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New research and practice in preventing youth violence
27 April 2010
In an Australian first, national and international experts met in Brisbane in April to discuss the latest research in the emotionally challenging field of youth sexual violence and abuse.
The Symposium on Preventing Youth Sexual Violence and Abuse brought together researchers, government policy advisers, judiciary and legal professionals, police, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists to share the latest developments in understanding, treatment and prevention.
Australian expert and Griffith University criminologist, Professor Stephen Smallbone explained, "This is a situation where young people are at risk both as victims and offenders. In Queensland alone, one in five sexual offences reported to police involve youth under 18 as the identified offender".
While typical public policy responses are preoccupied with trying to "fix the problem" after it has already occurred, for example by punishing and incapacitating the offender and ameliorating the impact on the victim, Australian experts and leading international researchers, Elizabeth Letourneau (Medical University of South Carolina); Patrick Lussier (Simon Fraser University); and Michael Miner (University of Minnesota), focused solidly on prevention.
The Brisbane Symposium was particularly timely as Queensland amends its legislation to widen the capacity of courts to ‘name and shame’ young people convicted of violent offences. Speaking in the media recently (The Courier Mail, 6 April 2010), Professor Smallbone explained how international experience introduces a note of caution into Australian policy developments, particularly Professor Letourneau’s research on the effects of US youth sexual offender registration and community notification laws.
"Her research shows that these laws do not reduce the overall rate of youth sexual violence nor deter sexual or violent recidivism. Instead US registration and notification laws tend to produce the unintended effects of increasing the rate of plea bargaining… reducing the rate of successful prosecutions for sexual offences and increasing the rate of arrests of registered youth for minor offences".
As Director of the Griffith Youth Forensic Service (GYFS), Professor Stephen Smallbone leads a team of practitioners and researchers to deliver an innovative practice model for assessment and intervention with young people who have committed sexual offences. GYFS clinical staff travel throughout Queensland, including to regional and remote locations, to conduct comprehensive assessments, prepare pre-sentence psychological assessment reports for the courts, and to deliver specialised and individualised treatment interventions in collaboration with local community partners.
GYFS is a working model that demonstrates the close connection between research, policy and practice and exemplifies how research serves to shape policy and practice.
"Sexual abuse tends to elicit strong emotions and moral outrage, but good evidence and a clear head are needed if we are to reduce its occurrence. We need to respond effectively when sexual abuse happens, but we also need to be thinking about how we can prevent it from happening in the first place", Professor Smallbone said. "Simplistic, black-and-white solutions such as indiscriminate naming and shaming or introducing ever more severe punishments may appeal to some sections of an outraged public, but they are a weak and ineffectual substitute for evidence-based, prevention-centred policy."
The symposium was organised by the Griffith Youth Forensic Service (GYFS) and the Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, part of The Griffith Institute for Social and Behavioural Research.
Jenny Wilson is Strategic Development Manage at, The Griffith Institute for Social and Behavioural Research, Griffith University.
- Article quotes from: Naming violent young criminals offers little benefit; by Stephen Smallbone. The Courier Mail, 6 April 2010. Accessed at:
- Griffith Youth Forensic Service is a research program hosted by The Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, one of eight research centres that comprise The Griffith Institute for Social and Behavioural Research.
- GYFS is widely recognised by the courts, police, youth justice and child safety, and has been formally recognised with an Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Award (2003), a Queensland Child Protection Award (2003), a Ministers Award for Excellence in Culturally Inclusive Practice (2006), and a Ministers Award for Excellence in Collaborative Practice (2007).
27 April 2010
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