On Depth: Conceptual and methodological considerations in meta-analysis

Ian V. McPhail

Recently, a methodological approach to examining forensic psychological constructs has been appearing on the pages of clinical psychology, sexology, and child abuse prevention journals and at professional conferences. These studies all make use a meta-analytic methodology I have started to call “depth meta-analysis.” By depth meta-analysis, I mean a meta-analysis that tries to drill down as deeply as possible into the existent literature pertaining to a single psychological construct. By restricting itself to a single construct, a meta-analysis can answer a plethora of disparate research questions germane to the construct of interest. In addition, an approach such as this unlocks the potential of moderator analyses, a set of powerful statistical tools in meta-analysis. In the field of forensic psychology focusing on sexual violence, I have come to see some of the main research questions regarding psychological constructs as being:

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What’s the point when research on sexual offending has no links to practice?

Ross Bartels

The measure of greatness in a scientific idea is the extent to which it stimulates thought and opens up new lines of research” – Paul Dirac (physicist)

A good deal of research is being conducted by both academics and clinicians to help us understand, assess, and treat sexual offenders. As such, it is understandable to see ‘nextgen’ researchers (myself included) wanting to provide a valuable contribution to the field. However, finding a ‘great scientific idea’ can to be a challenging endeavour. There are a great many factors inherent to the understanding of human behaviour, and offending behaviour is no exception. Luckily, as researchers in forensic psychology, we have a vast body of psychological literature (whether it be a principle, theory, method, or findings from a study) to draw upon when formulating a specific research question. I find this process exciting, as you never know when you might find a ‘hidden gem’ that will reveal new ways of understanding, assessing, and treating sexual offenders.

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Why do we keep rehashing the sex offender treatment effectiveness debate?

Kelly M. Babchishin

There are a lot of meta-analyses and review articles examining the effectiveness of treatment programs for sex offenders. The most recent meta-analysis by Grønnerød and colleagues (2014) did not find that treatment programs reduced the risk of reoffending among sex offenders against children. These authors arrived at the same conclusion that Långström et al. (2013) presented in their systematic review a few months earlier: there is a lack of quality studies, and the limited “good quality” studies do not provide overwhelming support for the effectiveness of sex offender treatment programs. Of course, not all treatment programs are created equal.

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Public and professional perceptions of female sex offenders

Ian A. Elliott and Alexandra Bailey

In a recently submitted book chapter, Alex Bailey of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and I took a policy-oriented look at public and professional attitudes towards females who perpetrate sex offenses against children. Franca Cortoni and colleagues [pdf] note that female sex offenders make up around 4-5% of all adult sex offenders and victimize children at a rate significant enough to warrant academic consideration. Alex and I sought to address the seemingly axiomatic view that public and professional perceptions of female sex offenders are complicated by the inconsistency between child abuse and pervading societal views of women as caring, nurturing, sexually passive, non-aggressive, and innocent, and that this leads to denial, minimization, and reconstruction of these individuals and their behaviors to correct for such incongruence.

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The effects of researching the incomprehensible

Caoilte Ó Ciardha

We were five or six research students heading to an amusement park in Georgia after attending the annual conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. After alighting from a rollercoaster we stopped to grab some food; corndogs I seem to recall. As we did, a troop of 10-12 year-old majorettes were gathering to perform their routine of choreographed dance and baton twirling. Proud parents and other onlookers formed a semicircle clapping, hooting, and taking photos. But we research students hung back, a sense of unease creeping over our group. For us, that sheen of innocence had been wiped the scene, replaced with an unsettling patina of over-sexualisation and risk.

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Community interventions for sex offenders: Evidence, sense, and funding

Ian V. McPhail

In the past week or so, certain professional circles (the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) and the media (here and here) have been discussing a recent announcement by the Correctional Services of Canada that funding for Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) will be cut come March 31st and eliminated completely by the Fall of this year. However, as the story unfolds, the Canadian federal minister responsible for public safety has “asked the prison service to reconsider the decision,” but fully-restored funding may not be on its way. Time will tell where the chips will fall.

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