to be careful about making policy proposals that run ahead of the research evidence.  Policy changes in this area should be proceeded by experimental research that test their feasibility and safety.  That's a crucial way of building support.  But, as I understand her proposal on the American's with Disabilities Act, what she is proposing would be seen by a lot of people as a legal requirement that they hire pedophiles.  I doubt that such a proposal is a good conversation  starter about how to manage people who are sexually attracted to children.  But we should certainly have more research on individuals who are sexually attracted to children, how to distinguish those who do and do not pose and risk, and what helps them to inhibit their impulses.  But I think we are a long way from being able to specify what the policy implications should be.

By the way, here's the Margo Kaplan editorial:

Participant 5

With respect to the issue of community engagement, while it is true that public sentiment is particularly negative with respect to individuals who commit sex offenses (perhaps understandably so) and that members of the public may hold myths and misperceptions about this population, it is also important to recognize that as professionals, we may make inaccurate assumptions about what the public believes and supports/does not support.  Having better understandings of public attitudes and knowledge about this population, their perceptions about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of various strategies, and the extent to which they "support" specific approaches can help shape our approaches to public education and engagement.  For example, in a national public opinion survey that we (the Center for Sex Offender Management) conducted in the U.S. in 2011, we were somewhat surprised (positively) at some of the findings.  One example was that this sample was more supportive of sex offender treatment - and believed in its effectiveness - than we expected.  In addition, they indicated a desire for lawmakers to base sex offender management-related public policies more on research, less than on what they believe the public wants or on sex crimes that have occurred in their local communities.  Moreover, this sample expressed a clear desire to receive more information about sexual abuse prevention in their communities.  These and other findings in the survey were helpful for us in terms of beginning to think slightly differently about some of the specific foci of targeted education for the public (and other stakeholders).  

Below is the link to the public opinion survey referenced in my post.

Participant 6

I agree with Participant 2 that it is important to engage the popular media and to not shut them out as likely to misqe you or misconstrue what you say. I've certainly had that happen, or I've found my positive comments surrounded by a lot of negative vitriol, but I remain of the opinion that every interview is an opportunity to inform the writer, who will hopefully inform the public.

I've had this conversation (how to develop public understanding...) with many colleagues in the recent past, and I believe that we (professionals with knowledge) must share at least some of the responsibility for society's ignorance or lack of awareness of sexual violence issues. We tend to publish in obscure journals accessible only by professional search engines, Research Gate, or google scholar (ask your neighbour if she's ever heard of that?). Then, we get together at conferences or on list-servs populated by our friends and colleagues and, again, share amongst those who likely already know many of the "right" answers. How is the public supposed to take anything away from that?

Over the last 20 years, I've been affiliated with Circles of Support & Accountability, which seeks to involve the general public in risk management and public safety. In that time I've had the opportunity to mingle, train, and share perspectives with a lot of different people who have had a lot of different ideas about community safety. In fact, I Participant 17ess part of my principal agenda in being involved with CoSA has been to re-engage the community in "community safety" as Nils Christie suggests in his paper "Conflicts as Property":

Community is made from conflict as much as from cooperation; the capacity to solve conflict is what gives social relations their sinew. Professionalizing justice “steals the conflicts,” robbing the community of its ability to face trouble and restore peace. Communities lose their confidence, their capacity, and, finally, their inclination to preserve their own order. They instead become consumers of police and court “services” with the consequence that they largely cease to be communities.

To share another quote, I really like urban planner Jane Jacobs perspective in her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities":

The first thing to understand is that the public peace—the sidewalk and street peace—is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as police are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves and enforced by the people themselves. No amount of police can enforce Civilization where the normal causal enforcement of it has broken down.

Of course, a lot of this goes back nearly 200 years to Sir Robert Peel who, in the early 1800s, recognized that "the police are the people and the people are the police."

But, has the community forgotten that it has a role to play? How much do we empower ordinary citizens to take a stake in community safety when we keep all the knowledge and expertise to ourselves.

Kurt's survey data are clear:  The public wants to be informed by experts, but they're getting their (mis)information from journalists.

Last point, we have a lot of partners working towards prevention in other domains, but we've also been a Participant 12t remiss in making sure that we're using the same knowledge base to underscore our similar efforts. To bring in Participant 4's point about declining rates and successes, I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone on a dais tell a room full of people that rates are either increasing or that under-reporting is becoming more prevalent, meaning that the decreasing rates aren't real. Can't we all get together and at least agree on what's really being seen? I agree that there is lots to be proud of—lower rates of reoffending, better treatment methods, better supervision efforts—all of which are making society safer, but getting those messages out to the greater community is still one of our greatest challenges. I'm really looking forward to what we talk about during this "debate".


Christie, N. (1977). Conflicts as property.  British Journal of Criminology, 17, 1-4.

Jacobs, J. (1961). The death and life of great American cities. New York: Random House.

Participant 7

Participant 4’s suggestion of broadening how we speak about offenders is an important one. In terms of popular representation of sex offenders, we typically see the ‘stereotype’ in the news – offenders who are repeat, committed offenders; and this unfortunately is what the community latches on to. Breaking through the mythology that there is ‘one offender type’, and discussing the diversity in offender populations may go along way to increasing understanding.

In the training and professional development programs we run with people working with children, and recent public forum we held in Brisbane, framing discussions on offenders in this way has certainly resulted in engaging discussions about what this means for legislation, how ‘one size does not fit all’ and how we ‘manage’ offenders in the community.

Participant 8

Dear all,

I'd like to respond to Particicpant 1 last question on helping communities to cope with fear, loathing and anger.  Firstly, I believe we have to recognize and respect these feelings as a mixture of feelings "against" the sex-offender, and feelings "against" the response of the justice system. Combined, they lead to scapegoating and public shaming of sex-offenders.  

To understand this mechanism and to address these feelings, I think it is worthwhile to look at the work of the Dutch researches Hans Bouttelier, who published on the evolving role of the state towards safety management, and the evolving expression of emotions in the public (in Vogelvang & Hoing 2012):

According to Boutellier (2011), the need for safety is a way for citizens to express their need for social organization and social cohesion that all human societies need to address in order to survive and sustain a peaceful way of living together. Following the erosion of traditional moral institutions and values like faith, church, trade unions, villages and the extended family, there is a need for a new organizing framework for survival and peaceful cohabitation. Punitive systems in this context transcend their original function to canalize revenge into proportionate vindication, to prevent new crimes and to re-habilitate the offender. They now also function to express the moral standards of society. Because moral standards and values have become highly individualized in our societies, the boundaries of individual freedom have been collectively chosen as the grid that needs to be (openly and explicitly) secured in order to maintain social cohesion.

Safety (and also “security”) has become an organizing principle for society—or at least is presented as a reasonable option by those who believe in a “safe new world” (Boutellier 2011). While the need for safety seems to grow in a more and more undefined world, the trust in the power and competency of politicians and governments to actually secure these needs has declined. There is a growing call for civil commitment and participation of members of society in order to make safety a shared responsibility. Neighborhood watches and notification orders are examples of citizens being involved in the “operation safety.”

Participation in society is seen not only as an effective way to maintain security, but also to prevent people from becoming criminals. Social cohesion is not only realized by setting the boundaries of individual freedom, the key extra principle is to provide people with a sense of belonging by which they feel compelled to incorporate and maintain shared values and standards. In this respect, society is also the place where people inherit and build their social capital around safety. Social capital, defined by Putnam as “features of a society that help facilitate and coordinate actions within that society.” These features include social networks, norms of reciprocity, and “levels of trust” (Putnam 1995). The increasing phenomena of “silent walks” or “white marches” and Internet condolence sites of citizens following a human drama around safety or crime, must be viewed in this light: they provide for a network, and they serve to reconfirm reciprocity and mutual trust.

Summing up: The growing need for safety in our society puts sex-offenders, having transgressed the boundaries of individual freedom, at great risk of being increasingly exposed in public as threats to the moral standards of society. This public exposure is organized in such a way that it gives people a feeling of being connected and to belong. These feelings reinforce the use of public exposure. To reconfirm our bonds, we expel the perpetrator.

Participant 13 and I describe the result of expelling the perpetrator as physical, social and also moral incapacitation of the offender. Moral incapacitation occurs as the result of both physical and social incapacitation. When citizens, politicians, media and state policy isolate sex-offenders physically and socially, this will impede his development of pro-social behaviors. But more importantly, it becomes extremely difficult or even impossible for him to repair the damage he has caused, to make amends, and through this isolation he becomes morally incapacitated. Bluntly put, the sex-offender is left alone to rot with his Participant 17ilt, and denied the capacity to develop himself (fully) as human being. Moral incapacitation is accompanied by extreme denunciation of the offender as a human being. Examples of this are the arguments in favor of public notification orders (“They only have themselves to blame”), and character murder in the media; labeling offenders as incurable monsters with no reference to actual recidivism rates - which are, in fact, lower than for most other types of crime. Public agreement that these types of criminal are “incurable” (leading to a split or Participant 12furcation within society), then paves the road for community shaming of sex-offenders, explicitly using them as horrible examples to prevent new crimes. 

To conclude and hopefully to help formulating an answer to Participant 1's question, the prevention of moral incapacitation is key. To do this, we need to tell the public - through narratives of sex-offenders -  that they are worthy of making amends, and capable of improving.

(Vogelvang, B.O. , Höing, M. (2012). Circles of Support and Accountability:  combining prevention and incapacitation within a communitarian approach for released sex-offenders. In: Duker, M., Nijboer, H.  & Malsch, M (eds.): Incapacitation. Trends and New Perspectives. London: Ashgate.)

