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New research explores motives and behaviour of perpetrators of child sexual exploitation

5 May 2020

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published new research into the motives and behaviours of perpetrators of child sexual exploitation who were convicted alongside other perpetrators. 

The report, produced by specialist research agency Tonic, was commissioned to inform interventions that could help stop children being sexually exploited. 

The research is based on interviews with 26 prisoners across England and Wales. Prisoners who took part in the study were aged between 22 and 66 years old and included two women and 24 men. 

The perpetrators were convicted for a range of crimes including rape, sexual assault, taking indecent photographs, trafficking, grooming and faciliating child sex offences. The victims ranged from four months to 15 years old and were both male and female. 

The prisoners who took part in the study can be loosely categorised into three broad groups:

  • Group A: admitted their offence and discussed a historical sexual attraction to children. Participants described living a double life, spent an excessive amount of time online, and felt they did not have anywhere to turn for support before things escalated. 

  • Group B: denied or partially denied their offence, did not admit attraction to children and refused to take part in treatment programmes in prison. They suggested they were vulnerable rather than their victims, and described a hedonistic lifestyle, drinking and partying. 

  • Group C: either denied, partially denied or admitted their offence. They said they had been exploited or groomed by co-defendants, and some claimed they were unaware their actions were illegal.

Dr Sarah Senker, who led the research at Tonic said:

“By speaking directly to prisoners convicted of child sexual exploitation, we have shed new light on what motivates perpetrators, and how their networks operate and function. This is a very sensitive crime, the  research was complex to undertake and the findings are nuanced.”

Dr Verena Braehler, Head of Research at the Inquiry, said:

“The Inquiry commissioned this small scale study to understand how and why people work together to sexually exploit children so that we can make effective recommendations to help stop children being abused in future. The Inquiry is considering the findings with care.”

Chris Tuck, a member of the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel said:

““As a survivor, reading what perpetrators of child sexual abuse had to say made me feel angry, particularly when they'd either minimised or refused to accept what they had done. 

“But I believe a lack of understanding about what drives abusers, and how they operate, allowed me to be sexually abused as a child. I am pleased the Inquiry has been brave enough to commission this research and I hope that its findings will help stop children being failed in future.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is examining the extent to which institutions and organisations have failed to protect children in England and Wales from sexual abuse.

  2. Institutional failure means either the abuse was reported to someone in a position of authority, such as the police or a social worker but appropriate action was not taken, or that the abuser was someone in a position of power.

  3. More information about the Inquiry’s research can be found at:

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