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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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


Based on perpetrators’ accounts, networks were found to be far from organised, lacking a ringleader or hierarchy. An organised approach with a ringleader or hierarchy was only discussed when talking about other crime types, such as supply of drugs. Rather, participants described their connections with co-defendants as loose associations or connections with a small number of people. Participants rejected the labels of ‘network’ or ‘gang’, which they felt had been imposed on them erroneously by the criminal justice system.

How networks were connected

Most participants refuted knowing the whole network or its size. Four people stated they did not know a single other person they had been convicted with. For those who did admit to knowing a co-defendant, they described the person as a family member, a friend, a partner, a colleague or someone they knew of.

Those in group A, whose networks were online, seemed to have more of a clear configuration that they could articulate, and face-to-face meet-ups only progressed between small numbers of an otherwise sprawling, unseen online network.

Influence of network

For some participants, across all groups, the network provided access to victims. Some participants did blame their co-defendants for their behaviour, expressing regret at meeting them. The influence of the network also seemed to extend to court and prison, with some participants describing that they were fearful of co-defendants.

Communication methods

Five participants (across the groups) stated that they had met the network or their co-defendant online, either through social media, an online dating website or chat rooms where they shared or discussed indecent images of children. Participants in group A stated that being online permitted a degree of anonymity and remained a popular way of communicating. Those in group B described their communication and interactions with co-defendants occurring in person, with them seeing each other around in the local area, working together or ‘hanging out’. Their communication methods seemed far more casual and spontaneous than those in groups A or C.

Evading detection

Group A stated they sometimes used code words, used video calls instead of sending images, and used techniques to convince other perpetrators they were genuinely aroused by children before meeting face to face. One member of group B said he avoided using smart phones. However, on the whole, there was little evidence to suggest participants tried deliberately to hide their behaviour from people outside the network, especially for group B. This was largely because they stated they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.

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