A closed mouth catches no flies: How tertiary prevention of sexual violence and abuse can inform primary and secondary prevention

Dr Larissa (Lara) Christensen1, Susan Rayment-McHugh1, Dr Nadine McKillop1
1University Of The Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore DC, Australia

Adopting a public health approach to sexual violence and abuse prevention

Effective prevention of sexual violence and abuse (SVA) must begin with a clear understanding of factors associated with its development, onset, and progression. SVA is a complex, multi-faceted social phenomenon. The heterogeneity among perpetrators of SVA, and SVA incidents themselves, has at times presented barriers to its prevention. Re-conceptualisation of the problem from social-ecological (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) and person-situation interaction (Mischel, 1968; Wortley, 2008) perspectives creates opportunities to explore prevention initiatives beyond the individual (perpetrator or victim) and to tailor prevention efforts to the context in which SVA incidents occur. This presentation frames the issue of SVA within the public health prevention model as an introduction to the clinical practice and research presented in this panel, emphasising the importance of prevention at the primary-, secondary-, and tertiary-level to reduce the extent and impact of these crimes.

Extending contextual clinical interventions with youth sexual offenders to primary and secondary prevention: An Australian case study

Traditional approaches to treating youth who perpetrate sexual offences have been dominated by individual pathology-based conceptualisations. Prevention efforts in this field have reflected this conceptualisation focussing predominantly at the tertiary-level on individual offender management, treatment and justice responses. Risk of sexual violence, however, is often situated outside the individual, within the broader social and physical systems in which each young person is embedded. Lack of recognition for how these factors might also contribute to sexual violence narrows the focus of traditional prevention efforts to individually-focused approaches, overlooking the contexts and circumstances in which these offences occur.  This presentation showcases a contextual approach to clinical assessment and intervention for youth who perpetrate peer-to-peer sexual violence, which extends the focus of clinical practice from the individual to the specific physical and social contexts that increase risk of sexual violence perpetration. The presentation also demonstrates how this innovative contextual approach generated new opportunities to extend tertiary clinical interventions to primary and secondary prevention.  A local place-based case study will be used to highlight the links between tertiary clinical responses to adjudicated offenders, and the subsequent development, implementation and evaluation of primary and secondary prevention activities, designed to reduce the extent and impacts of youth sexual violence and abuse.


Reconceptualising the role of guardianship in preventing child sexual abuse

The role of guardianship in preventing crime has received significant international attention. Although initially applied to property crimes, interest in its utility for understanding and preventing crime of an interpersonal nature (including child sexual abuse; CSA) has increased in recent years. Guardianship plays an important role in responding to CSA and disclosures, as well as preventing it occurring in the first place. However, the personal nature of these crimes brings layers of complexity that requires more elaborate analysis of the elements that underpin guardianship. Reynald’s (2010) exploration of the dimensions of guardianship is useful for engaging in a more detailed examination of the capacity for guardianship as an effective tool for prevention of CSA, and how perceptions of capable guardianship may influence perpetrator and guardian behaviour. Using empirical data (n = 200+) from adjudicated male youths and adults, we identified micro-situational and contextual factors that serve to promote or impede effective guardianship and likelihood to intervene. In the presentation we consider why the simple presence of another may not be adequate for preventing CSA incidents, particularly in the riskiest contexts and relationships (i.e., domestic settings and affiliative relationships) and propose a (re)conceptualisation of the role of guardianship in the context of CSA.  From our findings, we suggest that a more nuanced understanding of guardianship dimensions will help to better inform primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention efforts to enhance the effectiveness of guardianship action.


Professionals’ perceptions of female child sexual offenders: Implications for prevention

As a result of traditional gender roles, society has difficulty understanding that females are capable of committing child sexual abuse (CSA). Earlier research has found that professionals (e.g., police and psychiatrists) viewed female suspects as less harmful than male suspects and minimised the seriousness of CSA reports. Given that the role of females in society has changed over the last two decades across social, political, and economic platforms (Fine-Davis, 2016), it is difficult to generalise these results to the present day. A number of  in-depth semistructured interviews were conducted across a  diverse group of professionals (police officers, social workers, counselors, case managers, child and family support workers, and a legal professional; N = 21) involved in the community response and justice sector. This process yielded: (a) an in-depth understanding about professionals’ perceptions of female child sexual offenders and (b) identified where system efforts should be focused to better address and acknowledge female child sexual offenders. Results indicated  professionals’ acknowledgment that female child sexual offenders can inflict serious and persistent negative impacts on victims. These findings take a positive step forward compared with earlier perceptions, but it remains evident  perpatrator gender may still play a significant role in some dealings across professions and among colleagues at the tertiary level. As will be discussed, professionals emphasised the need for a more open discussion in society concerning female-perpetrated CSA in order to change this narrative and assist with prevention and disclosure, as important primary and secondary prevention measures.


Susan Rayment-McHugh’s research focuses on understanding and preventing sexual violence and abuse, including in endemic contexts, Australian Indigenous communities, and youth serving institutions.  Her research also includes program evaluation using realist methods.  In addition to her academic role, Susan is a forensic practitioner with over 24 years’ clinical experience in the sexual violence and abuse fields, working with both victims and perpetrators of sexual violence, their families and communities. Susan is a member of USC’s Indigenous Research Studies Theme and an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Griffith Criminology Institute.

Dr Lara Christensen’s research focuses on understanding sexual offending behaviour and justice responses to these offences. Her research on female child sexual offenders has focused on exploring professionals’ perceptions of these offenders and how these women are portrayed in the print media. You will find Lara’s research published in a number of Q1 journals such as Journal of Interpersonal Violence and Child Abuse and Neglect. Lara also reaches non-academic audiences when disseminating findings as she hopes that with more public recognition of this topic, victims will have a greater liklihood of attaining the intervention and emotional support they may require.

Dr. Nadine McKillop’s research concentrates on understanding and preventing sexual violence and abuse, the assessment and treatment of youth and adult sexual offenders, and factors associated with the onset of youth and adult offending to reduce the extent and impacts of sexual violence and abuse in the community. Nadine is an adjunct Research Fellow with the Griffith Criminology Institute and Honorary Research Fellow with the Centre for Advances in Behavioural Sciences, Coventry University. She is an Associate Editor for the Journal of Sexual Aggression: An international, interdisciplinary forum for research, theory and practice.

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