ATSA Forum - Vol. XXXI, Issue 4
Fall 2019  (Plain Text Version)

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In this issue:
 Editor's column
 Presidentís message
 International Committee update
 What's happening in Italy?
 Registration and disclosure: Lessons learned or same old song and dance?
 International members survey 2018 part 1: Practitioner knowledge, training and experience
 International members survey 2018 part 2: Practitioners attitudes to and understandings of community integration
 Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Exploring a new avenue for sex offender treatment
 Incel inside: Understanding involuntary celibates through dating app experiences
 International Perspectives on the Assessment and Treatment of Sexual Offenders
 Learning Difficulties and Sexual Vulnerability: A Social Approach
 ATSA Board of Directors election results
 Journal updates for membership
 Forum Newsletter Editorial Board
 New Membership Coordinator message
 Welcome ATSA's newest members

International members survey 2018 part 1: Practitioner knowledge, training and experience

Kieran McCartan, Kasia Uzieblo, and Wineke J. Smid


Sexual abuse is recognised as a local, national, and transnational issue (National Sexual Harm Resource Center, 2016; UNICEF, 2014). The increased global socio-political recognition of sexual abuse corresponds to several inter-related factors including increased investment in sexual violence education, increased reporting of historical cases, and a growing recognition that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of sexual violence. Internationally over the past decade, in particular, we have seen a rise in the reporting of sexual abuse, current and historical, linked to institutions, sports clubs, charities, college campuses, and the church (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017; Tabachnick, McCartan, & Panero, 2016; Vertommen, Kampen, Schipper-van Veldhoven, Uzieblo, & Van Den Eede, 2018), and an increased media profile of sexual violence (Harper & Hogue, 2017). Interestingly, although sexual abuse is an international issue, there has not been a lot of comparative research into the contexts and locations where it occurs internationally. Research also suggests that sexual violence reporting and conviction rates vary widely between and within countries, and are dependent on the size, culture, and economic status of the country (World Health Organization, 2014; UNICEF, 2014; see the special edition of Sexual Offender Treatment, 2018 for a broader international perspective). 

Leading on from this is the need to better understand the reality of the sentencing, treatment, management, and integration of people who have been convicted of a sexual offence globally. As with other aspects of sexual abuse, this is relatively unknown. The impact of westernised, Anglophone research and practice on the field of sexual abuse is well documented, with much modern practice, or at least the international documentation thereof, based upon work from Canada, UK, USA, Australia, and New Zealand, and a lot of policies built off the back of what works, and what does not, in the USA. It is important to understand and recognise what practices and policies different countries engage in related to sexual offending and the people who are convicted of these offences in the current era of global travel and risk management. 

The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) is an international organisation that spans approximately 20 countries (including Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, France, Germany, Belgium, Israel, and South Africa, to name a few) with more than 300 international, non-American members. The ATSA international committee believed that capturing a snapshot of differing international practices in the field of sexual abuse was important and relevant. Building off the back of a successful international roundtable on risk management at the 2017 Kansas City ATSA conference and the resulting international special edition of Sexual Offender Treatment (the IATSO Journal), we decided to carry out a multi-country study on the attitudes towards the prevention of sexual abuse in professionals and their understanding of the societal attitudes and current prevention practices.

Aims, methods, and analysis

The research focused on professionals’ attitudes to working in the field of sexual abuse and the related policies, practices, and outcomes. The research was conducted through a mixed methods online survey, with 68 English-based questions (including closed-ended, open-ended, and Likert scale response options), which took approximately 30 minutes to complete. The sampling frame was a purposive and opportunity sample of ATSA international members (i.e., those not from the USA). Participants were recruited via direct emails and the ATSA listserv (Robson & McCartan, 2016) between mid-March and the end of May 2018. Recruitment resulted in 74 respondents, 25% of the ATSA international base and 3% of the organisation’s overall membership in the year ending 2018. The majority of respondents were from westernised, northern hemisphere Anglophone countries (see Table 1), which reflected the overall demographics of the organisation’s international membership.

Table 1: Sample size by country of employment.