Participant 9

Hi all, I would like to echo PARTICIPANT 8’s comments as we found similar sentiments in our research. The public felt a great distrust and lack of confidence in the state when it came to sex offenders, especially child sexual offenders , arguing that the state did not have the public’s interests at heart and where there to protect the sex offenders as well as to cover their own backs. This research was conducted in the UK (McCartan, 2008, 2011, 2013) and USA (McCartan, forthcoming ATSA presentation). The interesting aspect of the lack of public trust to manage sex offenders was what it was based upon, nothing. When the public was asked how the state managed sex offenders in the community they could not say and did not know, only that it was incorrect, incomplete and inconsistent UK (McCartan, 2013; McCartan, forthcoming ATSA presentation). Which has unfortunately lead to the rise of the vigilante or do it yourself culture, which has been highlighted in the USA many times and recently in the uk (the paedophile hunter on channel 4 -, which reinforces that nature abhors a vacuum. However, I think that Participant 2 and Participant 6 are also correct we cannot simply shake our heads in despair and blame the public’s ignorance, we as professionals have to step up. Understanding the best way of engaging with the public is often challenging – do you confront, subvert or pander to them? Quite often the best way is through the means that they are already engaged with so Television, celebrity campaigns, education in schools and workplaces. They are already invested in these processes, you are not asking them to do something additional, but rather you are adapting what they are already doing. I would also say that there is not one public but multiple (reciting Kitzinger’s work) and that we may have to engage with them differently, especially the hard to reach populations (not necessarily Black, ethnic minority, immigrants, etc – but often the native, working and middle class populations who either know it all or are disengaged), which reinforces Participant 3 and Participant 4’s points. One of the best ways of doing this is via the use of established and well respected community elders/lynchpins/ contacts (Kemshall & Mccartan, 2014), is there may be an expanded role of CoSA here?

The question that I would ask is how do we get media stakeholders and gatekeepers to become actively involved in pro-social and educational programming outside of the sensational?


McCartan, K. F.  (Forthcoming - 2014, November). Public and Practitioner attitudes towards t sex offender reintegration and management iin Minnesota. Paper to be presented at ATSA Conference. San Diego, USA.

Kemshall, H., & McCartan, K. F. (2014). Managing Sex Offenders in the UK: Challenges for Policy and Practice. In Mccartan, K. F., (ed). Sex offenders: modern risk and current responses (Edited volume). Palgrave.

McCartan, K. F. (2013). From a lack of engagement and mistrust to partnership? Public attitudes to the disclosure of sex offender information. International Journal of Police Science and Management, 13,

Mccartan, K. F. (2010). Student/Trainee-Professional Implicit Theories of Paedophilia. Psychology, Crime & Law, 16, 265-288.

Mccartan, K. F. (2004). ‘HERE THERE BE MONSTERS’; the public's perception of paedophiles with particular reference to Belfast and Leicester. Medicine, Science and the Law, 44, 327-342.

Participant 10

I read all posts and mine, I guess, is in line with what Participant 8,Participant 6 and Particicpant 2 wrote (all of them may be willing to deny that :) ). And, please, forgive me in advance for my bad English. And hope you will forgive me, if I will misinterpret some of the concepts (I’m not researcher and as a result I work, make decisions with limited amount of knowledge), too.

I operate mainly at policy level by trying to find balance between practice and research. And I’m honoured for this opportunity to express my opinion within such a prominent circle of experts.

So, I don’t think that anyone needs to be convinced that sexual offending is a problem – such activities will make people even more worried, will incite more emotional reactions. Instead we should speak about solutions – positive communication - what will make our community safer and enabling environment where to grow up our children and develop ourselves; we must speak how to make our community more just.

People like (sorry, Participant 5 – but I don’t have time to read all researches about what people think, to what they believe) concept of “prevention”, but not all comprehend it. With prevention usually understands primary prevention; less people know about secondary prevention; and only few know that there is also tertiary level. And, if you even tell to other person that prisons and probation work on crime prevention, too – that that is also “prevention”, people usually perceive that as desperate try to justify own professional existence (and some even may think that’s discrediting concept of “prevention”).

Explanatory work should be done that prevention has all 3 levels.

Furthermore, problem of primary prevention (in lesser amount of secondary, too) is that its results (outcomes) are not seen in short term, that we lack proof of efficiency what may be used by politicians today (not after 2-3 years or even longer). Primary prevention activities mainly are on shoulders of wonderful persons, committed, motivated ones, giving persons – their personalities are very important reason why they get funding (we all have moments in our lives when we are willing to provide assistance to such good people). That isn’t systemic approach, but based on opinion on personalities. Yes, those people are wonderful, they are fortunate to do work they believe in and most probably no one suffers from work they are doing, but they will be the first ones to lose funding, if there will appear a new need to finance systemic, national scope (bureaucratic) approach (to fund something new, usually you should cut funding somewhere else). As a result primary prevention activities are small scope, like local projects, and lack stability. That’s on a basis of my personal observations from Latvian experience…

With all this I want to say that prevention is a view oriented on solution (positive one) with bright future. We should continue to master this concept and recognize its complexity. If we could be successful in integrating within consciousness of people that prevention has also secondary and tertiary level, and that those 2 levels are not less important than primary and that all 3 levels are strongly interlinked (and all 3 levels are positive in their essence), that may create preconditions for bureaucratization of prevention, what will derive from integration of systemic approaches of prison, probation, police services within concept of prevention. Bureaucratization of prevention will stabilize funding for prevention and expand its scope. However, such transformation of popular views on concept of prevention (and such transformation must happen also on legislation level, by providing new functions to state agencies – primary and secondary prevention) may result in many challenges:

1.How to achieve willingness/motivation of [experienced] management of bureaucratic structures to take care about primary and secondary prevention in same amount as that’s done for tertiary prevention? Maybe, solution may be creation of equal departments (structural transformation of correctional, police services) for each level of prevention.

2.How to maintain cooperation relationships with NGOs, what until today was main driving force in development of primary and secondary prevention? NGO sector is more creative and efficient than state sector. Probable solution may be development of wide, state funded and administered movement of community volunteers.

3.And many other new challenges.

… People working within bureaucratic system understand that volunteers must be saved from bureaucracy at any cost – and that is possible even, if volunteers are integrated within bureaucratic system. At least we in probation with ‘bare teeth’ protect our volunteers from attempts of different ministries to bureaucratize mechanisms of financial compensations to volunteers…

Whereas introduction of various solutions form crime prevention within community should develop opinion that it’s possible to manage criminals within community in efficient way, should increase social co-responsibility, promote decriminalization (or different understanding about criminality than we have today), less use of prisons (hope, eventually they will merge with mental health institutions)…

I completely agree with Particicpant 2 that popular media is efficient channel for education of community on existing crime prevention problems in all their complexity… We must speak about problems with mass media, instead trying to hide, deny problems, but that must be done with specific message and in a smart manner to provoke smart emotional reactions from general public.

I’m somewhat skeptical about proposal of Participant 8 to try to explain to the general public that sexual offenders are capable to improve as that may provoke unneeded anxiety, emotions, anger. Yes, they are, but …

McMU1 refers to Nils Christie… I also believe it’s crucial to build confidence and capacity of community to preserve their own order.

Participant 11

Thanks to Participant 1 for kicking this off with some excellent context. Great to see another esteemed group assembled (welcome, Participant 4, Participant 2, and Participant 5) for what will no doubt be a productive discussion.

Reflecting on Participant 1's questions and the comments thus far, my first inclination is to drill down a Participant 12t -- framing these matters in general terms will only get us so far. The fact is that we are dealing with varied audiences, varied communication channels, varied issue frames, and varied messages and messaging strategies. I'll start with the first two and save the others for my next post.

AUDIENCE -- Moving toward increased community or public understanding and awareness is a noble goal, but neither "community" nor "public" are monolithic constructs. I won't speak to the experiences of other countries, but in the U.S. we are dealing with a broad (and quite polarized) political spectrum, significant socio-economic and educational stratification, and substantial cultural and religious diversity. Although united by some core values, we are by and large a society of sub-cultures -- we have varied definitions of morality and decency, varied attitudes toward crime and punishment, and varied tolerance for confronting and discussing matters related to sexuality. And quite germane to the current discussion, Americans have varied degrees of trust in "experts" who present data and research evidence that might contradict their strongly-held beliefs. In such an environment, how do we develop effective communication and messaging strategies that respond to the alternative world views of these various constituencies? I certainly don't have an easy answer - but at the very least we need to approach the challenge with our eyes open to the fact that there are no "one-size-fits-all" strategies.

COMMUNICATION CHANNELS -- We've had some discussion here about the relative merits of utilizing traditional media outlets vs. new media outlets as a means of getting messages out. No doubt an important discussion to have - although one that I think will become less and less relevant as the lines between the two continue to blur (Henry Jenkins and others have referred to the phenomenon of "media convergence").

Rather than focus on the specific technological conduits of information, it may be more meaningful to focus our attention on the purveyors and intermediaries who are involved in the flow of ideas and information. While I'm not discounting the role of mass media, we can't ignore the fact that most information and ideas flow through social networks (in both an analog and digital sense). My world views are largely shaped by my interactions with colleagues, co-workers, family, neighbors, or (often like-minded) people who I may encounter via blogs, Twitter, discussion boards, or other forms of social media. Through those interactions, I decide who is and is not a trustworthy source - and more often than not, I am going to trust people whose views generally align with mine (as much as we like to think of ourselves as open-minded, let's face it - this is human nature). In terms of "traditional" media, I decide which outlets I trust and which ones I will view with cynicism - some people trust NPR or the New York Times, and others place their faith in Participant 12ll O'Reilly or Nancy Grace. And as tremendous as the "This American Life" segment was, I am somewhat cynical about its impact (as well as the impact of pieces such as Margot ) -- in the overall scheme of things, it is unlikely that stories like this extend far enough beyond an audience of intellectual elites.

Along these lines, I'd like to comment on Participant 6's statement - "participant 5’s survey data are clear: The public wants to be informed by experts, but they're getting their (mis)information from journalists."

