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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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

Methods, sample and limitations

The research was qualitative in nature, undertaking first-hand interviews with individuals who were identified by gatekeepers as meeting some or all of the criteria (see Figure 1).

The eligibility criteria were sent to over 40 prisons across England and Wales, as well as regional National Probation Service offices and third-sector organisations. As a result, 27 individuals were interviewed, across nine prisons, in January and February 2019. One individual subsequently withdrew their data, meaning there were 26 interviews to analyse and consider. This makes this project the largest primary research study on this topic in the UK.

Figure 1: Eligibility criteria for participant inclusion

Eligibility criteria
Any sex
Any ethnicity or race
Currently over 18 (but could have been under 18 at the time of the offence)
Offence to have taken place in the last decade
Sentenced or unsentenced
Residing in either prison or community at the time of interview
The same victim across multiple perpetrators in the network
Contact offences or conveyance, conspiracy or trafficking offences
Can maintain their innocence over their conviction (can deny the offence)


The sample comprised 24 males and two females. The age range of participants was 22–66 years. The average age of participants at the time of interview was 38 years. Fourteen participants identified as white British, four identified as any other white background, two identified as any other Asian background, one identified as Indian, one identified as white and Asian, two identified as black African, and two preferred not to say.

Participants had the following range of index offences, which are all contained within the Sexual Offences Act (2003).

  • Rape of a child under 13
  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Penetrative sexual activity with a child
  • Sexual assault
  • Taking indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of child
  • Sharing indecent photograph/pseudo-photograph of a child
  • Trafficking for sexual exploitation
  • Meeting a girl under 16 following grooming
  • Arranging/facilitating child sex offence
  • Conspiracy to rape
  • Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child 13–15
  • Arranging/facilitating prostitution/involvement in pornography of a child aged 13–15.

The mean sentence length currently being served for the index offence was 13.7 years, with a range of 6–24 years. The age range of victims was broad, with the youngest victim four months old. The majority of participants were convicted of offences which involved female victims (n = 18), including the female participants in our sample. No participants had been convicted of offences against both males and females.

Interviews were transcribed verbatim. NVivo 12 was used to assist in the thematic approach to data analysis. The six-step analysis procedure was utilised, as advocated by Braun and Clarke (2006).

There were some limitations which are worth highlighting. The sample size of 26, while considerable for qualitative work, means it cannot be assumed that research findings presented here are applicable to other perpetrators that have been convicted of child sexual exploitation alongside others. There could be different characteristics that were not observed in this sample. Despite those perpetrators who were being managed in the community under probation supervision being eligible to take part, the sample consisted only of those who had been convicted and who were currently in prison.


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