 Country of Employment

Sample Size





















 New Zealand


 Puerto Rico













In addition, the participants were affiliated with a number or organisations, with some participants being a member of two or more additional professional associations, including NOTA (5 participants, 6%), IATSO (16 participants, 22%), ANZATSA (11 participants, 15%) NL-ATSA (2 participants, 3%), and CoNTRAST.TI (9 participants, 12%). Most of the participants (i.e., 37 participants, or 50%) were therapists or worked in treatment settings (Table 2). The sample reflected the range of international members affiliated with ATSA (Table 1).

Table 2: Sample by role and country of employment


 Numbers of


Country of residence



 New Zealand



 Australia, Netherlands

 Prison Staff


 Belgium, Canada, UK

 Social Worker



 Therapist/Treatment Provider


 Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany Ireland Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New  Zealand, Puerto Rico, Sweden, Switzerland, UK



 Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan



 Canada, Netherlands, Singapore

Other organisation (1)


 Australia, UK

 Missing data



Main findings


When asked about the level of qualification needed to work with people convicted of a sexual offence, participants stated that, in the main, a university qualification was needed to work with adults (graduate degree, n=25, 34%; post graduate degree, n=19, 26%) and/or juveniles (graduate degree, n=24, 32%; post-graduate degree, n=20, 27%). Interestingly, the required level of qualification did not change by country. Rather, it depended on their role and who their employer was.

“It depends on what 'work' means (the sector). For giving treatment, a master's degree and postdoctoral qualification is necessary. For other job types employer supplied trainings are necessary but not a master’s degree.” (Netherlands)   

“It varies as we have department staff who have bachelor degrees but they work alongside a psych (masters and above). We also have NGO's that work with SO's in the community. I'm not sure what level they require.” (New Zealand)

In terms of additional training or ongoing professional development, all the participants indicated that this was required. However, the scale and nature of required additional training varied internationally. The participants indicated that they (n=16, 22%), their employers (n=19, 26%), or relevant 3rd party organisations (n=22, 30%) were responsible for supplying relevant training. However, half of the participants (n=37, 50%) from across 11 countries felt that it was not easy to access the training they needed or the funding to support it.

“All specialists seem to be from overseas making it costly and rare to be trained by them.”     (Belgium)

“Due to our remote location this can be a problem but we have taken advantage, when we can, of webinars (such as NEARI press), ANSATA conferences and other ATSA members who have delivered to us via AVL.” (New Zealand)

“Not easy to find in Italy, need to travel abroad to access proper training.” (Italy)


Most participants (n=60, 82%) found it easy to access resources in their own language, but this is potentially skewed as 46 participants listed English as their main language and this is the language that most sexual-abuse-related material is published in (especially journals and books). Those that did not list English as their mother tongue – participants who mainly spoke French, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish – found it most challenging to access resources, especially journal articles and text-based resources. 


Most participants (n=44, 64%) from across all 16 countries sampled believed that it was emotionally challenging to work with people convicted of a sexual offence, with a sizable proportion (n=40, 54%) believing that their employer offered them appropriate support. However, a smaller proportion did not (n=17, 23%). In addition, a similar majority of participants (n=41, 56%) from across all 16 countries believed that it was psychologically challenging to work with people convicted of a sexual offence, with many participants (n=39, 52%) believing their employer offered psychological support, but, again, there was a group (n=15, 18%) that did not. Interestingly, in both cases, most of the participants who did not feel supported by their employers came from Canada, Italy, Puerto Rico, and the UK. Participants discussed what resources they had access to for emotional and psychological support in their working life and these resources were similar transnationally (i.e., counselling, peer support, and formal supervision).


All countries used some form of risk assessment with people convicted of a sexual offence and they seemed to draw from the same pool of resources (Table 3). Most of the participants (n=41, 55%) across all 16 countries indicated that the type of sex offender risk assessment tool being used can change with the organisation conducting the assessment and that, although there was a perceived gold standard, it was not consistently used. A sizable proportion of participants across all countries believed that the outcome of risk assessments played a central role in judicial decision-making (n=32, 39%), sentencing (n=28, 34%), and treatment decisions (n=42, 51%).