 This may be true to some degree, but we need to recognize that neither "experts" nor "journalists" are just one thing. Regarding the former, we should exercise caution in assuming that our common definition of an "expert" (i.e. someone with a strong command of the research evidence) aligns with how most members of the public attribute and evaluate "expertise." For many people, the words and perspectives of (for example) a trusted local police chief are going to carry a lot more weight than those of someone like me who is throwing around a bunch of data.

As for the latter, I'm not even sure exactly what a "journalist" is these days. I can say that, from my experience, most journalists (at least those who take pride in their work) are truly concerned with getting things right, and don't want to be purveyors of misinformation. In my dealings with reporters and via my daily "sex offender policy" Google news feed, I come across plenty of stories that represent diligent efforts at tackling difficult and complex issues. When reporters screw things up, it is more a matter of competence than malice. In these cases, it is our job to help clarify and elucidate. It's important not to conflate the profession of journalism with other business-driven motivators - common among tabloids and certain cable "news" stations - that may produce more overt and intentional forms of factual distortions. We need to recognize these outlets as fixtures on the landscape - they have been around in one shape or form since at least the 19th century, and aren't going anywhere.

OK - will stop for now.  Looking forward to the discussion.

Participant 12

First of all I’d like to say how appreciative I am for the invitation to contribute to these discussions. As a researcher in a non-government, victim-focused organization with an aim for ‘breaking the silence’ around child sexual assault, I very much welcome the opportunity to bring  our perspective and experiences to the group. Having said that, much of my work in the organisation, is around best-practice and evidence-based responses to offending.

Our experience is very much in line with Participant 1’s experience in delivering training to volunteers. Whenever we go out and speak to groups (one of our programs is around training professionals and others who work with children) breaking down the stereotypes surrounding offenders is absolutely vital in breaking down the myths that prevail and often are at the bases of government policy and legislation (which is so often driven by community fears and misconception, rather than evidence-based work).

I do believe in the role of the media in doing this, and like Participant 11, I do sense that there are journalists who are focussed on ‘getting it right’ rather than just creating sensationalist stories. I just had a discussion yesterday with a journalist who is putting together a story on the community notification debate we are currently having here in Australia. As a ‘victim’ group, there was this expectation that we would immediately support an open register along the lines of Megan’s Law, however I sent him a paper we released on these types of laws and reasons why we don’t support public notification and we ended up having a very thorough discussion about the unintended consequences of laws like this. It will be interesting to see what angle the article takes, but he was extremely interested in aspects of the law he had not previously considered.

I’d suggest that having these types of debates in the public arena can be incredibly powerful. We have been debating this particular issue in the media (including social media) for some months, and have noticed that when we focus on the impacts on victims/community safety and risk the public responds much more positively. As Particicpant 2 noted ‘a focus on prevention and child safety will be more likely to elicit like compassion, empathy and curiosity’ from the public. As someone who is interested in what works for offenders, I would often raise issues around the impacts of ‘naming and shaming’ on offender rehabilitation and reintegration and would be met pretty much with responses such as ‘who cares?’ or ‘they deserve it’, but focussing on the impacts these types of laws ultimately have on community safety, there is an increased openness to considering the negative side of what on the surface is understandably a policy the community supports.

Linking to the question Participant 1 posed on what is the most effective way towards public education and understanding, I do agree that traditional media is key. I also strongly believe in the impact of awareness campaigns, particularly utilising social media. As many have already commented the public do want to hear from ‘experts’, and we need to find ways to provide information that is palatable and relatable. I think we all understand where the fear and anxiety around sex offenders comes from, and we need to address these not only by dispelling the myths but focussing on protection and safety.

I think working together – researchers, practitioners who work with offenders and victim groups – is one way to do this. I think those working in victims’ groups have a good radar for what the community is feeling (I don’t mean to suggest that researchers and academics don’t) and as voices for education and awareness we have an incredibly important role to play, I know that at times victims groups can be perceived as feeding into community fears, I know that the organisation I work for has been. But I think we can turn that around with open dialogue and debate.

Participant 10

Very good point [Participant 11]! By reading this I started to think how journalists operate in my relatively small community (Latvia) and what is the role of opinion leaders (usually they are professionals, not politicians). In my country journalists are not jumping out of the bushes and in general we don't have problems with yellow press (their misinterpretation of information) as some other countries - we are not afraid to communicate with journalists (actually, we are using every opportunity to speak with them). Additionally journalists have identified not very wide circle of 'independent' experts [many of whom are in strong cooperation relationships with governmental agencies, for example, as members of working groups under Ministry of Justice] to whom they go to get some expert opinion about draft legislation, high profile cases, and information, opinion disclosed by governmental agencies. Those experts (usually representing some kind of NGO) are skillful to express themselves verbally and on wide range of criminal justice topics, and are perceived as analysts, providers of unbiased opinion, trustworthy information source - opinion leaders...

We should work more with opinion leaders by inviting them to discussions, seminars, educating them, sending them on a study visits to other jurisdictions. To develop a list of opinion leaders (experts preferred by journalists) is not very difficult.

Participant 7

I also appreciate Participant 6's statement - "Participant 5's survey data are clear: The public wants to be informed by experts, but they're getting their (mis)information from journalists." It is difficult to gain access to larger audiences, especially since media dictates that every communication, even complex ones, must be resolved within a short on-air time or a brief space on a page. I have been interested in working with the purveyors and intermediaries in my community. I have been impressed with how the most difficult work with sexual abuse is often done by highly dedicated people who have, compared with those who work in the Criminal Justice or Mental Health systems, lower levels of academic training (i.e., often a BA or diploma rather than graduate training). These workers are often doing in-home support, supervised family visits, parenting training, life-skills, etc. They have tremendous influence in families and facilitate family reunification work in very applied ways. They need to have accurate information in order to do their work well.  Training budgets for this type of work is very limited and front line workers rarely get to attend specialized training outside of their local jurisdictions. Therefore, the research about sexual offenders and offender rehabilitation does not always reach this group. Yet, they are interested.

Sometimes the research data is so complex that it is not navigable by many (I still wonder about what AUC really means) or it is too academic. Those in charge of training do not always know about the work that organizations such as The Safer Society Press and Neari Press, do to make information accessible.

I have found it helpful to look for naturally occurring opportunities to share information and am often impressed by the eagerness from organizations to learn. For example, I recently had a client referred for a risk assessment. The new boyfriend of a mother who has a six year old child had a prior criminal record for possession of child pornography from several years ago and was found again recently with more child porn. The local child protection agency asked for the assessment so that they could convince the mom that she should leave the man and in-so-doing, protect her child. Shifting this situation into an opportunity for discussion seemed important. So, rather than assessing the man, I suggested that we have a discussion with the mom, her boyfriend and the child protection worker to discuss what we know about child pornography and risk to children and support the mom in making an informed choice. The protection workers were interested and our discussion triggered a separate discussion with the child protection unit to explore the relevant information. The discussion went very well and everyone had great questions. As I summarized the work of Participant 2 and others in preparation, I realized how challenging it is to wade through the literature and sort out what we know.  If I feel this way, chances are others, less steeped in the subject matter may not have my patience. When we simplify the data, respond to questions that people have in the moment in straightforward, simplified ways, we are more likely to connect with the people who actually have the most influence.

Sorry for the rambling - the comments got me thinking... looking forward to more posts.

Participant 3

I was glad to read of Participant 12’s positive experience of debating community notification in Australia, and using practice experience to discuss and debate with journalists.  I am not so sure we have journalists committed to getting it right in the UK- I am always left wondering whether the UK has an issue with public perceptions and awareness of sexual offending or a news media one.  I recently invited a colleague from another EU country to participate in this debate who politely refused on the ground that his country does not experience the issue, and does not have the same type of negative news coverage as the UK.

I am also interested in the point raised by Participant 11 on intermediaries.  In a UK study of parents’ perceptions and responses to paedophilia Jenny Kitzinger found that media messages were mediated by other family members, and the immediate social network of parents.  In effect, parents discussed news coverage and formed their views often with others, and in this regard ‘opinion forming’ may not be a solely individual process but rather a group one with persons forming such views in discussion with trusted others-as Andy describes.  But in such a process are our views merely reinforced or is there a process by which they can be mitigated and refined?  If not then opinions are merely reinforced into deeply rooted stereotypes; or can ‘trusted others’ shift my views and if so how?  I think we under estimate the role (and potential role) of opinion formers and leaders as Participant 10 called them.  Trusted community leaders and those in positions of influence within communities can often carry difficult, challenging and contrary messages successfully (see references in my earlier post).   Understanding this process more fully may inform how messages need to be presented and who should carry them, and wider processes education campaigns may need to utilise (for example as in the Participant 15 example presented by XXXXX and XXXX, Journal of Sexual Aggression forthcoming).

Participant 13

I think PARTICICPANT 3 is right to point out national differences in how the media are covering this issue and how they are or are not reflecting public opinion.  Media coverage is less aggressive in Belgium and the Netherlands compared to the UK, probably reflecting a different type of media landscape as well as a public which is less interested in “buying” sensational stories, which only feed feelings of helplessness.

In the Dutch Circles of Support and Accountability project, we have some very good experiences with journalists who are willing (and allowed by their editors) to take the time and space to draw a picture of sex offenders that goes beyond the black and white “monster/innocent victim” narrative. These stories help the public to understand that feelings of helplessness are not always justified, that there is something that can be done about sexual offending, and they themselves can contribute. (With the result of many new volunteers applying for the job after each media coverage). Maybe a lesson to be learned is that effective professional /expert communication to the public should go via investing time into willing journalists who can be turned into allies. And we should employ understandable language – which of course forces some of us to come down from high altitudes of breathtaking statistics and tantalizing measurement instruments (as Participant 7 pointed out).  To be able to explain difficult things to common people is a gift which not all have by nature, but the question is: are we prepared to learn it?

