The Summit on Community Resilience, Intervention, Prevention, and Training (SCRIPT) conference took place between July 16th and 17th 2015 at the California Endowment Center (Los Angeles, CA). The purpose of SCRIPT was to raise community awareness regarding male survivors of violence and abuse by presenting a variety of topics, including sexual abuse, domestic violence, community crisis interventions, hostage negotiation, bullying, survivor advocacy, and several others.
I attended several interesting presentations at the SCRIPT conference that enhanced my understanding of forensic psychology in general, as well as the understanding of sex offenders and potential strategies to increase their chances of successful treatment. The presentation Child Abuse v. Child Value covered the history of child abuse and the cost of raising children who are affected by the consequences of experiencing traumatic events. Several victims of abuse talked about their traumatic experiences as children and how those events still affect their functions as adults. Another interesting presentation at the conference was the Treatment of Domestic Violence Perpetrators, which clarified the psychological and situational factors that contribute to domestic violence, as well as the most effective treatment models. The presentations at SCRIPT covered mostly domestic violence, so the topic of sexual abuse was also covered both directly and indirectly.
Child Abuse v. Child Value introduced several cases of childhood abuse, including sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and witnessing traumatic events. The presentation started with the history of child abuse and how much it costs the parents to raise the children affected by abuse. The speakers conducted a phone conference with a single father who is raising a boy who was abused by his mother and developed the shaken baby syndrome, which is also referred to as abusive head trauma. Babies develop this condition just after a few seconds of shaking, which leads to brain injuries. If the injuries do not result in death, they will often result in lifetime disabilities, such as blindness, seizures, cerebral palsy, developmental problems, behavioral issues, or mental deficits.
Three adult males also reported their experiences with childhood abuse and its effects on their adult lives. One African American male reported how being sexually abused by his step-father still affects his functions as an adult. An Asian male talked about emotional abuse in a family where he was neglected and where his achievements were never respected. A Hispanic male talked about witnessing fights between his parents, so he still fears lightening because it brings him back to those moments.
The effects of childhood abuse on sex offending have been demonstrated. According to Widom and Massey (2015), all types of childhood abuse increase the risk for sex crime arrests compared to individuals who did not experience childhood abuse. Although the people whose cases were presented at the conference did not turn out to be sex offenders, they provided important insight into the emotions and thoughts they experience as a result of abuse. This is important for psychologists because there is a high probability that sex offenders have a background of childhood abuse. Therefore, identifying the consequences of abuse demonstrated during this presentation and addressing them during treatment could resolve the underlying causes of criminal behavior in sex offenders and enhance their treatment success rates.
The SCRIPT conference was aimed at discussing issues pertinent to male survivors of abuse, so the presentation Treatment of Domestic Violence Perpetrators was interesting because it covered domestic violence as a problem experienced by both genders. A common stereotype is that males are the perpetrators in intimate partner violence, but females are also common perpetrators and they show similar psychological and personal background issues as males that cause them to become perpetrators. The biggest barrier to treating domestic violence is the fact that they are a heterogeneous group, meaning that the offenders can have multiple issues that need to be resolved. For example, female perpetrators are more likely to abuse partners because of personality or mood disorders whereas men are more likely to abuse partners based on a history of conduct disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or substance use (Henning, Jones, & Holdford, 2003) . Therefore, the speaker brought up the point that treatment in domestic violence offenders needs to target the underlying cause of violent behavior.
Domestic violence can take several forms, which include physical, emotional, economic, sexual, and verbal abuse. Understanding the causes of domestic violence in general aids the understanding of domestic sexual abuse, which is only one possible manifestation of intimate partner violence that can arise because of several underlying psychological issues. As the presentation noted, domestic perpetrators are not a homogeneous group, so it is important to adjust treatment models based on the individual needs of each offender. For example, suicidal offenders would benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy whereas emotionally dependent or obsessed batterers were found to improve with schema-focused therapy (Juodis, Starzomski, Porter, & Woodworth, 2014). There is no unique treatment model that works for all sex offenders because each offender has different motives that need to be addressed with individualized therapy.
