We have to talk about it. Research about young (potential) offenders of child sexual abuse | Summary

Stop it Now and the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children publish their research into young offenders of (online) child sexual abuse today. The research report ’We have to talk about it’ provides insight into (potential) offenders, offering a starting point for preventing child sexual abuse.

Unmapped group

The research focuses on offenders and potential offenders of child sexual abuse up until the age of 25 who contact Stop it Now. This includes individuals who view images of child sexual abuse material or have committed child sexual abuse. Characteristics and personal circumstances of this group have been described based on completely anonymised conversation reports.

“We know little about young (potential) offenders. With this research, we gained insight into a group not sufficiently identified by professional organisations” says Conny Rijken, the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children. “Knowledge about offenders of child sexual abuse is vital in order to intervene at the earliest stage and prevent victimization where possible. After all, without offenders there are no victims.”

Mental issues and escalating behaviour

The research shows that almost half of the young (potential) offenders of child sexual abuse struggle with mental issues, such as compulsive thoughts or feelings of depression. These issues play a role in (the lead-up to) potential offending behaviour.

Another important outcome is that almost half of the young viewers of child sexual abuse material report risky porn viewing or an escalation in this behaviour. Kelly van den Heuvel, a Stop it Now policy officer and a member of the research team: ‘Repeated exposure to pornographic materials leads these young people into a downward spiral. They start searching for increasingly extreme images in order to experience the same level of excitement and arousal.”

Help wanted

The research also indicates that the offenders who contact Stop it Now need help with their behaviour. Van den Heuvel: “Many young (potential) offenders share their story for the first time with Stop it Now. They fear a lack of understanding and judgement from the people around them and hence, most of them do not talk to anyone about their feelings, problems or offending behaviour. It is important to provide a safe environment in which they can talk about their feelings and behaviour. It increases the chances that more young people will seek help in the future before committing a crime” National Rapporteur Rijken adds: “The fact that these young (potential) offenders want help to prevent future offending behaviour offers a good starting point for preventive policies.”

Preventing offending

The research describes the circumstances preceding offending, and the routes young people take towards (potential) offending behaviour. “It gives Stop it Now and other organisations starting points to determine when and how to intervene. It is important that support and prevention match the needs of young (potential) offenders,” says Van den Heuvel. “They need information and education about safe, healthy and positive online sexual behaviour, as well as about when (online) sexual behaviour turns risky and/or illegal.”

With this research, both Stop it Now and the National Rapporteur want to gain insight into offenders and to use this knowledge to develop early interventions to prevent child sexual abuse being committed. National Rapporteur Rijken: “We are aware that this is a sensitive issue. However, in order to combat sexual violence against children, it is necessary to investigate offenders. Why do they commit these acts? At which moment? Only when we have the answers to such questions will we be able to do everything we can to prevent offending, and thus victimization.”