Participant 14

Good afternoon all,

Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to contribute to this interesting discussion. In reading through the posts thus far, I can see some common and interesting themes. I agree it is important to acknowledge that the public is diverse – there is no one universal public. I also agree with the view that in order to educate the public, we need to consider who is best placed to educate the public. I think we are essentially referring here to the concept of credibility – who or what is perceived to be a credible source will differ but if a source is deemed to be credible then it is more likely to be influential. As demonstrated by my support of the two ideas above (i.e. public opinion is diverse and perceptions of credibility differ), I certainly prescribe the view that there is no one size fits all approach.

 Reading through the posts thus far has also prompted me to think about why we may want to develop a good public understanding of CSA management? The answer(s) may dictate the solutions to some extent.

 Do we want to persuade the public to support evidence-based approaches to sex offender management so that approaches such as CoSA may be rolled out more widely and effectively with community members supporting and participating in these programs? Or Do we want to convince policy makers and governments to change sex offender management policies, legislation, and practices (including program funding) by demonstrating that public opinion is amenable and that the public is willing to support evidence-based approaches to CSA management?

 If the primary reason for educating the public is the former (i.e. we want communities on board and participating in offender management and reintegration programs), then perhaps discussions at the community level will be more influential and the type of community and public represented may dictate the best way to foster productive discussions that will hopefully gain community support.

 If the primary reason for educating the public is the latter (i.e. we want to persuade the government that public opinion is amenable and that the public is willing to support evidence-based approaches) then, as a public opinion researcher, I have a few points I would like to make but perhaps I will leave this for another post.

 Maybe both of these reasons are equally pertinent here. It may also be the case that there is other reasons why we may want to develop a good public understanding of CSA management. What could these be?

 I hope these questions are useful in framing the debate to some extent – I think that the best approach to take will differ depending on the reason(s) why we want to develop a good public understanding of this issue.

Participant 15

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this very interesting debate.

This is a first in terms of participation in an on-line discussion, so bear with us!

Here in Northern Ireland, we can reference some excellent examples of engagement between statutory services and the community on issues such as the location of a hostel for people under probation supervision; and supporting a small rural community where many people had been the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by the same few people over many years; examples of efforts being made to manage sex offenders in the community. We can also quote examples like the one described by Participant 1 at the start of this discussion, where no one turned up to the public seminar on the topic of sexual abuse.

Here we have small communities, typically urban in nature, which have been under paramilitary control, which have developed resistence to outside influences and have engaged in carrying out punishment beatings and expelling people from the community. In that context, many of our discussions with people in the community have arisen as a result of allegations of sexual abuse being made against someone by a neighbour or family member. These are really difficult issues for families to deal with and once the wider community becomes aware, there can be a strong desire amongst people to dissassociate themselves and their community from the sexual abuse and the abuser. Frequently this leads to "naming and shaming" activity such as writing slogans on walls; damaging the alleged perpetrator's property; putting notices in public places. Similar reactions are evident when someone is "outed" as a convicted sex offender living in the community.

In one such case, we were particularly troubled about the effect this kind of behaviour was having on the young person who had disclosed the abuse. She could not leave her home without seeing some reference to the abuse on public show. This prompted us to seek an opportunity to meet with the community and raise these concerns. Hazel has kindly referenced our attempt to use trusted community leaders to bring people together for this discussion.   As an organisation, we had had a long lead-in time in building personal relationships and did not have to face the suspicion and mis-trust that is often reserved for statutory agencies, so we had an opportunity to get some of the key messages across.

The people we spoke to didn't want to have the responsibility of managing sex offenders.  What they did want was to have some way of being able to discuss their concerns regarding incidents, rumours, allegations, etc. Really they didn't feel there was any easy way for them to play a part in keeping their area safe other than excluding people seen as a risk.

They also wanted some assurances that they weren't being 'dumped on' by statutory agencies.  They were accepting of residents in one local self-referral hostel, because some local people worked there and it was clearly a significant place of employment. There was a sense of trust associated with it, as those workers also had children growing up in the local area. Another nearby facility was regarded with suspicion, in spite of the fact that it was staffed with professional workers, because it was not part of the community as they saw it. There was no obvious mechanism in place through which trust might be developed.

 In also addressing other issues such as 'hate crime' and 'anti-social behaviour' we have, I think, become more convinced of the need to develop mechanisms - through training and dialog - delivered by trusted sources, which connect them with statutory services. The voluntary and community sector surely have a lot to offer here. What do you think?

Participant 4

It may be worth discussing just how important public understanding actually is or not.  I am inclined to think that policy maker understanding is more important. Am I right in saying that the UK has a more rehabilitative approach to sex offender management than in the US, but this has not so much to do with public attitudes (which are pretty punitive in both places) but rather with decisions policy-makers have taken in how they orient the system.  So maybe this discussion should be less focused on public understanding and more on persuading policy makers.

Participant 11

@Participant 4 - think that is certainly true on some level.  Policy change is certainly a vital goal.   But at the same time, there are some scenarios (for example, building local-level support for addressing sex offender housing issues or implementing programs such as CoSA) where citizen engagement remains vital.   And in terms of policy change, the attitudes and beliefs of the populace have much to do with how policymakers weigh their options and decide what to support.  Policy change is made much easier when it is aligned with changes in the way society thinks about particular social issues.

Participant 16

I wonder if this is a less a problem of us (the experts) ‘educating’ the public but more a struggle between competing voices to define what is going on in the world of sexual offending. A struggle for dominion, if you like, as to who has the right to define certain situations or activities. This struggle goes on between the professionals and the experts as it does between the experts and the general public – psychologists, doctors, feminists, and criminologists all have different views.

This might explain the empty room’s syndrome at public meetings. People do not like being told what to think and often prefer their own (mis)conceptions as the truth – or at least to work out their own views.

I recall some years ago Minnesota Department of Corrections held ‘community notification’ (Megan’s Law) meetings which people did attend because they wanted to know who lived on their block -  but the DOC deliberately called these meetings ‘Community Notification and Education’ meetings – they lasted two hours and the first hour was general education on sexual offending. I don’t know if they still do it.

As it is we have to deal with public views being mediated by opportunistic politicians and media sources who often just want to confirm their own narratives and versions of events for their own purposes – although even these are not monolithic.

Participant 9

I agree with Participant 16 that the fluctuations and paradoxes in professionals opinions on sexual violence can confound the public. Professional, as well as public, understandings of paedophilia was the main focus of my PhD which found disagreements within and between these two groups. I think the real challenge in this arena, as others have previously said, is to engage with individual and the community on a level they feel comfortable with, using language that they recognize and being honest about our knowledge base. We have to explain our evidence better to the public and policy makers if we want to see change (for as participant 6 says no one outside of academia or the industry will engage with journal articles), which means using blogs, the media and community reps. I agree with Participant 4 and Participant 11, we need to engage policy makers better (is evidence based policy really utilised by government, I say when it suits their agenda) and one of the best methods, as Participant 11 points out, is a bottom up approach tackling the issues at the points where government officials get elected and therefore tying these issues into their manifestos.

 To me, the main question thus becomes how do we tackle these different "publics" or "groups"? Are there similar approaches that's can be used across all or they so radically different that we need a different approach each time?

Participant 10

Those meetings are like 'extinguishing fire' - how to get best out of the bad situation. People already are worried, in panic, and this education is only to calm down them a little bit... I guess this is good solution how to deal with existing situation, but I would prefer to dig deeper and to prevent such situations from happening, prevent people from worries, illusions of safety.

Participant 11

@participant 16 - I think that your noted "struggle for dominion" is spot on.   Brings to mind the dissonance around the (re)emergence of sexually violent predator (SVP) civil commitment laws in the 1990s - a cluster of policies that was driven and dominated by psychiatrists during its prior iteration of sexual psychopath laws that flourished in the 1950s.    Having disavowed its role and declared the prior laws an abject failure, the American Psychiatric Association has been among the most vocal critics of SVP civil commitment and its collateral effects on the mental health system.  Meanwhile, the newer policies have spawned a fairly sizable cottage industry for psychologists related to evaluation, expert testimony, and treatment, and thus has developed a professional constituency that is invested in the policies' continuation.   A lot comes down to who controls the technology of choice.

Participant 7

I agree that public policy makers need to be informed. However, the public elect those who set the policy makers in action. We have seen Canadian rates of incarceration rise despite a decade long decline in crime rates. The public debates about what makes us safer, really safer, are important to combat ideologies that put the general good at risk. As long as we view sexual offenders as "evil others" then expanding prisons and keeping people locked up is important. When we consider the people who have committed sexual offences as fathers, brothers, uncles, mothers and aunts AND as people who are part of our day-to-day worlds, public education is very important. It is important to raise awareness of the reality of the cost of "doing nothing" to support offending people to make change at times when election issues are being decided.

Participant 10

I believe in Latvia situation is similar with Australian one - sentencing policy and practice is influenced by political initiative more so than public attitudes. But what "political initiative" mean? In Latvia 95+% of legislation is made by executive power (government) and legislatory power (parliament) usually just approves it (of course, sometimes badly amending something). Legislation developed within parliament 5-% usually are not high quality and often are 'digged off' by the government within parliament or given over to the government for improvement (that's how officials get some time to convince people involved in preparation of that 'not high quality legislation' to back off and to let professionals to do their job). We have this common environment where people don't trust politicians, politicians often are seen as populists and lacking knowledge about law. And mostly politicians recognize this deficiency by trying to back up their legislation ideas with support from professionals (state agencies). Battles for legislation mostly are fought between ministries (Interior Affairs vs. Justice) or agencies (State Police vs. Prison Administration vs Probation Service), not so much within parliament. Professionals within Ministry of Interior Affairs and State Police usually support getting tougher policies, while Ministry of Justice and Probation, and Prisons - policies of providing support. We constantly need to monitor legislation development processes within State Police and Prison Administration (and other governmental institutions like Ministry of Welfare) to make sure we are able to react in due time on something bad (from our perspective) developed there by, hopefully, stopping movement of that legislation before its submission to the parliament (stopping as soon as possible). And they also monitor our developed draft legislations. State agencies in Latvia like Probation Service are higly centralised institutions with capacities to develop draft legislation for submission to the relative ministry. Ministries review legislation proposals, improve them in close cooperation with submitter, and take care for its further movement through rest of the legislation tiers... In my opinion most of the problems linked with sex offender management [and how people perceive sex offender management - capacities and role of state] derives from bad and not very well coordinated legislation. Sex offender notification laws and laws limiting residence options for them in USA are quite bright example of that.

