Take 10 with... Gwenda Willis

Associate Professor Gwenda Willis, from the School of Psychology, gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss her research about how to work effectively with people who have sexually offended, to prevent reoffending.

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Strengths-based approaches to sexual offending assessment and treatment.

2.  Now explain it in everyday terms!

I study how we (especially psychologists and other helping professionals in criminal justice settings) can work effectively with people who have sexually offended, and prevent reoffending.

3.  Describe some of your day-to-day research activities.

At the moment I am working on refining a clinician-administered actuarial tool I developed with collaborators that assesses “protective factors” (individual, social and environmental factors that protect an individual from reoffending). I have recently set up a series of validation studies to test the predictive accuracy of this tool, including retrospective studies (coding case files) and prospective studies (including training Corrections psychologists in how to score the tool so they can contribute data to our validation research).

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

Seeing the response from Corrections psychologists when I run training sessions/workshops – they can see the need for what we’re doing and the real world implications.

5.  Tell us something that has surprised you in the course of your research.

Not so much surprised me as annoyed me – but just how political and adversarial the criminal justice system can be. Both for people who have perpetrated abuse, and for people who have survived sexual abuse.

6.  How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

With perseverance, consulting with collaborators, running and red wine! And more seriously – building relationships with key stakeholders.

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

Lots! Like conceptualising and coding the mechanisms underlying protective factors, and whether the same protective factors/mechanisms apply to people at risk to offend who haven’t offended (e.g., people who self-identify as paedophilic).

8.  What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

The ultimate aim behind my research is preventing sexual abuse. Helping people turn their lives around, learn something and not harm another human being ever again!

9.  If you collaborate across the faculty or University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

My collaborators are mostly North American-based.

10.  What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Anticipate many setbacks and rejections (grants and research applications), keep persevering.