With a sexual assault happening every 98 seconds in the US, (equalling 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men having been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault) it's not a question of IF justice professionals will need to engage with a sexual assault victim — but WHEN. But how can law enforcement and prosecutors engage with victims without re-traumatizing them, and still gather the evidence needed to bring the perpetrator to justice?
This process first starts with understanding.
- Demographical information on sexual assault perpetrators based on current data, including age, race, and gender.
- The most common sexual coercion tactics used by perpetrators.
- At least three psychological motivations for sex offending.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Tasha, you’re a new presenter to the Justice Clearinghouse community. Tell us a bit about yourself and your expertise.
Dr. Tasha Menaker: I am very passionate about justice and victimology, and bridging the gap between researchers and practitioners in order to create safer communities. In terms of my educational background, I have an MA in Clinical Psychology and a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice, and have conducted research on sexual and domestic violence for over ten years. A particularly valuable research experience for me was assisting with a National Institute of Justice funded project to assess untested sexual assault kits in Houston, Texas. I interviewed sex crimes detectives to understand the use of forensic evidence in adult and juvenile sexual assault cases and develop strategies to enhance investigations. I also conducted psychological assessments with diverse populations for approximately five years, including people who had committed sexual harm, formerly incarcerated individuals, survivors of violence, and people with disabilities, among others. I am currently the Chief Strategy Officer with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. Until recently, I was the Director of Sexual Violence Response Initiatives at the Coalition, and was responsible for providing training and technical assistance about best practices to sexual assault responders and service providers statewide, as well as assisting with the development of sexual assault response teams and forensic nursing programs.
Sexual offenders cannot be easily put into categories or typologies.
JCH: What do you think are the most common misconceptions about sexual assault perpetration – particularly that justice professionals might have?
Dr. Menaker: Some common misperceptions I have heard from justice practitioners, particularly those who do not work with sexual offenders directly, is that recidivism rates for sexual perpetrators are extremely high, that women do not commit sexual harm, that public sex offender registries reduce reoffending, and that sex offender treatment is ineffective. Sexual perpetration is an extremely complex issue, so I will be addressing and examining each of these misperceptions in the webinars, and providing participants with more accurate information based on the best available research.
JCH: What are the most important things for justice professionals to keep in mind when dealing with the perpetrators of sexual assault?
Dr. Menaker: An important thing for justice practitioners to keep in mind when working with people who commit sexual harm is that sexual perpetrators are extremely diverse. Sexual offenders cannot be easily put into categories or typologies. While we may see common trends among sexual perpetrators, such as cognitive distortions about their offending behavior or a lack of empathy for their victims, we don’t have data to support clear “profiles” of offenders that would allow us to develop response strategies tailored to certain offender types. What this means is that a one-size-fits-all approach to sex offending will not be effective for reducing perpetration or enhancing community safety. While it is critical that sexual perpetrators be accountable for their behavior, it is important that we do not dehumanize people who have committed sexual harm. Keeping in mind that most sexual perpetrators will reenter our communities, we have to consider the adverse effects of dehumanization on a person’s wellbeing and motivation to change. So, while it may be difficult at times, I would encourage responders to keep an open mind, learn about offenders’ histories and experiences of trauma, and move forward with a lens of both accountability and humanity.
It takes incredible courage and strength
for survivors of sexual and domestic violence to disclose their experiences,
engage in the healing process, and thrive as whole human beings.
JCH: You work in such a challenging part of the justice arena, how do you stay motivated and inspired to keep doing what you do?
Dr. Menaker: Survivors, responders, and community members keep me motivated and inspired every day. It takes incredible courage and strength for survivors of sexual and domestic violence to disclose their experiences, engage in the healing process, and thrive as whole human beings. Also, in my current role, I’m primarily responsible for providing training and consultation to responders and service providers. It is those individuals—victim advocates, healthcare providers, law enforcement—who are working with victims and perpetrators every day, hearing their stories and being with victims in what may be the worst moments of their lives. That is incredibly powerful. With that in mind, I feel a deep responsibility to do the best I can in my current role, and with the power and privilege I have, to engage in systems-level advocacy and promote awareness and education in the service of building safer communities.
Click Here to Watch "Understanding Sexual Assault Perpetration: Dynamics, Tactics and the Psychology of Sex Offenders."