Nextgenforensic at ATSA 2014: Ian Elliott

Ian A. Elliott

The 33rd Annual Research and Treatment Conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers – to give #ATSA2014 it’s full title – is in the books. For many, it wasn’t only an opportunity to get up to speed with the state-of-art thinking being produced in the field, but also to appreciate a little Fall warmth down in San Diego. Those of us at nextgenforensic who were present wanted to take this opportunity to make our resources available and feed back on the take-home points. We would also make readers aware that the SAJRT blog is also providing a review of the conference. This will be the first in a series of posts from the Editors where we each provide our materials and thoughts – we’ll keep you updated on these additional posts on our Twitter account. So with no further ado, here are my experiences of this year’s (excellent as ever) ATSA…

This was my first year presenting in multiple sessions. On Thursday, Prof. Mia Bloom and I presented a paper in development on how sex offender theory – as developed in ‘the West’ – might help us understand the practice of Bacha Bazi. Bacha Bazi is a form of pederasty found in areas of Afghanistan involving young boys who are dressed as females to dance for wealthy patrons. Prof. Bloom is a political scientist who is a leading expert in the involvement of women and children in terrorism and political violence, and we have had a number of conversations over the past year or two about the overlaps between the way children are prepared for and recruited by terror organizations and by sexual exploiters. This represents the first tentative steps in formalizing those conversations.

Because we do not have the opportunity, for a variety of reasons (not least the fact that many ‘patrons’ are powerful warlords), to collect data on known ‘perpetrators’ of this practice, we instead focused on the cultural elements of theory and the environments in which the practice is maintained. The talk was structured around Smallbone and Cale’s (in press) integrated theory of the onset and progression of sexual offending (soon to appear in Tony Ward & Tony Beech’s new theories book), outlining the sociocultural, community and organizational, and  family and peer factors that appear to be relevant to the practice. The Prezi can be found here and the infographic it is based on is below. (We are hoping to have the opportunity to add some sound to these Prezis at some time in the near future to explain the context!)

Ian A. Elliott and Mia M. Bloom: Afghanistan's Bacha Bazi
Ian A. Elliott and Mia M. Bloom: Afghanistan’s Bacha Bazi

On Friday, I presented as part of a symposium on Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) – chaired by Dr. Robin Wilson and also featuring Dr. Kathryn Fox of the University of Vermont and Andrew McWhinnie – a consultant to and key developer of the original CoSA model. The aim of the symposium was to describe how Circles were developing in the USA and what the mechanics of change for these programs are (and/or are intended to be). In my talk, I outlined the key findings of our (myself, Gary Zajac, and Courtney Meyer) NIJ evaluability study – focusing on the innovations in program implementation and the issues of outcome measurement, data quality and collection, and adherence to program theory. Again, the Prezi can be found here and the related infographic is below.

Ian A. Elliott, Gary Zajac, & Coutnery E. Meyer: CoSA Implementation in the USA.
Ian A. Elliott, Gary Zajac, & Coutnery E. Meyer: CoSA Implementation in the USA.

In terms of some take-home points that I would offer those who didn’t attend, the main would be that I thought Jesse Bering’s keynote talk on sexual arousal and decision-making was very timely – although, as I tweeted recently, I would argue Richard Laws was making these theoretical connections back in the late 1990s (ironically, Dr. Bering also showed a pornographic image as an example from some of the experimental work he was describing that looked like it was also from back in the 1990s!). Some of those behavioral economic ideas of how ‘stupid’, irrational, and short-termist our goal-related behaviors can be under conditions of visceral ‘need’ (sexual arousal, hunger, drug craving) are directly relevant to practice with deviant sexual behaviors. Our ability to understand and predict our behavior under these ‘hot’ conditions at times when we are not currently experiencing them (i.e., at ‘cold’ times) is notoriously poor. A disparate set of research studies has shown that adult males tend to make more impulsive and sexually-risky decisions (e.g., reporting being willing to engage in sexually-coercive behavior) when sexually-aroused. There is certainly a need to revisit these findings, find out whether we they are consistently replicable, and push to understand the relevance of physiological arousal to sexually-deviant behavior. Dr. Bering’s book ‘Perv‘ certainly outlines these studies in detail and in an engaging manner.

Note: If anyone has any questions/comments etc around the two infographics above, please do let me know. My details are available from the UML website.

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