At RALIANCE, we are always eager to check back in with our grantees, who are making a direct impact on their communities. We recently spoke with Melissa Grady, Chair of Clinical Concentration at the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America. The freestanding school of social work is dedicated to preparing clinical social workers for future practice.
In 2019, Grady and her team earned a RALIANCE grant that helped them conduct and publish a study, “Is sex-offending treatment trauma-informed? Exploring perspectives of clinicians and clients.”
RALIANCE: How do adverse childhood experiences contribute to offending behaviors?
Grady: When we compare people who commit sexual crimes to the general population, they tend to have significant histories of trauma. While we don’t know everything about the connection between that trauma and offending, there is a growing body of literature that talks about experiences with trauma and how those events put people at higher risk for different factors associated with sexual offending.
RALIANCE: Can you tell us about the study you conducted with support from the RALIANCE grant?
Grady: It’s unusual to hear from people who have committed sexual crimes about their experiences of being in treatment focused on these issues and what they think are the critical pieces that connect their past histories of trauma and their subsequent offending.
For this study, we developed two parallel surveys. The first asked clients about their experiences in treatment and whether it is trauma-informed. The second survey was a modified version for clinicians to assess how they’re doing in providing trauma-informed care to the clients they serve. We wanted to see if these perceptions of giving and receiving treatment lined up. We also asked the clients open-ended questions to have them describe their experiences in treatment focused on sexual offending. We received responses from 95 randomized clinicians and 195 randomized clients.
RALIANCE: Can you share some of the specific findings and lessons of the study?
Grady: What we found is that there was a huge discrepancy between what clinicians say they’re doing and how clients experience the treatment. For example, one of the client questions was similar to, “My therapists are supportive to me when I am stressed or overwhelmed.” On a five-point scale, the average response of clients was low – around 1.1 – 1.9. The corresponding question for the clinicians was, “I am supportive when my clients are stressed or overwhelmed.” The therapists ranked themselves closer to a 3.9. We saw this discrepancy throughout.
Some of the responses to the open-ended questions were particularly meaningful. For example, a client said, “Most therapists treated past traumas as a factor, but the majority of focus was on the fact that there being no excuse for my behavior, and discussions about traumas were often cut short in favor of confronting offenders on inexcusable behavior.”
RALIANCE: What was the end goal that you were hoping to achieve?
Grady: Researchers and clinicians do a lot of hypothesizing because that’s what we do.
We know that there are different ways that trauma impacts the brain, social skills, and cognitive processes, but we didn’t have offenders’ voices as part of that discussion. My research team really wanted to make sure that we were learning from the people who have actually done harm to understand why they think this could happen and how we provide services that are trauma-informed. We believe there should be services that address their own experiences of trauma, as well as the trauma they have inflicted on other people.
We are so thankful for RALIANCE’s support. These funds are incredibly important for helping researchers to better understand the causes of sexual violence, so we can develop more effective prevention and intervention strategies to reduce sexual violence in our society.
If you would like to read more, Melissa Grady and her team published two papers:
Grady, M. D., Levenson, J., Glover, J., Kavanagh, S., & Carter, K. (2022). “Hurt people hurt people”: The link between past trauma and sexual offending. Sexual Offending: Treatment, Research, and Prevention, 17, 1-28.
Grady, M. D., Levenson, J., Glover, J., & Kavanaugh, S. (2022). Is sex-offending treatment trauma-informed? Exploring perspectives of clinicians and clients. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 28(1), 60-75. https://doi.org/10.1080/13552600.2021.1942572 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13552600.2021.1942572
RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.
The RALIANCE Grant Program has supported more than 75 sexual violence prevention projects with a total of $3.2 million in grant funding from the National Football League (NFL). The majority of the grant projects funded to date were awarded to programs serving people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, religious minorities, immigrants, young people, and others who often are heavily impacted by sexual violence yet historically overlooked by funders. Learn more at www.raliance.org/grant-program/grants.