Specialized ProfessionWe are three experts on individuals who cause sexual harm and the prevention of sexual abuse; ask us anything about sexual abuse and sexual violence.

Dec 13th 2017 by MaiaATSA • 5 Questions • 52 Points

EDIT: Thank you everyone for the great questions! We will stop now at 5:00 PM Eastern. Please visit & for more information regarding sexual abuse perpetration and prevention. Check out our twitter accounts to follow us for updates:

@MakeSocietySafe Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers

@NSVRC National Sexual Violence Resource Center

@MCSeto Michael Seto

Recently, we have witnessed unprecedented media coverage and public attention regarding sexual abuse. As high-profile accounts of abuse and harassment have been highly publicized, it can feel overwhelming and confusing and raise questions regarding what we can do to prevent the perpetration of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse affects everyone in our society and the three of us are here today to answer questions you may have regarding those who cause sexual harm, survivors of sexual abuse, sexual abuse prevention, sex offender treatment and/or management and resources for survivors of sexual abuse. Ask us anything about sexual abuse.

Maia Christopher, /u/MaiaATSA is the Executive Director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA). Focusing on preventing sexual abuse through understanding and interrupting the behaviors of people at risk of offending ATSA specializes in disseminating research, defining and supporting effective treatment practices and promoting evidence based policies.

Karen Baker, LMSW, /u/KarenNSVRC has been the Director of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) for the past 17 years. She is a Member of the Board of Directors for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) and Co-Chair of the ATSA Prevention Committee. Ask me anything about sexual violence, needs of survivors, victim advocacy, the role of bystanders, prevention strategies and resources related to sexual violence. Follow NSVRC on Twitter @NSVRC.

Michael Seto, /u/MCSeto is a clinical & forensic psychologist & researcher who has focused on the areas of pedophilia, paraphilias, sexual offending against children, and online offending. He has presented and published extensively on these topics and has written well reviewed solo books on pedophilia & sexual offending against children (2008) and online sexual offending (2013). Follow him on Twitter, @MCSeto.

Proof: EDIT: More Proof:


Another example: early, sensitive, developmentally appropriate childhood sex education is possibly an important path for sexual abuse prevention. Huge differences in acceptance of sex ed, what is covered, how it's covered, and whether or not sexual abuse is discussed at all (or well).

  1. Hopefully, the current political climates will emphasize the importance of being able to openly discuss healthy sexuality, consent and sexual assault in numerous venues such as schools and youth serving organizations or sports organizations for both boys and girls. Further, I think that the current conversations do much to help people who have been harmed to decrease their isolation further creating a climate that will allow for the creation of policies that make it easier for individuals who have been harmed to disclose abuse and receive services as well as allow for research to determine the effectiveness of current policies that are in place to help individuals at risk of (re)offending to successfully remain offense free.

  2. For many individuals, policies that directly impact how we work with individuals who have sexually offended and the strategies that we use to prevent sexual offending or reoffending have not been of high importance and strategies focused on harsh and length prison sentences have been of society's priority. Current events in the United States have really had the impact of focusing people's attention on sexual behavior or people within our immediate circles (colleagues, bosses, mentors etc.). Hopefully this realization will motivate many community members and organizations to discuss alternative strategies for prevention of sexual abuse with political leaders before tragedy's strike. There are successful prevention techniques, the community can influence and motivate the political will to put them into action.


Survivor and professional here. I had a lot of especially cruel treatment growing up until the age of 23. I was subjected to various types of bondage, mutilation, etc. by an underground organized group led by a family member. I have three questions related to this. 1. Some close to me have suggested I divulge the extent of the trauma to my mother. Her and her husband have a “you should get over it” mindset but only know that some sexual trauma occurred with no knowledge of the tactics they used or how long it went on or that there were multiple perpetrators. I don’t disclose this because it seems like it’d only cause her more guilt over something she can do nothing about. Do you have input on the potential utility of this disclosure?

