There is no such thing as a typical offender
(The consumer of child sexual abuse material)

There is a notion that it is possible to identify who is and who isn’t a perpetrator. However, is there such a thing as a stereotypical offender? Is it someone of a specific sex, and of a certain age? Is it somebody who lives in a specific way and holds down a typical job? Has the offender changed over time? For this insight we surveyed the police officers to see if they, with all their expertise, could tell us who typically would view child sexual abuse material.

A man of any age

The majority are men

In last year’s report we asked the respondents if they had worked on cases that featured female offenders during 2015. More than 50 percent of the police officers said that they had not come across a female offender, and 25 percent said that they had only worked on a few cases that had a female offender. This result confirmed other previously documented data and research that states that even though female offenders exist, and while awareness of them is increasing, the majority of offenders are men.

All ages

According to the survey, police officers come across offenders of all ages in their investigations. The most common age is between 20-50. However, this result mirrors the general demographics in the US, Europe and Australia, which is where the majority of the respondents work. Consequently people who view and share child sexual abuse material can be found in all age categories.

Clarification of the cohort ”Below 20 years of age”

Several of the police officers felt compelled to explain that the offenders listed as ‘Below 20 years of age’ may often not have a sexual interest in children. According to the police officers these youngsters have instead shared or possessed nude or partly undressed images of themselves or people similar to their own age. If they are under the age of 18, the images are classified as illegal.

“…the “under 20” is mostly just high school type issues where they do not realise the consequences of sending naked pictures to each other.”

“Young people quite often have pictures and videos of friends and people they know from parties or other situations, where they have been filmed, or “snapchats” they have made themselves.”

 

Is often in a relationship, but can also be single

38 percent of the respondents said that the most common scenario is that a suspect who is being investigated for possession and/or dissemination of child sexual abuse material is married or living with a partner. Nearly 44 percent of the police officers stated that it is just as common for the offender to be in a relationship as it is for them to be single. Thus according to the responses it is more common for an offender to be in a relationship than not. However, some of the police officers commented on the fact that this number could be skewed because of the way that investigations are prioritised.

“In the cases I have personally been involved with, the subject had a partner or was married.”

“It is bit more common with singles, but lately we tend to focus on those who are married or especially those who have children. That may bias my experience.”

Is in close proximity to children

Closer to three quarters of the police officers surveyed reported that suspects who are being investigated for viewing or distributing child sexual abuse material also are in close proximity to children. More than 60 percent reported that it is common or very common.

The most common scenario is, according to the respondents, that suspects are close to children either because they have children of their own or have a partner who has children. Another possibility is through the extended family (nieces, nephews or grandchildren). The least common scenario is through their work life.

Exists within all professions

More than 60 percent of the police officers surveyed answered that it is most common for the suspect who is being investigated for viewing or disseminating child sexual abuse material to be in employment. Just over 30 percent said that it is just as common for the suspect to be employed as unemployed.

When asked to elaborate on whether they were aware of any profession that is overrepresented in their investigations, 38 percent of the respondents said that they do not view any professions to be more common than others, and that all jobs are represented. Likewise the offender can come from all segments of society.

“All walks of life. It is independent of profession.”

“I do not believe so, however teachers, law enforcement, sports instructors and legal professions are given priority and are given more press time.”

“No specific occupation is more prevalent.”

Meanwhile 27 percent said that it is more common for offenders to work in professions with proximity to children. Some of the professions and workplaces that are mentioned are childcare occupations in nurseries and schools, social workers, police officers, psychologists and professions within religious institutions. Some of the police officers commented on this saying that these professions seem to be more prevalent as a result of the cases being prioritised because of the fact that the offender is in close proximity to children.

“Yes, but that is perhaps more due to our prioritisation of the targets. A school teacher, a kindergarten employee, a priest, a cop will always go higher on the list than someone that does not have that kind of access to children or level of trust in society. That said, I sense that we have seen more people with child related work than any other.”

17 percent of those who commented also mentioned professions that require a high degree of knowledge of IT.

“IT/Information Technology/computer related jobs.”

“Most of the cases I see involve peer-to-peer sharing which typically include users who are comfortable with technology. As such, most suspects usually work in a technical field.”

Has not changed over time

More than 80 percent (81.5%) of the police officers surveyed said that the general picture of the offender has not changed over time. However, those who stated that they have seen changes pointed to an increase in younger people looking at and disseminating child sexual abuse material, and more offenders who have a high level of IT and technological ability. This was also mentioned by a few police officers when asked about trends that they have observed.

An increase in technologically sophisticated offenders

In response to the question regarding new or increasing trends, 3.7 % of the police officers state that the offenders are increasingly becoming more technologically sophisticated.

“Getting more tech savvy i.e. encryption, obfuscation apps.”

“They are becoming more digitally forensics aware using other tools to hide their online activity.”

“They are becoming more technologically literate and better at avoiding law enforcement.”

An increase in younger offenders

3.3 percent of the police officers surveyed stated that a new or increasing trend is more young offenders. As before, when queried about age (Insight 3), some police officers point out that many of the younger offenders have images and videos that depict people of their own age. However some police officers point out that they have also seen an increase in young people who have a sexual interest in children.

“More younger / juvenile suspects.”

“Consumers have more often started their consumption as a result of exploring sexuality. Consumers are also younger than previous years.”

“The growing number of younger people.”

View and delete

Another trend that is highlighted by several police officers (4.9 %) and also remarked upon by Taskforce Argos in the commentary to Insight 2, is a behavioural change in offenders, where they have reduced the amount of material that they download and save. Instead the offenders delete the material once it has been viewed. One of the reasons for this, according to Taskforce Argos, is that with an increasingly faster internet and an abundance of material there is little need for it to be saved. Read more about this in Insight 2.

“More offenders are deleting the CSAM after viewing it.”

“Less collection and more P2P trading, viewing, then deleting.”

“We are seeing that most cases involve people downloading, viewing, and deleting material. Awareness among their community has increased and we don’t see as many people amassing large collections anymore. This is usually due to fear of prosecution.”

 

CONCLUSION

COMMENT ON INSIGHT 3

“It’s important not to believe in the stereotype”

Hanna Harnesk Hjortsberg, Reg. Psychologist, works at Skogome Prison and with policy development at the Swedish Prison and Probation Service

READ COMMENT

”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.”

More insights from the report

DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGY – BOTH A CHALLENGE AND AN OPPORTUNITY

THE “NORMAL CASE”: FEWER THAN 50,000–500,000 IMAGES

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TYPICAL OFFENDER (Consumer of child sexual abuse material)

THERE IS A CORRELATION BETWEEN VIEWING CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE MATERIAL AND ABUSING CHILDREN

THE OFFENDER IS MOST LIKELY TO VICTIMISE CLOSE FAMILY MEMBERS OR RELATIVES

CSAM IS VIEWED 24-HOURS A DAY, THROUGHOUT THE WEEK – INCLUDING HOURS SPENT IN THE WORK PLACE

TRENDS: THE USE OF CHATROOMS AND APPS IS INCREASING

TRENDS: THE USE OF ANONYMISATION TECHNOLOGIES, ENCRYPTION AND CLOUD STORAGE IS INCREASING

THOUGHTS ON THE REPORT

“To eradicate child sexual abuse we need more resources, and, most importantly, they need to be applied in the right way.”