The SWAT: Crisis Negotiation covered hostage negotiation as one of the procedures in which law enforcement officers and forensic psychologists collaborate to deescalate potentially violent situations. The presentation lasted two days. On the first day, the speaker covered the structure of the units involved in hostage negotiation. SWAT is only one team that acts in case lethal force is required whereas other teams include crisis negotiation teams (CNTs), the mental evaluation unit (MEU), and the behavioral science services section (BSS). On the second day, the speaker used a case study in which negotiation failed, so the audience learned about the tactics used by the SWAT team when lethal force is required to protect the hostages.
Hostage negotiation is an interesting field in forensic psychology, but the connection between hostage negotiation and sexual abuse perpetrators is not common considering that sexual abuse is often not timely reported. However, several strategies used by negotiators need to be used by psychologists working with sex offenders. The most challenging aspect of working in crisis situations is that instant decision-making is required when too many situational factors can affect outcomes. For example, using the hooking strategy to empathize with the perpetrators and elicit strong emotional reactions that lead to cooperation and de-escalation (Nicoletti et al., 2011). The effects of this strategy are entirely dependent on the mental health of the offender. Building rapport and empathizing is a valid strategy for calming down perpetrators that have schizophrenia, but paranoid or psychopathic perpetrators usually require a logical and unemotional approach as empathizing usually leads to violent escalations (Miller, 2005).
Using hostage negotiation decision-making processes in determining which strategy to treat sex offenders can prove useful because patient backgrounds determine how they will respond to the therapist’s communication attempts. For example, psychopathic sex offenders cannot be treated using rapport-building techniques, but teaching them to use perception checks and replace antisocial behaviors with prosocial behaviors proved effective in reducing recidivism rates (Juodis, Starzomski, Porter, & Woodworth, 2014). The therapist must understand how sex offenders with different diagnoses will respond to different communication strategies just like hostage negotiators need to know how the perpetrators mental health and situational factors will affect their behavior.
Effective Management with Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse was a memorable presentation because it discussed the unique challenges males are confronted with after becoming victims of sexual abuse. The presentation emphasized the three emotional outcomes of sexual abuse in males (i.e., guilt, fear, and shame), but several other emotional/psychological sequelae of sexual abuse have been identified, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, PTSD, multiple personality disorder, and rage (Bohn & Holz, 1996). Furthermore, emotional/psychological difficulties are only one category of possible sequelae of sexual abuse, but even though the presentation did not go in detail regarding all the possible sequelae.
The presentation also covered harmful messages heard by male victims of sexual abuse. The most common one is doubt because society believes that sexual abuse does not happen to men or that men should enjoy sex if the perpetrator is a woman. Other reactions usually include anger and apathy, which enhance the feelings of guilt, shame, and fear experienced by male survivors of sexual abuse. The initial reaction is the most important determinant for the victims’ continuing communication with law enforcement personnel and therapists. To remedy the issue of social stigma surrounding male rape, the audience engaged in the basics of Compassionate Listening, which could improve sexual abuse disclosure rates and perhaps contribute to the rehabilitation of many male sex abuse victims.
The presentation on managing male survivors does not deal with treating sexual perpetrators directly, but it does remind forensic psychologists and psychologists in general that addressing the consequences of sexual victimization is as important as rehabilitating the offenders. The victims of sexual abuse deserve equal treatment with respect and dignity as any other person, so it is critical to eliminate social stigma surrounding male sexual abuse. If shame and guilt are not associated with sex abuse events by male victims, it will be possible to apprehend and treat sex offenders in a timely manner.
Bohn, D. K., & Holz, K. A. (1996). Sequelae of abuse: Health effects of childhood sexual abuse, domestic battering, and rape. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 41(6), 442-456.
Henning, K., Jones, A., & Holdford, R. (2003). Treatment needs of women arrested for domestic violence a comparison with male offenders. Journal of interpersonal violence, 18(8), 839-856.
Juodis, M., Starzomski, A., Porter, S., & Woodworth, M. (2014). What can be done about high-risk perpetrators of domestic violence? Journal of Family Violence, 29(4), 381-390.
Miller, L. (2005). Hostage negotiation: Psychological principles and practices. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 7(4), 277-298.
Nicoletti, J., Allen, S. W., Baum, K. M., Deisinger, M. G., Garrido, S., Gelles, M. G., & Kirschman, E. (2011). Police psychologists as consultants. The Police Chief, 78(August 2011), 54-62.
Widom, C. S., & Massey, C. (2015). A prospective examination of whether childhood sexual abuse predicts subsequent sexual offending. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(1), e143357-e143357.