Michael Sheath: Lack of insight and empathy part of the problem

Michael Sheath: Lack of insight and empathy part of the problem
22 March, 2019 Guest Writer
In Reports and research

Lack of insight and empathy part of the problem

In the NetClean Report 2017 we proposed that there is no such thing as a typical child sexual abuse offender. Most are ‘normal’ people with an education, family and a job – making the business environment key to aiding the fight against the dissemination of online child sexual abuse. In the NetClean Report 2018 report we asked businesses to comment on their experience of finding child sexual abuse material in their IT systems. The data shows that one in 500 people use their work computer to handle child sexual abuse material.

Here Michael Sheath from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a UK charity that runs a helpline for people with concerns about negative aspects of their sexuality, comments on the findings. He said that the crime is in part based on a lack of insight and empathy. 

By Michael Sheath, Lucy Faithfull Foundation

The data in NetClean’s survey echoes my experience of working with men who consume child sexual abuse material. They are “normal” men with an education, family, work and socially functional lives. They are not men who make other people uncomfortable or raise suspicion.

One of the problems that we see in tackling child sexual abuse crime is the demonisation of child sexual offenders. The image of the stereotypical offender focuses people’s attention in the wrong direction; away from the fact that it can be the respectable man with the nice family, the big house and the expensive car who also consumes child sexual abuse material.

Michael Sheath, Lucy Faithfull Foundation.

Compulsive behaviour

The risks associated with viewing this sort of material in the workplace or on a work computer is indicative of the compulsiveness in these individuals’ behaviour. This is especially evident in cases where employees have viewed child sexual abuse material several times. Taking this risk signals the scale of the compulsion.

There are several additional factors that combined with compulsive behaviour can tip these individuals into viewing child sexual abuse material. One factor is stress, which can trigger the impulse. There is also a proven strong connection between sexual arousal and poor decision making, impulsivity, and a reduction in empathy.

“In my experience most men who view child sexual abuse material don’t understand that they are a part of the problem. They don’t realise that their consumption increases the demand and leads to the sexual abuse of children.”

Anonymity is a key driver

I am not surprised by the data in the NetClean Report that suggest that these individuals primarily consume the material away from the workplace and outside of working hours. I am convinced that it has to do with a sense of anonymity. Anonymity is one of the biggest drivers in the consumption of child sexual abuse material. The “logic” behind it is that if one is not caught out, one has not performed the action is question.

Lack of insight and empathy

In my experience most men who view child sexual abuse material don’t understand that they are a part of the problem. They don’t realise that their consumption increases the demand and leads to the sexual abuse of children. Their reasoning is that the abuse has already occurred, it was not their fault that it happened, and they do not contribute to any further harm if they merely view the material.

This lack of insight is connected to the reactions of these individuals when it is discovered that they have viewed child sexual abuse material on their work computer. The strongest reaction is a sense of shame, and not guilt. Most worry solely about what other people will think, and do not consider the harm that their actions have brought to children.

Ultimately, this crime has a close connection to empathy or lack of empathy. Many men genuinely want help to stop viewing child sexual abuse material. The key to this is to get them to understand how much their actions hurt the children who are depicted in the material. It is possible to help some offenders stop if they are helped to understand the consequences of their actions.

About Lucy Faithfull Foundation

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a UK charity which runs the only helpline in the UK for people who have concerns about negative aspects of their sexuality.