  1. I treat individuals some of which have endured suffering with a more cruel twist more like my own. Do you fin it helpful to seek out information about the types of people who perpetrate this type of abuse for healing purposes? Or do you feel the cost may outweigh the benefits? I’ve never offered resources about sadistic abuse to clients for fear they may think it rationalizes that behavior and somehow minimizes their suffering but I do want to keep an open mind that it could be helpful. Thoughts? If you know of resources, mind sharing?

  2. I have worked on my trauma for some time and feel that’s my responsibility to do the work I do. That being said, I still harbor this belief that when my main perpetrator dies, I will too. It feels silly to share this but it’s like he has some kind of invisible umbilical cord that gives me life and will cease to when he dies either due to some cosmic force that’ll strike me down or suicide because that’s what he programmed me to do. Fortunately, I haven’t had clients who struggle with this but I’m wondering is this something you’ve heard of before? This level of emotional enmeshment? An old therapist said it’s called captivity syndrome and that it’s one step beyond stockholhm syndrome in that I can’t distinguish where he ends and I begin but it just makes me feel pretty crazy despite otherwise functioning exceptionally well personally and professionally. I can’t find much of anything to substantiate the fact that this happens other than my own subjective experience. If you have heard of this or know of resources about it, I’d appreciate it more than words.

Thank you so much for doing this AMA.


I can respond to part of your question: In my experience, individuals who have been victimized and want information regarding people who offend do so for various reasons; for example, it can help clarify the the person who offended did so for their own reasons and not because of the survivor's behavior and that can help people heal. That being said, I think it is important that those decisions are made based on the individual client's needs, are driven by the client's wishes and boundaries, and that the therapist and client have clear goals as to what the desired outcome of reviewing that information would be. I am sorry, I don't know of any resources off hand that might be helpful.


For those who don't know, the Dunkelfeld Prevention Project was started in Berlin and is now available at multiple sites in Germany. Its goal is to offer assessment and treatment services for people who self-identify as attracted to children.

I think the model could be adapted to work in the UK and US and elsewhere, if the social and political climate could support it. That would include funding (Dunkelfeld was initially funded by philanthropy and is now funded by the German government), addressing the stigma about pedophilia and hebephilia so people would be more willing to self-identify, and addressing concerns that mandatory reporting would prevent people from getting treatment.

I think online interventions are going to be really important because of scale. Dunkelfeld is an intriguing and really innovative approach but it's expensive to offer in-person services, and it's definitely not reaching everyone it could help.

Online interventions are probably not as effective but they can be offered at relatively low cost, reach lots of people, and offer anonymity.

I mentioned earlier the Troubled Desire online intervention that is being piloted by people involved with Dunkelfeld.


I think primary prevention will need to happen on several levels, teaching positive and healthy and age appropriate sexual boundaries and behaviors and different stages across the lifespan, ensuring organizational policies (such as hospitals, care facilities, nursing homes) are in place in our public institutions that help prevent sexual abuse from happening as well as policies that help shift cultural attitudes and beliefs that may support sexual abuse.

I think it would also be helpful to provide treatment services to individuals who have concerns about their own or other peoples behavior outside of the criminal justice system. Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Center for Public Health is working on a project called "Help Wanted" to develop prevention strategies that focus on juveniles with sexual interest in children, more strategies like these would be very helpful.


I think honest and frank communication is helpful. Make sure that you both know how to set boundaries or negotiate activities that you would both enjoy. Show respect, make sure you get consent. The one who is pushier may need to slow down and check in more. The one who is less pushy may need to speak up more.


Communicating clearly can often take practice and depends on many different things such as context (i.e. a person may agree to something once and not agree on another occasion). Often it takes more than one conversation to help communication get better. Taking the time to have conversations when no one feels pressured to act can be helpful, as well as having ongoing conversations about each others likes and dislikes. Of course always be respectful (i.e. don't do something) if your significant other is uncomfortable and/or doesn't consent to a behavior. There are also therapists who work with people to strengthen their communication practices that may be helpful for some people.


May or may not be illegal but probably not a good idea.


That would probably depend on numerous factors such as where you are (laws are different in countries, states, provinces etc.) and who is on the other side of the door (a ten year old vs. an adult). Checking with an attorney in your jurisdiction would provide you with more specific information.