We are working on sending strong signals to our community that we have situation under control and they can sleep peacefully. They don't need to be educated in a pro-active manner about good nature and capacities of sexual offenders (that will provoke emotional reactions from general public and governmental institutions may lose control over legislation processes as politicians will feel rising support from general public to do something with sex-offenders - politicians-populists will thrive); they need to learn that in passive manner.

Participant 14

Another common theme I have picked up on from the discussions so far is that the public can actually be quite reasonable and are willing to support offender reintegration programs when they are properly engaged. Certainly in Australia this appears to be the case. The national survey of public attitudes towards sentencing in Australia, which I previously referred to, indicated that the majority of the public are actually willing to support alternatives to imprisonment such as community corrections orders and treatment programs, particularly for young and mentally ill offenders as well as offenders with substance abuse issues (see Mackenzie and colleagues, 2012). The idea that the public is quite reasonable and perhaps not as punitive as public opinion polls would suggest is also supported by other research findings. For instance, Warner and colleagues (2011) asked members of the public who had served as jurors to suggest a sentence for the offender in their trial and to comment on the appropriateness of the sentence imposed by the judge in their trial. They found that 52% of jurors chose a more lenient sentence than the judge in their trial. Also, when jurors were informed of the sentence imposed by the judge in their trial, 90% thought the sentence was either fairly or very appropriate. So of relevance to the subject matter and focus of this online discussion, a key question is how do we best engage with the public and seek their views on sex offending and sex offender management? A related question is what sorts of views do we want to gauge – do we want to gauge top-of-the-head opinions or do we want to engage informed judgments (see Green, 2006, for a discussion of and distinction between these different types of views)? There is certainly some research literature on how to gauge informed opinion and I would be happy to attempt to briefly summarise this material in a later post.

 Green D.A. (2006). Public opinion versus public judgment about crime: Correcting the ‘comedy of errors’. British Journal of Criminology, 46, 131–154.

 Mackenzie, G., Spiranovic, C., Warner, K., et al. (2012). Sentencing and public confidence: Results from a national Australian survey on public opinions towards sentencing. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 45(1), 45–65.

 Warner, K., Davis, J., Walter, M., Bradfield, R., & Vermey, R. (2011). Public judgment on sentencing: Final results from the Tasmanian Jury Sentencing Study. Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, 407, 1-6. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Participant 11

Regarding Participant 9's noted "fluctuations and paradoxes" - this is certainly a major part of our reality, although something that could be rooted in a few different things. If we are interested in addressing our tendency toward contradictory messaging (and I think we should be), it seems useful to reflect on WHY such contradictions may exist.

Participant 1

The discussion, it seems to me, has arrived at a place where we are looking at “who” we might be addressing in our attempts at “educating” people about child sexual abuse. Participant 4 asks if it is not policy makers we should target, rather than the public, and offers some jurisdictional differences brought about by policy decisions and not necessarily public opinion. Participant 7 points out that is the public who elect the policy makers, some of whom are susceptible to their own political ideology in these matters, a view perhaps shared by Participant 16 suggests we may are constantly faced with “opportunistic politicians” who can be self-serving vote-catchers. Participant 16 also suggests we also be faced with a “struggle for dominion,” in terms of who has the right to define what is going on in the world of sexual offending, noting struggles between professionals and experts, and between experts and the general public.  He also notes, and I think this is key, that most people do not like being told what to think. Participant 10, clearly a person who has been on the firing line, notes that public notification meetings are like “extinguishing fire”. He would like to get there before the fire starts with good information that serves to quell fear and ease anxieties.

These exchanges are just great!  However, I wonder if we could look back at the original question proposed: rather than “who,” although that’s crucial, the question is “how.”  From the outset, I was impressed with Particicpant 2’s suggestion that perhaps building partnerships focusing on prevention issues more than offender reintegration (noting, however that the two are intrinsically related), might be worth a try.  This is precisely what CoSA is beginning to do: focusing on the reduction of sexual victimization through CoSA by providing support and accountability.  These are excellent “how to” examples and there must be others.

For example, picking up on Participant 16’s “struggle for dominion” theme and Participant 9’s framing of it as a publically confounding  theme marked by “fluctuations and paradoxes in professional opinions on sexual violence,”  (see also Participant 7’s early confession that sophisticated statistical “evidence” is confusing even for some of us), is it worth considering something like a publically accessible (even for the policy types) “clearinghouse” of current information on child sexual abuse issues?  The information in such a location would be managed by a panel of “peers,” whose job it would be to review what information is contained there, and that submissions were in the form of reviews of the current empirical evidence, but written in very plain, accessible language any person on the street could understand. 

Could there be a public speaking panel of experts, professionals, researchers on a Rota, who would be available to speak plainly to media sources, policy analysts, and citizens about CSA issues, research and professional practice?

Where would such a clearinghouse be located? Who would select and vet such a panel?

Are there other “how to” suggestions? 

Participant 17

I have joined the discussion quite late but have enjoyed reading the debate so far. As we know, a large part of public perception of child sex offenders and their management is driven by the media, which in turn impacts on social policy. While Michael has provided some examples of successful interaction with media, for many researchers, the outcomes are often disconcerting, particularly when journalists do not know how to interpret research findings. Furthermore, the attitudes often conveyed in headlines and stories regarding child sex offenders are of a retributory and de-humanising nature. Positive partnerships with media should be sought, but in some cases, avenues to cut out this middle man or reduce the chance of a ‘Chinese whispers’ effect may be required.

In response to Particicpant 1’s suggestion, I think an international clearinghouse would be an interesting direction in responding to the current challenges. Such a source could allow the public and media to directly access information in simple language, and may foster the development of a partnership with media that results in the responsible dissemination of findings. In my opinion, a clearinghouse for such a politicised issue would sit best at a University, and like any good journal, may have an international board of agreed upon, invited experts.

Participant 18

Like Participant 17, I have joined the discussion quite late but there have been some very interesting contributions. I would like to pick up on Andrew's reference to CoSA. I am currently writing up my PhD thesis on CoSA and I recently worked as a research assistant on a project Assessing the impact of CoSA on the reintegration of adults convicted of sexual offences (with Terry Thomas). As part of the research I interviewed 18 volunteers from across England and Wales (Terry conducted a further 2 interviews). Many of the volunteers spoke of how the opportunity provided to them by being a Circle’s volunteer enabled them to ‘spread the word’ about the work of Circles and also pass more accurate information about who sex offenders are. Some were quite devoted to the task and had ‘recruited’ members of their community to join Circles and work with Core Members. In some cases these ‘recruits’ were the most vocal opponents of the re-entry of sex offenders into communities though for other ‘recruits’ CoSA was viewed as being a natural or logical step.

Reiterating some of the earlier comments, the difficulty appears to be that different people react to sexual abuse (and particularly abuse of children) in different ways. This was experienced by a number of the volunteers. Some of the volunteers perceived that such would be the animosity or hostility to disclosing their voluntary role they did not share what they did. The epitome of the different responses came from a different volunteer, who when asked if they tell anyone about the work they do with Circles, replied that:

“Very few people know about it … my sister-in-law knows about it, but I wasn’t going to tell my brother because I didn’t think he would be able to appreciate why I do it. But it turns out my sister in law was the one that couldn’t understand why I did it and wasn’t too happy but my brother is the one that is like ‘well somebody has got to do it, somebody has got to look out for people’. So it really taught me a lesson about how much you think you know about people and what their attitudes are . So now I don’t tell anybody”

Sometimes people react in unexpected ways and combining the notion that people prefer to believe what they want to believe, with the view that the concerns of anyone are real to them (irrespective of what statistics may prove) presenting an accurate message as to who sex offenders are and what the nature of sexual abuse is will be fraught with difficulties.

Participant 12

I certainly also have had numerous 'negative' experiences with journalists in Australia, but there are those that have a genuine interest in promoting good debate, not just provoking public fears.

I am interested in the role we play, as victims-focused group, in the development of public understandings of good practice and legislation in responding to child sexual assault. I think victims groups are uniquely positioned for this.

Participant 13

Participant 1’s suggestions of such a place where reliable information (or information which is at least reflecting scientific consensus) about child sex abuse issues can be accessed by an interested but uneducated public is very attractive,   which I think is something a partnership of scientists and journalists could work on.  Could this discussion be the starting point of a new an innovative enterprise? Could IATSO or ATSA (or both) offer a space on their website? Or could the emerging international CoSA Enterprise hold such a clearinghouse?

Another line of thought is triggered by Particicpant 1’s remark on partnerships re prevention: isn't it strange that offender rehabilitation and victim therapy are two often separated area's of research and intervention, while in reality, victims and offenders have been each others relatives, neighbours, or have been in the same sports association, school etc... Wouldn't it help to get more support for sex offender rehabilitation if the recovery needs of victims would be adressed at the same time? For example: I think it is very unfair that sex offenders get treatment for free (though often on a mandatory basis), while victims have to pay for treatment - which often is a very lengthy painful process to recovery. Could the advocacy for sex offenders rights and opportunities for a second chance be combined with the  advocacy for victims rights?  Can we contribute somehow to restorative justice initiatives that include both? Because I think a lot of negative atittudes of the public stem from experiencing or witnessing of the impact of sexual violence.