Table 3: Risk Assessment tool by country of employment

 Risk assessment Tool


 Static -- 99/R

 Australia, New Zealand, UK, Denmark, Canada, Israel, Netherlands


 Australia, New Zealand





 Stable & Acute

Australia, New Zealand, Germany, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Israel, Canada



 RM 2000/r

 Australia, Italy, Ireland


 New Zealand


 Canada, Australia




 Canada, Netherlands




 Australia, New Zealand


A sizable section of the participants from across all 16 countries stated that their countries had sentencing guidelines for child sexual abuse (n=37, 50%), rape (n=38, 53%), and downloading child sexual abuse imagery (n=38, 53%). However, this was not the case when it came to child prostitution (n=29, 40%), grooming (n=32, 48%) and trafficking (n=29, 35%).  Sentencing guidelines across all 16 countries were quite varied:

- A contact offence, against an adult or a child: 2-10 years;

- Grooming: 0-5 years;

- Downloading, distributing, and viewing child sexual abuse imagery: 0-10 years;

- Trafficking of children: 5-20 years (but in Ireland and Sweden it could be lower than 5 years); and

- Child prostitution: 0-30 years, but several countries fell between 4-7 years.

Interestingly, most participants felt that the current sentences surrounding sexual abuse and related offences were not appropriate (n=43, 52%) for numerous reasons.

“Because they are often not informed by risk and treatment needs.” (Australia)

“Currently disproportionate sentences between adult sex offences and child sex offences, you can commit one rape of an adult and receive a 10y+ sentence and rape a child daily for years and receive a 4-5 year sentence.” (New Zealand)

“They’re incongruent differs a lot depending on which town or region that handles the trial.”  (Sweden)


All countries had some form of sex offender treatment, all of which were based upon Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Good Lives Model, and/or risk-based ideologies.

“Adults: Good Lives Model, Jenkin's Invitational Model, CBT, Motivational Interviewing. Adolescents: Jenkins Invitational Model, Eco-systemic model involving family members as an   integral part of intervention (sometimes receiving more counselling than the young person).” (Australia)

“Relapse prevention model, RNR-model, so-called Marshall-groups (based on the treatment model developed by Bill Marshall), in the last few years more and more: the GLM." (Germany)

“We work psychotherapeutic; this means we use the individual story of what the client tells us, it is our main and essential approach.” (Belgium)

Although all countries had an approach to sex offender treatment, in some countries this was more formalised and structured than in others.

“No main approach - we are working on a research project that examines the different     types of treatment of sexual offenders in Denmark.” (Denmark)

The different treatment programs were run in different ways across each country, with some being delivered by the state, some by private companies, some by specialists, and others by basically trained providers.

“As a government organisation we provide weekly free therapy, only in exceptional cases clients go to a private therapist.” (Belgium)

“Associations or private bodies through public funding (national or European calls).” (Italy) 

“Depending on location (community/prison). Can vary from program officers in federal custody settings, to social workers and psychologists outside that setting.” (Canada)


This study highlighted that there are many similarities but also many differences internationally in professional practice in the assessment, management, and integration back into the community of people convicted of a sexual offence. The research demonstrates similarities and differences in international practices and policies, reinforcing the need to work more coherently together and share current practice. One of the main issues highlighted by the data is the international inconsistencies in the level of qualifications and training needed to work within the field of sexual abuse, which is particularly startling given the fact that most of the risk assessments, treatments, and interventions are the same. This raises the question of the importance of continued staff development, employer investment, and staff expertise, which becomes important when we consider the high-profile socio-political nature of sexual abuse. (See Part 2, and the personal and professional fallout from poor risk management.)  

In Part 2 of this article we focus on practitioners’ attitudes to community integration, focusing on their understandings of public attitudes, community management policies, and the prevention of sexual abuse.

For references, please see Part 2.

[1] “Other organisation” is a company that works with people convicted of a sexual offence who are not part of the state provision. They maybe a charity (i.e., Circles of Support and Accountability) or a private, for-profit organisation.