Online child sexual offending: psychological characteristics of offenders and the process of exploitation
Bale, Hazell Louise
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Background and Objectives: The rise in cases of online child sexual exploitation has become a global problem. Understanding both the psychological profiles of this offender group and the strategies employed during the process of exploitation, is crucial for aiding prevention and detection of these crimes as well as informing treatment and educational programmes. Thus, there were two main aims of the thesis. Firstly, a systematic review was conducted to investigate the psychological characteristics of online child sexual offenders (OCSO). Secondly, research was carried out to examine the utility of a pre-existing process model of grooming in the online sexual exploitation of children (O'Connell, 2003). Methodology: A systematic search of papers published between 2006 and 2016 was carried out. Those eligible for inclusion measured psychological characteristics using psychometric tools. A quality checklist was designed to appraise the methodological robustness of each paper. For the research study, qualitative content analysis of 63 online chat logs between offenders and children was undertaken. Logs were initially coded for correspondence to stages and strategies outlined by O'Connell, and additional codes assigned to themed text that did not fit this model. Results: The systematic review revealed fourteen papers for inclusion, and collective strengths and weaknesses were identified. Compared to contact offenders, few differences in psychological characteristics were identified; however tentative evidence suggests that online offenders experience greater interpersonal deficits whilst contact offenders present with more antisocial difficulties. Qualitative content analysis of chat logs revealed partial support for O'Connell's model. Several offender strategies proposed to take place during the sexual stage were evidenced. However, no logs showed evidence of all six stages. Additional offender strategies identified included flattery and minimising their behaviour. Various child strategies were identified, with children refusing all sexual advances in the majority of logs (n=34). Conclusions: Generic sexual offender treatment packages may not best meet the needs of OCSO. An alternative is discussed. Future research should focus on the development of psychometric tools for use with OCSO. Offenders appear heterogeneous in their approach to online sexual exploitation of children. Effective educational programmes must emphasise the speed at which many offenders will introduce sexual content, for whom traditional notions of grooming do not apply.