Participant 2

This is a multi-part response to some of the very thoughtful and interesting points that have been raised:

First, I agree the audience for our engagement efforts is legion: As many have noted, there is no single public (and there is no single us, either, given we have differing views and opinions). I think Participant 4 is right that reaching policy-makers would be a higher priority than the general public, but one reliable way to reach policy-makers is to show that the issues matter to their constituents. A single well-organized (and funded) advocacy group can move votes.

Second, I think there would be value in identifying a group of experts -- researchers, clinicians, advocates etc -- who would be able and willing to speak to media and policy analysts about CSA topics. I agree with the suggestion that it would be best associated with a university rather than an organization such as ATSA, which would be seen as having a Participant 12as (pro offender treatment, against restrictive legislation). Elizabeth Letourneau's Moore Center at John Hopkins or David Finkelhor's Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire immediately spring to mind, but I'm sure there are others, and there's no reason to be choosy because similar lists of experts could be maintained at multiple centres.

Third, I think an important path forward is to teach professionals in the CSA field HOW to engage with the media and with policy-makers. In recent years, I have given a 1.5 hour lecture on media engagement for psychology interns at my hospital and it has really struck me how little prepared they are for engaging with the media or with broader public engagement (e.g., blogging, other social media platforms such as Twitter). The interns want to have an impact on public knowledge and policy, but they aren't well-equipped. I received no formal training myself -- everything I know about being in the media came from talking to others, reading tips, and experience. As I remind the interns at the beginning of my lecture, most of the end-users of the knowledge they gain as clinicians and researchers will not read journal articles or other academic sources. They will rely on media coverage of the topics, and make decisions accordingly. We can bemoan how remedial that coverage can be, or how the complexities and ambiguities are over-looked, but this is what happens.

I think a package of training materials -- readings, successful and not-so-successful media appearance clips with commentary, feedback on mock interviews -- could be a real asset to increase capacity and confidence in engaging with the media and the "public".

Participant 7

In our jurisdiction there is a campaign to have boys and girls innoculated to protect them from the HPV virus. This is a tough sell in a politically and socially conservative community. It is a difficult message to engage because it means talking about health prevention and sex in the same breath. The provincial government hired professional marketers to create and deliver the message. That was an important choice.  I have a good friend who is a market researcher. She does focus groups and qualitative research for large corporate media campaigns. She often works with subject matter experts in developing her research questions and strategies. For the most part, she wants to be informed about what information is needed and the goals for the project. Then she would like the expert to sit out while she does the focus groups and builds her recommendations about what might be most effective. She is impartial and tends to get to the heart of the matter quickly. The corporate world finds her useful. Maybe we could too.

Those of us who work with sexual abuse, conduct program evaluations and do research about sexual abuse do not necessarily have the skill set to effectively engage media and  market ideas. We may have skills that overlap market researchers (most of marketing is social psychology after all) but how that work is applied is a specialization. We are trying to "sell" complex ideas and perhaps having specialized marketing support may be needed to be most effective. Deciding who to market to is one aspect of marketing. Figuring out the most powerful part of the message to pitch is another. When to pitch is also an important factor. We know that it is important to direct messages to specific groups so having a multipronged approach is important. We have some examples in our industry of good marketing strategies.

I would like to see us create academic/public/private partnerships to build websites and use social media connections that: a) have explicit, goal directed content and activities; b) are useful to specific groups (i.e., researchers, students, therapists, victims or perpetrators), c)are effective in reaching target audiences (i.e., are passive and active sites); and d) are maintained by subject matter experts (e.g., groups of offenders and survivors discussing healing and change, therapists discussing best practice; researchers developing knowledge, tools and leading change, etc.

Participant 3

In catching up on the posts two points seem important to keep hold of.

The first is that practical engagement and experience do appear to have an educative benefit for members of the public, whether this be through initiatives like circles of support, or via the important engagement work exemplified by NIACRO's post.  In the latter example trust, respected opinion formers/leaders, and the avoidance of State 'dumping' appear to be important.  Positive practical experiences do seem to have benefit and I wonder if we can distill the critical success factors from such examples and seek to duplicate them?

Secondly, accessibility to well-presented research/information is also critical, by policy makers, politicians and public alike.  The idea proposed and refined by subsequent posts is a very good one. My only caution is that achieving the desired impact through this route may be influenced by context- For example, the UK's (and particularly England and Wales) experience of using good data to inform views and decision making is relatively poor in this area (see Participant 16's earlier post).  We tend to have policy led evidence not the other way round, and to some extent public views which are distorted despite best efforts at communication strategies and public education.  I do not fully understand why; but am aware that what might be of benefit in one country may not necessarily transpose to all.  At times I wonder if the contrast is between Anglophone jurisdictions and those jurisdictions which have been able to maintain a more rehabilitative than punitive philosophy- I’m not quite sure and this is probably very simplistic. Comments?


This has been a fascinating dialogue with many excellent and interesting suggestions.  The need for some type of information clearinghouse has a longstanding one.  Here in the United States, the federal government recognized this need and funded a clearinghouse of sorts - specific to sex offender management, not prevention - via establishing the Center for Sex Offender Management.  It was funded for over 12 years, although it is no longer supported with federal resources.  Through this initiative, we learned that developing "user-friendly" resources that could be accessible to and consumed by a wide range of stakeholders (including the media, general public, and policymakers) seemed to fill some of the information needs that existed, and that still exist.  At the same time, however, what became very clear (and is something that others have spoken to through this dialogue), is that different approaches and messaging strategies are needed for different stakeholder groups.  These strategies must recognize the different lenses through which such groups are viewing the issues.  With lawmakers in particular, we have found that when providing targeted training, testimony, and technical assistance, they are often quite receptive to learning about the research about this diverse population about what seems to "work" and what may not in terms of sex offender management-related policies and practices.  The challenge for them - and the assistance they desired - involved how to "sell" this to their constituents (as well as how to speak about these issues to the media).  As others have noted, public opinion influences lawmakers' responses.  A well-informed public is, therefore, a very important piece of this puzzle - but the nature and mode of engaging/educating will likely require a different strategy than what would be used for lawmakers/policymakers, just as the strategies for educating and engaging the media around these issues likely requires a tailored approach as well.  The common thread or frame that may be the ideal foundation for educational/engagement strategies for all of these stakeholder groups (and is perhaps most apt to facilitate engagement) is framing it through the lens of prevention, as has been noted in this discussion.  And given this, I agree with those who have suggested that partnering with victim advocacy and prevention organizations and entities is essential for furthering this work.  We have certainly seen some examples in which such partnerships have had positive results.

Participant 17

There are definitely lessons to be learnt by looking at successful campaigns around other topics that the public may find taboo or uncomfortable. Participant 7 gave the example of the HPV vaccine. In Australia there appeared to be little resistance around government funding of this vaccine for all young women, and more recently, the inclusion of the vaccine for boys and girls as part of the National Immunisation Program for schools. A Participant 12g part of this was the involvement of the Cancer Council - a nationally recognized non-government cancer control organization that took a lead role in promoting the vaccine as assisting in cancer prevention. Focusing on the real threat of cancer rather the sexual behavior of young people, and having a trusted, highly recognized and respected group to drive discussion and disseminate reliable information (which can lead to policy change) has appeared to be a very successful approach.

Another example is the recent positive developments in reducing the stigma around suicide and increasing community action for suicide prevention. Since being involved in suicide research 10 years ago, I've seen a huge shift in Australia regarding public perceptions of the topic and levels of community engagement. In this field, the focus has not only been on increasing knowledge access and sharing, but on raising community awareness through advocates and most recently, a number of high visibility media campaigns using celebrity ambassadors. Events, workshops and conferences are publicized and open to the public. A number of partnerships have led to a national collective impact initiative being developed. While not all these approaches may apply to our area, they do provide some food for thought. We have discussed the use of the media, including social media, the development of an international clearinghouse for the dissemination of research findings, and the development or improvement of partnerships with victim advocacy groups. I think looking at successful examples of improving public understandings on difficult topics, and the practicalities of doing so can be useful!

Participant 10

Refering to latest post of Participant 3... Yesterday I took part in business meeting between Latvian authorities and representatives of NOMS and Home Office (UK). We discussed possibilities to improve cross-border information exchange on dangerous offenders. I experienced clash between Roman and Common Law system. Within Roman Law system public official is allowed to do only what is prescribed by the law, while in Common Law system public officials may act by justifying their actions with common good, arguments. Yesterday I observed that identity of adherence to law system influences thinking model of public officials - thinking models are distinct, approaches for problem solving are different. I Participant 17ess, our British colleagues, sadly, but experienced frustration and comprehended how complex actually is their mission... To develop a strategy on fighting sexual abuse, communication with media, educating public, to create one group of experts, what will suit both systems will be a Participant 12g challenge.

About communication with media... In 2010 (Malaga, Spain) I heard brilliant presentation delivered by Shad Maruna (Queens University, Belfast): " “Hit them in the Participant 17t”: Anger Management Strategies for a „Punitive Public‟ ". He referred to some of the research work done within University of Cambridge how people perceive information about criminal justice and what are efficient communication strategies. That was one of the top 3 most important, useful presentations I have ever seen. I keep that presentation in mind always when I give interviews to journalists. If some communication strategies to be developed, it would be useful to involve S Maruna and some other colleagues he may recommend.

