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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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

Perpetrators

The analysis of the interviews was entirely exploratory, and the research team had no preconceived ideas about who would engage under the umbrella term of ‘perpetrators of child sexual exploitation in organised networks’. The aim and intention was not to categorise participants, nor to create or seek a replicable typology. Three groups of perpetrators naturally emerged from the sample (A, B and C; please see Tables 1–3). The groups are characterised by what the perpetrators detailed was going on in their lives at the time of the offence, their motivation for offending, their sexual interest and victim profile, and their attitude towards their conviction.

Table 1: Characteristics of perpetrators in group A

Group A
Seven participants in total (one of these was also in group B)
  • Average age: 45 years
  • All male
  • All white British

Lifestyle

Participants often described that, at the time of their offence, they were living a double life. Outwardly, they may have been working and, sometimes, were in a long term relationship. In their free or private time, they would spend an excessive amount of time online, chatting to those with similar sexual interests. Online is where they reported starting their offence-related behaviour, accessing indecent images and then potentially progressing to a contact offence. Three participants discussed alcohol and drugs as a central feature of their life during this period; one described himself as an alcoholic.

Motivation

Participants discussed their offence motivation as largely being characterised by seeking approval, validation and sexual gratification from the online community. They reported online chats as a type of escapism, and described them as ‘addictive’. They stated they were sexually aroused by the thought of a contact offence and said they felt disappointed or did not get the pleasure they were anticipating afterwards. As a result, they reported it was unlikely for them to contact-offend again after the first occasion.

Victim profile and sexual interest

Participants reported a longstanding, although not exclusive, sexual attraction to children, or a preoccupation with sex. Several participants discussed excessive masturbation. Participants described being aroused by the ‘power imbalance’ in child–adult sexual images. Six participants reported male victims who were much younger than victims from groups B and C. Three participants described having to hide their identity as a ‘gay man’ from friends and family.

Attitude towards conviction

Five of the participants totally admitted their offence, and one participant partially accepted his offence. The individual who was categorised as being in both groups A and B categorically denied his offence. Participants discussed their offence in more detail, with more insight and more remorse than those in groups B and C. This was enhanced if they had attended a treatment programme. They detailed they would have liked an anonymous safe space in which to talk about inappropriate sexual thoughts before they offended.

Network

Participant networks were orientated online, which meant participants stated they did not recognise many co-defendants during trial. On occasion, however, online contact had sometimes progressed to an in-person meet-up, where an offence occurred. Five had contact offences. Online networks for group A therefore provided access to victims, and participants talked about ‘co-offending’ (at the same time and in the same place), unlike participants in other groups.

 

Table 2: Characteristics of perpetrators in group B

Group B

Thirteen participants in total (one of these was also in group A, two were also in group C)

  • Average age: 36 years
  • All male
  • Three white British, 10 ethnic minority

Lifestyle

Group B was the most heterogeneous of the three identified groups. Participants described ‘partying’ or living a hedonistic lifestyle at the time of their offence. However, individuals in this group also may have had wives, children and full-time jobs alongside this hedonism. Infidelity was common, and some participants detailed that they had fathered children with their victims. Participants suggested they had notoriety in their area through other activities such as sports achievements, their employment (owning a local business) or being financially stable (evident to others through their clothes or cars). Several had previous offences for drug dealing or violence. These participants detailed being involved in the sale of drugs rather than drug use.

Motivation

For those who partially accepted their offence, they suggested that the motivation was hedonistic, bundled up in the somewhat chaotic nature of their lives, in which sex was one part of a bigger picture of partying, ‘chilling’ and ‘hanging out’. For some who had a wife and children at home, they explained that their motivation was a ‘buzz’ and a ‘thrill’ of escaping normal, mundane life, and they relished the attention that they described from young females.

Victim profile and sexual interest 

Victims were predominantly teenage females. Group B participants were characterised by either one monogamous relationship or multiple casual sexual relationships (including those with their victims). They suggested they only slept with young girls because they were readily available, denying it was fuelled by a sexual attraction to young people and, rather, was more opportunistic.

Attitude towards conviction

Five participants in group B categorically denied their offence and maintained their innocence. Eight participants partially accepted their offence. No one accepted their conviction outright. Participants frequently cited a ‘lack of evidence’ in their case and stated they felt disappointed in the justice system. Several suggested they had been convicted unfairly or racially stereotyped. Four participants from this group categorised themselves more as violent offenders and vehemently rejected the label of ‘sex offender’.

Network

Largely, participants denied knowing all members of the network. They sometimes reported they knew only one or two co-defendants through being family, friends, work colleagues or loose associates.

 

Table 3: Characteristics of perpetrators in group C

Group C

Eight (two of these were also in group B)

  • Average age: 35 years
  • Six male, two female
  • Six white British, two ethnic minority

Lifestyle

Participants were generally living a less stable lifestyle than groups A or B. They often were not working at the time of the offence. Three participants described that they would drink most days, and one declared he was an alcoholic at the time of the offence. Two said they did not use drugs or alcohol, and two participants described their use as recreational. The two females in this group were single parents at the time of the offence, and their children were suspected victims of exploitation or of featuring in indecent images.

Motivation

Six participants had seemingly been implicated in the offence as a result of being groomed by their co-defendants. They suggested they had been motivated by a desire to be loved or accepted by their co-defendant. Some articulated they had been emotionally blackmailed and told they were already implicated in the offence, and were fearful of repercussions if they did not comply.

Victim profile and sexual interest

Participants were unlikely to discuss their offence in the context of sexual activity or preference. Two participants had male victims, and six participants had female victims. The victims ranged in age from 3 to 15 years. Four participants had non-contact offences (conspiracy, facilitation or indecent image offences). For the other four who had rape convictions, two categorically denied rape – one said the offence occurred in the broader context of having sex with the victim and other co-defendants for money (using the term ‘rent-boy’ in interview), and one stated he had a casual sexual relationship with the victim.

Attitude towards conviction

Two participants categorically denied their offence. Both these participants said they never had sex with the victim. Five participants partially accepted their offence and understood how they had come to be convicted, although disagreed with how it was outlined in court or the media. One participant fully accepted her offence, although she maintained that she was groomed and blackmailed by her co-defendant. Some participants stated they needed help before the offence took place to help them see they were being exploited.

Network

Four individuals had been convicted alongside only one or two others, and described co-defendants as romantic connections or family members. Other cases knew of their co-defendants and discussed how they had been exploited by a larger criminal gang, of which they had only met a small number of members.

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