In Puritan America, a married woman’s illicit affair with a minister landed her in jail. After her release, Hester Prynne was sentenced to forever wear a big red “A” on her dress. 

Nearly 375 years later, the U.S. continues to be scandalized, tantalized and perplexed by sex, especially about sex offenders. Tough on crime, we’re still struggling to learn: 

  • Why domestic violence and incest are so under-reported by victims? 
  • Why most people think every sexual offender is a serial rapist? 
  • Why, even among therapists, many continue to believe sex-offenders to be untreatable? 
  • Why supervision after offenders’ release tends to-wards punitive rather than restorative? 

It’s time to bring the subject of sex crime out of the dark ages, time to help victims shed the shame and trauma of their experience. It’s also time to allow offenders an opportunity to show they can change, make amends and start to earn back trust and acceptance from society.

ATSA Issues Positive Book Review

ATSA Issues Positive Book Review

David Prescott is an internationally known speaker, author and consultant on the subject of sex offending. He is past president of the Association for Treatment of Sexual Abusers and continues to review books for them in their ATSA Forum

Review by David Prescott

SO: The New Scarlet Letters: Sex Offender, Their Treatment and Our Challenge

By Marilyn Callahan & Tim Buckley

2018, Glass Spider Publishing

ISBN 9781984208262

269 pages


Did you ever have someone tell you that, given your experiences, you should write a book? Marilyn Callahan did. Ms. Callahan is a veteran practitioner (60 years, according to her web site, residing in Oregon. This book outlines her thoughts and approaches as a result of her experience. It is intended to provide inspiration and hope for those who have abused, knowledge and courage for neighbors and families, understanding and empowerment for persons who have been victimized, and ideas about fair and effective practices for lawmakers.

The book is essentially self-published, which always carries a certain amount of risk. For the reader, it will not fit into the usual categories of handbook, practical guide, or curriculum. Ms. Callahan does not set out to say “this is what I do and how you should do it” but instead has constructed the book to move from subject to subject. The table of contents includes a foreword by Paul De Muniz, a former Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, and chapters on myths about people who abuse and the spectrum of sex crimes. Subsequent chapters focus on men and women who abuse, clients with mental health and/or developmental challenges, treatment in prison, release and supervision, restorative justice, and a summary. There are case examples throughout, which many readers will find helpful; examples such as these are not always common in texts in our field.

The book is well-written and organized; it is clear that considerable work went into its preparation. It reads as though one is listening to the author speaking to a large group of people, including professionals and the lay public alike. The author’s work has all the hallmarks and word choices of someone who has been in the field for a long time. References to the work of Yochelson and Samenow on thinking errors form much of the basis, alongside cognitive-behavioral approaches. Callahan also relies heavily on Marsha Linehan’s work with Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She quotes authors and pioneers such as Barbara Schwartz, and mentions “newer” approaches such as the Good Lives Model. Callahan has clearly worked to refine her knowledge base over the years. Interestingly, she also describes a number of approaches that she considers to be potentially promising, including EMDR and the use of MDMA (which has indeed attracted some interest in recent years, although not within the field of treating persons who have abused).  

The downside of the book’s structure is that not every statement is necessarily sourced or cited. For example, the lists of risk factors for men and women include denial, victim empathy, and other features that have not received empirical support. The lists of thinking errors do not differentiate those thoughts and attitudes that serve as permission-giving self-statements from the defensive statements made by clients after the fact. There is no reference to the principles of risk, need, and responsivity and no reference to the controversies that surround polygraph examinations. Finally, it is focused in the area of treatment and community safety; there is no meaningful focus on assessment.  To be fair, it was never the intention of this project to cover each of these areas in accordance with the most recent research; however, potential readers will want to be aware of these aspects.

Just the same, Callahan’s account will resonate with many long-time professionals. It certainly serves as a time capsule of the approaches taken by lifelong professionals; many of us can remember when there was almost no science in this area to rely upon at all.

Perhaps the most appealing element of the book is its price. It’s available from Amazon for under $15.00 USD, and about $4 USD for the Kindle version. This makes it highly convenient for professionals who want to take a close look at how others have gone about their work.

Personally, I’ve long appreciated this kind of project and have recently been involved (outside of our field) in publishing the work of a practitioner in Norway. It is a helpful opportunity to see how an experienced professional comes to view and reflect upon their life’s work. Callahan’s attitude and approach will appeal to many.

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