Participant 14

I agree the work of Shadd Maruna here on how to engage with the public is valuable. Timothy Hartnagel published a paper in Punishment and Society in 2012 titled 'Emotions about crime and attitudes to punishment that highlights the key role emotions, anger in particular, play in public attitudes towards punishment. Other writers such as David Indermaur have also highlighted the importance of addressing emotions such as anger when gauging with the public. In our current online discussion, there have also been various mentions of the need to address emotions if we are to engage with the public and 'educate' them on child sex offenders and their management. Picking up on the idea of Particicpant 2, I agree that reframing the issue as one of child protection and prevention of child victimisation would be a useful strategy. Also along the lines of addressing the role of emotions in attitude formation, the public seem on the whole to be supportive of restorative justice approaches possibly because such approaches address the public's desire for offenders to make amends and also they place an emphasis on addressing the needs of victims -the public would generally like to see a greater emphasis on the needs if victims. Hence, approaches such as CoSA would likely be well received if they were pitched as strategies that address the needs of victims, require offenders to make amends and reduce the chances of further children being victimised.

I also like the idea of an international clearinghouse - this could be a good resource for not only members of the public but also the media and policy makers. Media reporters, and for that matter political advisers, often need information quickly and if they had a resource such as this then they may be more likely to refer to evidence-based approaches for managing child sex offenders. On the topic of the media, I also agree with Participant 2 that experts in the field need training on how to effectively deal with the media. I agree also with the views others have expressed here that experts are reluctant to engage with the media out of fear that their discussions will be misrepresented or misconstrued.

It has also just occurred to me that some of the broader literature on improving health literacy could be useful to consider here. For instance, mental health is associated with a high degree of stigma and shame in many countries and this means that many sufferers are reluctant to seek help. In Australia, community education campaigns such as beyond blue (the national depression initiative) have helped to raise awareness and encourage help-seeking. Tony Jorm's Mental Health First Aid training has also helped to improve awareness and understanding of mental illness as well as help-seeking. There may be some lessons to learn from these approaches.

Participant 3

I very much like the idea of learning from research in other areas as suggested by Participant 14, and the pointer to Shadd's work is welcome, thank you Participant 10!

The point on differing legal codes, perspectives and approaches is also a good one.  I think Participant 10 is correct to say that often there are differing approaches to policy development and problem solving, as well as to dialogues with the public- the reactions and use of the research repository or clearing house would itself make an intriguing study particularly across jurisdictions/countries.

Participant 6

I'd like to spend a bit of time refocusing on some of Participant 11's statements in his Scenarios bit.

It’s true that we have come a long way in the last 30 years since Participant 4 arguably got the ball rolling with “Child Sexual Abuse”. Reoffense rates have plummeted and offender reintegration potential is much more often being realized. Indeed, base rates are now such that most state governments are reporting recidivism stats that serve to highlight the Static-99R’s continued tendency to overpredict. We might need to consider that we are unlikely to see further dramatic drops in recidivism and that our focus might be better aimed at prevention (NB to NOHCG:  I agree … APSA).

I really liked this passage: "…we (in both the research and advocacy communities) are often Participant 17ilty of "over-selling" the levels of empirical support for positions that we have adopted as shared narratives within our little tribe.” I’ve definitely seen that and will address it more below, but I also wonder whether we are also often Participant 17ilty of the opposite? Do we sometimes split the hair so many times that we forget it was a hair in the first place?

The research data – on the micro level – are often ambiguous and inconclusive, especially if we take the typical “statistical significance” approach. At what point is it reasonable to further the “social significance” approach? Quibbling over details is a part of science, and it is an important part of getting to the root of the issue, but is there a Participant 12gger-picture narrative that we can be more collaborative in presenting in legislative and community forums?

Acknowledging that we need better treatment outcome research and that we still cannot say categorically that sexual offender treatment works is not the same as what the public believes: Treatment doesn’t work and sometimes makes offenders worse. Aren’t we past that point?

Why is it that the most inflammatory research is the stuff that gets the most airplay in the non-scientific domain (actually, probably too often in the scientific domain, too)? How many times have you cringed listening to some make-believe FBI agent on Criminal Minds pull out the old FBI rapist typology, knowing full well that Ray Knight (and others, to be fair) blew that one away years ago? Why do Crown prosecutors in Canada routinely use SORAG scores in sexual offender sentencing hearings when those base rates often greatly exceed even the already oft-criticized Static-99R base rates? Why do child pornography prosecutors (and the RCMP, I’m told) automatically defer to Bourke & Hernandez when even B&H acknowledge that their study is an outlier?

Why? Because we continue to fail as a group in both better conveying the issues at the macro level and because, for some, there is fame and fortune to be made in sticking to your pet theory or being protectionist about what you wrote in your first book.

Last point, not a short one:  A lot of folks in this “debate” have mentioned Circles of Support and Accountability. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that this is one of my favorite topics. However, I want to be exceedingly clear that CoSA is but one approach in a larger group of holistic and strength-based approaches that is gaining credibility in the face of continued legislative attempts to do the opposite. Engagement, not isolation. Acceptance, not vilification. Rehabilitative, not punitive.

The mottos of CoSA are all quite admirable; although, perhaps, a Participant 12t pie in the sky:

•No more victims

•No one is disposable

•No one does this alone

The literature underscoring this approach to the community integration of released sexual offenders is growing, but it is by no means “there” yet. At present, we have but four studies with small samples, short follow-up, and (mostly) less than optimal research designs (to be fair, CoSA projects don’t make for good laboratory experiments). This past summer, the CoSA research base was criticized for being too focused on quantitative outcomes (e.g., recidivism rates) and for being “Participant 17ssied-up” as it were. While some of the rhetoric in that debate missed the mark, there were also kernels of truth. We do need better explanations of the “how” and “why” in CoSA.

More and more, I see CoSA as being something that statutory agencies promote as a way to augment existing supervision and risk management frameworks (e.g., MAPPA in the UK, containment or CASOM here in the US). More eyes and ears, I suppose. In Canada, CoSA started as a grassroots attempt to “reclaim the conflict” (à la Christie). Community members stepped up to the plate when existing policy and practice left them at risk. Expansions into the UK and USA have seen a somewhat different approach, with statutory authorities being largely in control of when and how CoSA might be part of the equation. In essence, this may be a distinction between top down and bottom up, but my fear is this: Is CoSA at risk of becoming just another arm of “the man”? If that happens, do we lose some of the earthy and restorative aspects that – at least early on – seemed to be the most educational for volunteers?

So, last last point:  I would caution people against casting CoSA as the be all, end all approach in community safety. There’s something there – I’m convinced of it – but let’s not put too many eggs in that basket.

Sorry, just to be clear about one point...

When I said: "We might need to consider that we are unlikely to see further dramatic drops in recidivism and that our focus might be better aimed at prevention", I didn't mean to say that we should stop what we're doing. Indeed, we've seen decreases in offending and reoffending because we got smarter about risk assessment, treatment, risk management, and reintegration. I'm merely advocating that we now also include a much greater focus on prevention.

To use an example:  I routinely hear attorneys argue for lesser sentences or for not civilly committing someone because the research shows that others with similar risk profiles are reoffending at low levels. The non sequitur is that those lower levels didn't just happen; we achieved them through hard work and research into what works best in assessment, treatment, and supervision/reintegration. To stop doing what we know works would be equivalent to stopping inoculations of children simply because the afflictions are now more rare.

Participant 11

@participant 6 - thanks for raising the issue of "hair splitting" -- not sure if it was fully reflected in my previous post, but I couldn't agree with you more.   We need to recognize that those of us who spend our daily professional lives ruminating endlessly over these issues are operating on a very different plane of existence than most normal people (including policy makers) who have lots of other things on their mind.   In our communications, we should recognize that nuance means a lot more to us than it does to the masses.  I also think that your reference to our fixation on statistical significance is on the mark - this goes along with social science's orientation toward focusing on aggregate-level measures (e.g. recidivism rates, trends in sexual abuse) while often ignoring (or downplaying) the narratives of experience.    

Participant 7

I appreciate what you are saying about CoSA being a good approach, but not an only approach. The Gladue Reports being written for sentencing purposes for First Nations Offenders are offering some exciting opportunities. A Gladue Report is prepared at the First Nation offender's request and includes a detailed exploration of the impact that colonization and oppression/racism has had on the offender's criminal involvment. The reports I have seen include consultations with the offender's home community, family, and support systems. The reports situate the offender within a community and include a discussion of the health of the community in discussions about sentencing and release. We have seen really good sentencing happen, more balanced between incarceration, treatment and community accountability. The offender is held accountable but not in isolation. There have been some interesting mediations arising from the reports. There is more community involvement in decision planning and treatment in one of the communities I am involved with has included a restorative justice/reintegration plan that could not have been possible without the socio/political/personal history accompanying the offender's Participant 17ilty plea. Education of the Crown, judges, defence lawyer and probation services goes hand in hand with education of the community in this process. It is exciting to see the changes happen, slowly but surely.

Participant 2

I agree with not putting many eggs in ANY basket. The discussion has helpfully illuminated the complex problem we are examining, and the likelihood that it will require multi-pronged, coordinated and *sustained* responses.

 Though APSA (Association for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse) would be a good start, let's think a little Participant 12gger, such as INPSA, the International Network for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse. An umbrella group that would include APSA and other key organizations to develop an international clearinghouse, coordinate efforts, gain crediParticipant 12lity with governments and other NGOs, and seek celebrity and media engagement. We could use someone like Emma Watson, an eloquent UN ambassador (#HeForShe).

Participant 2

Participant 14 I agree, there's lots we could learn about social change from other areas, including mental illness, suicide, substance use, bullying.

 I'd also point out the successes of earlier campaigns to change social norms, eg, drinking and driving. If Mad Men is any historical Participant 17ide, it used to be NORMAL to have a few (or more than a few) before getting behind the wheel; now it's evidence of serious antisociality.

 I don't think we ever saw mainstream media coverage of any piece that might seem sympathetic to persons with pedophilia even 10 years ago; the past two years alone, I have seen relatively balanced pieces in the New Yorker, New York Times, Medium and Time about the plight of these at-risk people. It's too early to call it, but I think the wind might begin to blow in an encouraging direction.

