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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

An explorative study on perpetrators of child sexual exploitation convicted alongside others

Key findings from the research

This report presents what was heard and what participants reported in relation to perpetrators, networks, victims, and prevention and disruption. It does not attribute truth to these accounts, but reports on how the perpetrators discussed and understand their behaviour and convictions. There are four key findings from the research. The research findings do not constitute formal recommendations by the Inquiry’s Chair and Panel and are separate from legal evidence obtained in investigations and hearings.

1. Participants interviewed for this research study were diverse and came from a range of backgrounds.
The participants interviewed for this research study represented a diverse group. The age range was 22–66 years old at the time of interview, with an average age of 38. Over two-thirds of the sample (n = 18) were  white British/white other, but participants also identified as Asian, black African, other Asian, Indian, and white and Asian. Participants came from a range of employment backgrounds. Victims ranged from 4 months old to 15 years old and were both male and female. No participant offended against both males and females.*
2. Perpetrators could be loosely clustered around three groups (A, B and C) according to their lifestyle, motivation, sexual interest and attitude towards conviction.

Despite perpetrators’ varied backgrounds, they could be loosely clustered around three groups, noting differences in their lifestyle, motivation, sexual interest and attitude towards conviction. This emerged as an observation of the aggregate data, and was not an intended or deliberate purpose of the research. Hence this is not a tried and tested typology, more an observation of our own sample.†

  • Group A: participants admitted their offence and discussed a historical sexual attraction to children or young people. Participants described living a double life and spent an excessive amount of time online.
  • Group B: participants denied or partially denied their offence and did not disclose attraction to children and young people. They reversed the narrative and suggested they were vulnerable rather than the victims, and described a hedonistic lifestyle.
  • Group C: participants either denied, partially denied or admitted their offence. They presented as vulnerable and seemed to have been exploited or groomed by co-defendants.
3. Networks were described by participants as loose associations rather than organised networks.
Participants said the groups they had been convicted as part of lacked a ringleader or hierarchy. Participants said they only knew one or two other individuals convicted of offences arising from the same or similar set of circumstances, claiming to be linked to these individuals via a number of different relationships: family members, romantic connections, people they knew of, and friends or work colleagues.
4. Participants acknowledged their behaviour to varying extents, with some using minimisation and justification to explain their motivations and offending behaviours.

Some participants did not take ownership of their behaviour, diffused responsibility and minimised harm.

a  Participants in group A said that an anonymous supportive space in which to discuss sexually harmful thoughts may have prevented them from offending.

Participants from group A recognised and acknowledged work they could have done to prevent them offending. They stated they would have liked a place they could go or person they could speak to about their sexual preoccupations and inappropriate thoughts before their offence was commissioned. Some had accessed charities after arrest but reported this experience as negative and judgemental. Participants in group A likened their thoughts to an addiction and stated that, compared to other addictions, they felt there was nowhere they could access help before things escalated.

b  Where denial was prevalent, so too was diffusion of responsibility.

Participants, mainly those in group B, displaced their responsibility onto others, including parents, police and social services, and rejected the identity of ‘sex offender’, refusing to take part in treatment programmes and rejecting any suggestion that the problem lied within their behaviour. They also rejected the idea that their victims were chosen purposefully or targeted due to their vulnerability.

c  Across the groups, several participants claimed a lack of understanding of what constituted an offence.

Participants often asserted that they did not know that what they were doing constituted an offence. This was most common where offences were trafficking or conspiracy offences (rather than contact offences). Several participants advocated a need for education around this to prevent offending.

* Due to the explorative nature of the research, these characteristics pertain to the current sample and may not be applicable to other perpetrators.
† The research does not claim that every perpetrator of child sexual exploitation necessarily falls into one of these groups, and acknowledges there could be different characteristics that were not observed in this sample.

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