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At the Crossroads 2.0: Future directions in sex offender treatment and assessment – Kasia Uzieblo, Minne De Boeck & Kieran McCartan

NL-ATSA (the chapter of ATSA based in the Netherlands and Belgium), the University Forensic Centre (UFC) and the University of Antwerp organized the second edition of the conference ‘At the Crossroads: Future directions in sex offender treatment and assessment’ in Antwerp, Belgium. The second edition took place from the 6th – 7th February in Antwerp, following on from 2 days of pre-conference sessions focused on treatment and risk assessment. The conference was a real mix of research, practice and policy with approximately 250 participants from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Iceland, USA, Canada and the UK. In addition Zuhal Demir, Flemish Minister of Justice and Enforcement, opened the conference and attended the first session on the first day. This article was first published on the NOTA blog (https://sajrt.blogspot.co.uk/), and will take you on a whistle-stop tour of the event.

The conference had 2 pre-conference sessions, which were separate from but connected to, the main conference: Static-Stable-Acute training (Wineke Smid, Minne De Boeck and Kasia Uzieblo); and how to effectively apply Risk-Need-Responsivity principles to treatment (Sandy Jung). The first day of the conference consisted of keynote sessions, which included, Maia Christopher (ATSA) on working with victims’ organisation to co-create effective public policy; Erick Janssen (KULeuven) on the relationship between arousal and emotions on decision making in risky sexual behaviours and/or sexual offences; Georgia Winters (Fairleigh Dickson University) on sexual grooming behaviour; Ross Bartels (University of Lincoln) on the sexual fantasies and their role, or not, in sexual offending; and Nicholas Blagden (Nottingham Trent University) in the importance of the rehabilitative climate and how prison can be a place for therapeutic change. 

On the second day the conference started out with 2 consecutive workshop sessions: There were 5 sessions in total which were repeated twice, enabling the attendees to get the most out of the conference. The workshop sessions were more practice-based and focused on online sexual offences (Hannah Merdian, University of Lincoln), risk communication (Daniel Murrie, University of Virginia), case formulation incorporating risk assessment (Leam Craig, Forensic Psychology Practice, LTD), sibling sexual abuse (Peter Yates, Edinburgh Napier University) and professional self-care (Joanna Clarke, Petros People).
The second half of the second day focused on keynotes from: Klaus Vanhoutte (Payoke) talking about human trafficking, sexual exploitation and how the “lover boy method” could be used to understand this process; Eric Beauregard (Simon Frasier University) on research and practice into serial sexual homicide and what that means for practitioners; Hannah Merdian (University of Lincoln) on desistance from online sexual offending; and, Kieran McCartan (University of the West of England) on how we move on from the crossroads in terms of using evidence in policymaking. 

On the second day, like the first, there were about 10 poster presentations during lunch (21 in total) that highlighted the breadth and depth of research in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and UK on sexual abuse, including, research on BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism), Minor Attracted Persons, Stop it Now!, Circles of Support and Accountability & Circles Europe, and desistance.

The NL-ATSA Conference really highlighted the diversity of sexual abuse and how broad, although interconnected, the field is. The multi-day conference connected all the domains from theory to treatment with each other. Current trends and lesser-known phenomena were also cited: If we don’t understand sex and sexuality in everyday life, how can we tell normal/accepted sexual practices from “deviant”/non-normal ones? How can we understand the way that the public and policymakers’ attitudes to sex and sexual abuse are formed, and therefore how they impact real-world responses to sexual abuse? If we do not know the difference between fantasying and doing, or viewing and doing, how can we prevent first time offending or recidivism? If we do not know how people groom, offend or behave, how can we prevent or respond to sexual abuse? 

We must hear the client as the service user and recognise professional experience and knowledge to frame best practice so that we can build rehabilitative climates that are fit for purpose, help treat people and stop burn out in staff. Therefore, we must recognize that rehabilitation is possible and that desistance can happen. The evidence base in sexual abuse is often varied, but we do know that treatment/interventions are more effective than doing nothing. Do we acknowledge that enough? And how do professionals and researchers convey that to the public and policymakers? 

This Conference highlighted and incorporated all these points. Yes, we are at a crossroads and we have been there for a time, but we need to go forward not backwards. We go forward together, united in a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency approach and by connecting all the different subdomains within our field. The Conference reinforced the importance of international collaboration, conversation, and research.

Professor Kieran McCartan, University of the West of England & Chair of the NOTA Conference Committee

Professor Kasia Uzieblo, Ghent University (Be) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Be) & Senior Researcher, The Forensic Care Specialists (NL)

Minne De Boeck, Criminologist, University Forensic Centre (Be) & Co-ordinator of Stop it Now! Flanders

NOTA Sexual Abuse Blog: https://sajrt.blogspot.co.uk/