The correlation between viewing child sexual abuse material and hands-on abuse – Two points of view (2)

The correlation between viewing child sexual abuse material and hands-on abuse – Two points of view (2)
17 July, 2018 Guest Writer

The correlation between viewing child sexual abuse material and hands-on abuse

– Two points of view (2)

Following on from the last blog post where it was argued that the correlation between viewing online child sexual abuse and committing hands-on child sexual abuse can be proved stronger with more investigative work dedicated to each case, our next expert argues that the correlation between the two crimes can be viewed differently.

Registered Psychologist Hanna Harnesk Hjortsberg who writes below argues that rather than seeing the two crimes as one, it is better to look at a perpetrators behaviour on a sliding scale. That like with many crimes, this more deviant behaviour is developed over time. Resources, therefore, cannot just be put into more investigative work, which Bourke argues, but efforts must also be put into preventative rehabilitation.

By Hanna Harnesk Hjortsberg, Reg. Psychologist, Swedish Prison and Probation Service

I work in a high security prison, and most of the offenders I treat have sexually abused children. I rarely see offenders who have ‘only’ viewed and downloaded child sexual abuse material as that crime only seldom leads to imprisonment in Sweden. As a consequence when I meet someone who has viewed child sexual abuse material, there is an established link to a hands-on offence.

I cannot however say that there is a general correlation between viewing child sexual abuse material and committing hands-on child sexual abuse. It is rather the individual risk factors that are important in evaluating an offender’s level of risk (see comment on Insight 3).

What we know is that perpetrators who both view child sexual abuse material and abuse children are the most sexually deviant category of offenders. Although there is not always a correlation between the two crimes, there can be a risk of escalating behaviour. This can happen in instances where offenders have a preoccupation with sex and compulsions. Just as in the case of a flasher whose offending can escalate to rape (which is why it is so important to report these crimes to the police), someone who views child sexual abuse material might graduate to abusing a child.

I believe it is crucial to focus on the fact that viewing child sexual abuse material in itself should be viewed as a very serious crime. Importantly, the material contains a child that has been abused. Research shows us that if the victim knows that the abuse has been documented and spread on the internet it seriously deepens the child’s trauma. Every time an image is shared the abuse is perpetrated all over again, leaving children struggling to recover.

It is important that we target resources towards preventative measures aimed at crimes of possession and distribution of child sexual abuse material, including offenders who already view child sexual abuse material as well as individuals with risk factors who have not yet offended.