Participant 9

It’s interesting to think about how we frame the multiple discourses and define success. One of the things that always strike’s me is how we define changing social attitudes and the impact of campaigns? How do we measure the outcomes of social impact, education and policy drives? It’s really hard to measure; I think that we need to think more coherently about how we define “success” in the public and policy engagement arena? Is it through traditional social sciences methods (qualitative, quantitative, case study based) or through engagement with new media (downloads, “likes” on social networking sites or via tracking how information is spread via social network analysis online and/or offline)? I do wonder if the public and policy makers do get sexual violence more than they say that they do but feel afraid, ashamed, unable, unwilling or unable to engage in the public debate.

I like the idea of an international clearing house, this could be collaboration between universities, governments and NGO’s (like ATSA, NOTA, IASTO & ANZATSA). It could be for academics, professionals, practitioners (a training ground of sorts for all three) and the public. The thing that always strikes me is that we use our own languages and vehicles for communication, take to people where they live might be a better plan via high profile celebrities, through high rated tv soaps/shows and magazines.

Participant 2

For better or worse, celebrity involvement can do a lot for a social change effort, even for a challenging and complex issue like domestic violence and sexual assault. Look at a recent high-profile series of public service announcements featuring the hashtag #NoMore led by the Joyful Heart Foundation, which was started by a TV star Mariska Hargitay (her show, SVU, gives her a huge platform b/c it focuses on sexual and violent crimes.) Note -- to return to one of my previous themes -- that the emphasis is on prevention of domestic violence, which includes criminal accountability and treatment.

 There are celebrities who have engaged in work regarding child sexual abuse, but they have not been actively sought as partners in social efforts. Many celebrities have disclosed personal histories for example (Oprah being one that comes to mind right away.)

 An international clearinghouse could have value I think, but would be challenging for funding, coordination, and resource intensity (eg, versions in major languages outside of English?). My experience with other clearinghouses as an expert in a few narrow topics is that they often seem incomplete or out-of-date for those topics, but perhaps for general use they would be helpful?

Participant 9

I agree with Particicpant 2 that we need to think though what celebrities we engage with and the way that a incorrect/incomprehensible /based message is worse than no message. Over the last couple of days a high profile TV celebrity (Judy Finnigan) sparked a debate about good/bad, traumatic/non-traumatic rape -

 I would also agree about any clearing house being socially, culturally and linguistically diverse. As Participant 2 says we often focus on western cultures and speak in English, therefore resources on different languages aimed at different cultures/countries would help. I agree that this would be expensive so funding could come from composite organisations, funding councils and (potentially) governments or transnational organisations (UN, EU or commonwealth). Sexual abuse is an international issue and we have to start think of the response in that way (keeping in mind what Participant 10 and PARTICICPANT 3 have said about border differences).

 In addition I would like to reiterate what participant 2 said about prevention reminding us that there are three levels (primary, secondary and tertiary) and that we should discuss all of them equally with public, policy maker and professional engagement at all levels (McCartan, K., Kemshall, H. and Tabachnick, J. (2014) The construction of community understandings of sexual violence: Rethinking public, practitioner and policy discourses. Journal of Sexual Aggression).

Participant 14

Like Participant 9, I would also like to emphasize the need for those of us working in the field to promote prevention efforts at all three levels. I would like to see greater promotion of primary prevention efforts in particular to policy makers and the public as primary prevention efforts are so often ignored. Perhaps, as is the case with management of convicted child sex offenders, we need to reframe the way we discuss primary prevention efforts - i.e. promoting respectful relationships between women and men, girls and boys... On this latter point, it seems there is increasing concern on the part of the public and policy makers alike that the levels of exposure of young people to pornography online could lead to young people, boys and male adolescents in particular, acting out in a sexually aggressive manner. This may be present a good opportunity to promote the need for primary prevention - i.e. having those difficult conversations with young people about being respectful of themselves and of members of the opposite sex. These discussions would ideally be broadened to include the potential harms of sexting and the harms caused by child exploitation material (not only producing but viewing and sharing). I am not sure to what extent these sorts of discussions are already taking place. Does anyone know of any programs addressing these latter points?

Participant 19

Hello everyone. I apologize for coming late to this discussion. I had some technical difficulty. The benefit of this is that I have had the opportunity to read through all of the posts and reflect on the different ideas and suggestions. There are a number of points I'd like to make in response to our original questions and the remarks that followed. One of the things that strikes me is the imbalance between primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention, even amongst ourselves (the field in general). The question I kept coming back to was this - what is the outcome we want with respect to public understanding? Do we want victims to report more? Do we want reduced rates of first and subsequent offending? Do we want different policies and if so what policies will result in reductions in sexual violence? Most of us are not policy makers and we can't do this ourselves. Engaging with other kinds of "experts" would probably do us good in getting any message across. ATSA has a public affairs position and thinking about how we communicate with the many "publics" likely needs to be given more energy.

Many of you noted the difficulty communicating with media. I know that we tend to get approached in response to highly sensationalized cases, and the questions are often difficult to wrangle into the message we want to send. Improved training in this domain is one step, but a preemptive approach to messaging through the media is critical - not in response to an offence. Often times our efforts to speak to positive gains in the field fall on deaf ears as people struggle to reconcile our message with the details of an offence and the emotional response associated with that.

One of the questions posed was related to our own biases and I think this requires more attention. Even within professional circles I hear skepticism and fear surrounding sexual violence and paraphilia’s. My impression is that despite the gains, individuals still feel that recidivism is inevitable, research doesn't reflect the true state of sexual offending due to low report rates, and those working with individuals who have committed sexual offences are somehow naive or sympathetic to such violence. I hear this even among our colleagues. We need to examine our own opinions and biases in preparation for public messaging, otherwise I feel we will inevitably undermine our own efforts.

Participant 9

In line with some of the recent posts I saw this online today and thought that it was worth sharing, sure there are some issues with it but it's an interesting report...

Participant 11

While we're sharing links, here's a follow-up to the Margo Kaplan NY TImes piece on pedophilia that we discussed early in our dialogue:

Participant 1

What an intriguing discussion!  For the past two weeks, we have addressed the question, “How to develop good public understanding of child sexual abuse and ...”

One of the first points raised that seemed to have firm consensus throughout the discussion was Particicpant 2’s suggestion that the most effective way to engage public discourse on sexual abuse is an approach that focuses on the prevention of sexual violence, noting that the lay population, to borrow a term, is largely uninterested and not sympathetic to the needs of the offender population, and especially so when it comes to child sexual offenders. Other contributors suggested collaborating with trusted public leaders and even celebrities in efforts to engage citizens in a dialogue that often elicits fear and loathing. Several contributors noted that these emotions need to be understood, acknowledged, and addressed as legitimate and natural responses to the harm caused when children and other vulnerable members of our societies are harmed.

In terms of who members of the general public want to hear from with information about child sexual abuse and other forms of sexual offending, Participant 5 offered findings from the American Center for Sexual Offender Management’s survey of public attitudes and knowledge of sexual abuse which indicate members of the public want to hear from experts rather than the popular media, and that they generally are supportive of treatment and rehabilitative efforts.  Other contributors noted that as a profession, we are sometimes not good purveyors of information the many publics we serve need, sometimes satisfying ourselves with publishing in journals using language and statistical proofs even some of us don’t fully comprehend. Participant 4 reminded the group to emphasize the diversity of the sex offender population, especially youthful offenders, female offenders, remorseful offenders and rehabilitated offenders.

Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) came up a number of times in the discussion as a means to engage citizens and to provide them with good information and a means of taking on their often overlooked (by professionals and citizens alike) responsibility and ability to contribute to community safety. Participant 6 pointed out that while CoSA was a prime means of public engagement, it was not the be-all-and-end-all solution, and that there were also other methods of public engagement.  A question was raised as to whether public engagement and education was, in fact, the best way target for change to current approaches to sexual abuse, suggesting perhaps targeting policy-makers would be a more effective approach.  As Participant 7 noted however, it was members of the public who exercised influence over policy makers, and the discussion group generally agreed it was not “either/or” but both audiences that should be targeted. And speaking of “either/or,”

On the question of the “either/or” of containment and integration approaches, Participant 3 opined that the containment or integration dichotomy is unhelpful and too often used in the past in formulating policy, where more progressive approaches employ modal practices combining elements of both along a continuum.

Focusing more on the ”how to” part of our question, the idea of an international “clearinghouse” for reliable, accurate and balanced information  written in language that would be transparent and publically accessible was floated mid-way in the discussion.  This notion raised some intriguing challenges, including who would be involved in vetting such information, where such a “clearinghouse” would be located (consensus appearing to be it should be academic institution), and who would fund such a venture. Nevertheless, there did appear to be general consensus that this would be a worthwhile undertaking. Participant 10 raised an important challenge in this regard, noting that different jurisdictions, indeed different cultures addressed legal and policy issues differently and that such “clearinghouse” ideas needed to take account of these differences. For example, those countries following Roman law traditions might be quite different in their legal practices than countries following Common Law traditions and practices.

Then transcript of this discussion series will be soon available, and interested readers will find more nuance as well as much more detail and individual commentary than this summary is capable of providing.  However, as a recommendation for moving forward, as professionals we should forsake complacency when it comes to public engagement and education, make it part of our profession – the root of which is to “profess” – to engage in public discourse about child and other types of sexual abuse using all opportunities available in both traditional and social media.  Further, we should be activists in the supplying of relevant information at every opportunity, and not just when the sensational stories hit the airwaves and we are called to give comment.  As for the idea of a “clearinghouse,” this may be an idea that will be difficult to bring to fruition for funding, jurisdictional and cultural reasons.  Still, in attempting it, we may maintain an important dialogue that ultimately reaches fruition in one form or another in the places we each have influence.