Building bridges

By Brenda . . . The annual international conference for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) was held this year in Vancouver, British Columbia. This is a very large conference – over a thousand people there. NARSOL decided to staff a booth at the event for the first time, and I was joined by Cindy Prizio from Connecticut. The first day (Wednesday) was taken up by intensive half- or full-day workshops attended by several hundred people and spanning two hotels. The dual hotel situation continued on Thursday and Friday, with nearly a dozen workshops during each session. There was one keynote presentation each morning on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday there were no workshops: just two big-name keynotes. Many, many people stayed to hear them.

On the first evening, Cindy and I attended a special working group session for ATSA participants who are interested in direct community action. There was not much time to mingle, but during round-robin introductions we had a chance to encourage those in attendance to find ways to put their research efforts to direct use in efforts to affect public policy.

For such a large conference, there were surprisingly few booths. This might in part be due to the fairly steep cost of renting one. Our booth was along one side of a wide “hall” along with booths for a residential facility, a risk assessment facility, and a patient care software vendor. At the far end of the hall was a bookseller – definitely the most popular exhibit! Across from us were booths for the SMART office and the BC department of corrections. The SMART office (that’s the US office for Sex Offender Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking) was by far the least popular. We were surprised to see them at a conference for treatment providers, actually. But there certainly were quite a few attendees who worked for their state/territory SO management programs.

On Wednesday and the first part of Thursday, food tables were out in our hall area, too. Between that and the bookseller, that made for excellent foot traffic. Thursday afternoon and Friday, the food moved out into a general area and traffic dropped off. But people continued to stop by as they came and went to the bookseller.

Cindy and I focused on encouraging people to attend our June conference, and collected business cards (and pseudo business cards) to give away a couple of free conference passes. Altogether, we collected 40 names with contact info. For such a large group, this seems smallish, but even with the traffic going to the bookseller, I think a lot of people just didn’t make it to the vendor area. And of course, not everyone left a card.

Walk-up response was very, very positive. I can’t tell you how many times somebody walked up and asked, “So what’s rational about sexual offense laws?” My stock response became, “When they are fact-based instead of myth-based,” which people really liked. We described what NARSOL does, discussed bad laws and horror stories (usually our visitors had one or two of their own involving a client), and we encouraged everyone to find a way to get involved.

What garnered the most interest, I think, was the Fearless material we had. People loved the fact that Fearless groups are “peer-led” and follow a familiar structure, but there are no state employees allowed, which provides total confidentiality. Both pieces I was handing out had contact info for our website, so we shall see if that bears any fruit.

We have sent everyone who left us their information a follow-up email thanking them for stopping by, letting them know they’ve been added to our email list, and encouraging them to stay connected and watch for our conference announcements. All in all, I think the effort was positive and I hope we will start building some bridges.

The ATSA 2019 conference will be in Atlanta.


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