It’s important not to believe in the stereotype
In the NetClean 2017 report, we asked whether there is such a thing as a typical offender who consumes child sexual abuse material.
The police officers surveyed and the data that they shared showed that there is in fact no typical offender. Still, we find that we, as a society, are often pre-occupied with the stereotype of a ‘loner’, living on the periphery of society. Our findings showed however that the perpetrator can just as well be a well-liked family man with a good career. The only factor that we can just about almost assume is that the perpetrator is a man.
Hanna Harnesk Hjortsberg is a Registered Psychologist, who works with people convicted of child sexual abuse crimes and with policy development at the Swedish Prison and Probation Service. We asked her to comment on the findings in the NetClean Report 2017.
By Hanna Harnesk Hjortsberg
On one level it is correct that anyone can be a child sexual abuse offender. There is no specific personality type or segment of society that are more prone to committing these crimes, however, one generally knows that the perpetrator is a man. Still, it cannot be said that anyone can become an offender. Specific risk factors, and what we presume is a combination of several contributing factors, form the basis of why an offender would choose to sexually abuse children.
These risk factors can exist in someone who is successful, has a family and an active social life just as well as they can in someone who fits the stereotype – a loner – of an offender. We learn more about these factors through research and clinical work that determines who is more likely to offend, and we should turn our attention and efforts towards them.
If we get too preoccupied with the idea of the stereotypical offender we risk overlooking real offenders and, consequently, children who have been or are being abused. To safeguard children it is important that we understand that the people who might commit these crimes often differ from the stereotype and could be individuals who are socially adept and friendly.
Several different risk factors
The biggest risk factor is feeling a strong sexual attraction towards children. Different statistical groupings are also important, one example being age; people tend to become less prone towards criminality as they become older.
A history of unhealthy relationships is another risk factor. Men who sexually abuse children have often experienced unhealthy relationships, which include promiscuity, difficulties with intimacy, difficulties in trusting others, fear of rejection, and addiction problems. Another example of behaviour that falls within the category of risk is a preoccupation with sex, or as it is often labelled ‘Sex Addiction’
Hiding behind justifications
Many of those who view child sexual abuse material seek to justify this behaviour, often as a way to address their feelings of shame. They tell themselves that ‘many others are doing the same thing’; ‘these images have been viewed by many others’; and, ‘it’s just an image.’ Others share this type of material with the child that they are abusing in order to make the child more tolerant towards what is happening. ‘Look, it happens to all children.’ In this way, the perpetrator tries to shift the blame on to the child.
Demonising the perpetrator does not protect children
To safeguard children it is important that we don’t allow perpetrators to continue their abuse. We have to look beyond our revulsion towards these crimes and combine prison sentences with rehabilitative work that reduces the likelihood of reoffending. As a society we should offer the right support by addressing the identified risk factors.
By demonising and excluding offenders we risk entrenching their risky behaviour and marginalisation, leading to more children being abused. It might be controversial, however in order to make sure that we serve in the best interest of children we should offer support and counselling for offenders to ensure that they can move away from their negative behaviour.
* Project VIC is an important driver behind the development of CSA investigations by producing innovative technology and new ways of ensuring a victim centric approach. Project VIC is a coalition between law enforcement across the world and the private sector.