Tackling Child Sexual Abuse (2/5): The Internet
Psychotherapist Juliet Grayson works at the root of sexual offending. Her client base includes those people who are at risk of committing a sexual crime, as well as those who have already done so. She is passionate about encouraging more therapists to work with this client group, in order to ‘Stop the First Offence’ rather than wait until a crime has been committed. In the second of five blogs about her work, she discusses the use of the internet in offending.
With the internet has come an explosion in online offending which takes various forms, from viewing of child pornography to engaging the child in conversations. The latter falls into two categories. Fantasy driven individuals aim to achieve climax from online activity, and may exchange imagery. Some will entice the child to perform sexual acts and watch on a webcam. Contact driven individuals groom with the intention of an offline sexual encounter. There can, however, be overlap between these. For example, the fantasy of the meeting is enriched by making arrangements. Whilst many will go ahead once an encounter is arranged, some will set up these meetings with no intention to proceed.
Viewing indecent images
The viewing of indecent images of children (IIOC) is by far the most common reason that people get in touch with StopSO UK for help (42 per cent). Detection of this is leading to over a thousand ‘knocks’ on the door each month. Some of these ‘viewers’ are looking for child abuse images. They may have resorted to this after many years of suppressing their attraction to minors or struggling to control their paedophilic orientation. Others primarily have an addiction to adult pornography. However, as the dopamine declines, boundaries are pushed, and they take more risks to achieve their high. They may access violent images, spend excessive time online, and finally the line is crossed into illegal imagery of children.
Many of these perpetrators will deny that they are attracted to children. Some do not seem to register that a child has been harmed in the making of these photographs or films. It is only when their behaviour is discovered that they seek help. The good news is that this group can be helped. Interpersonal deficits and depression have been found to be a feature in these offenders (Magaletta et al 2014). Some who contact us will already have come to the attention of the police and may be awaiting the outcome of an investigation or, having been charged, a court appearance.
Recidivism rates for sex offenders are generally lower (at around 14 per cent) than for other criminal behaviours. Following a conviction for viewing of IIOC, the rate for a contact offence over a one-and-a-half to six-year period has been reported as two per cent (Seto et al, 2011). A few (three to four per cent) may slip back to their addictive online behaviour. The risk of further offences is increased if there has been a prior contact offence(s), other violent non-sexual offences, or substance misuse.
The UK hosts very few of these websites. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is dedicated to taking down sites found by them or reported to them. In 2018, only 0.04 per cent of URLs were hosted in the UK. Worldwide, the largest proportion (47 per cent) were hosted in the Netherlands. The IWF has seen an increasing trend for self-generated material from home-based webcams. In the second half of 2018, these constituted just over a quarter of the webpages they took action over; 94 per cent were assessed as involving children, predominantly female, under the age of 13 years. Some of these are the result of chat or coercion from other children.
In my next blog, I will consider the child offender.