The correlation between viewing child sexual abuse material and hands-on abuse
– Two points of view (1)
There is a wide debate to what extent the correlation exists between viewing online child abuse material and hands-on sexual offence. A number of studies as well as findings from the NetClean 2017 report support that there is a link between them.
We asked two experts to comment on these findings. The first expert, Michael Bourke from the United States Marshall Service, who writes below, comments on the statistics and the work that can uncover the correlation, and argues that correlation numbers should be much higher.
In the next blog post psychologist Hannah Harnesk Hjortsberg argues that the link is less clear.
By Michael L. Bourke, Ph.D., Chief, Behavioural Analysis Unit, United States Marshals Service
The findings in this report most likely reflect the extent to which law enforcement look for victims in their investigations.
As outlined in the NetClean Report 2016, studies have shown that 50-85 percent of consumers of child sexual abuse material also commit hands-on abuse. Police officers in this year’s study may not see a higher correlation because of time constraints and workload. After making an arrest, detectives are often encouraged to move on to the next case to identify as many offenders as possible. To continue digging into one case to learn about additional undetected crimes can be viewed as a less productive use of law enforcement resources.
The lower correlations in this study may also reflect the erroneous belief that individuals who possess child sexual abuse images and those who commit hands-on abuse are separate types of offenders. To make the correlation more apparent we must raise awareness at all levels of the judicial system. We must give victims a voice, empower those whom they tell to respond appropriately, and teach investigators how to dig beneath the surface. Prosecutors and members of the judiciary must be better informed, improving their understanding of the risks these men pose to children.
It is imperative for professionals across the spectrum to understand that individuals who are sexually interested in children commit a variety of fantasy-based criminal acts. Crimes against children occur in a context of secrecy; we typically learn about only one facet of an offender’s offence history, if we learn about the exploitation at all. If we raise awareness and increase understanding, officers will have time to spend on further investigating cases. Prosecutors will not be content to simply charge the offender for the child abuse material on his computer without additional investigation. And we will dispel the mindset that convictions for possession and distribution of child sexual abuse material are “enough,” especially if the suspect is facing a long sentence. With lives at stake, “enough” is simply not enough.