Currently, the ways in which we describe ‘types’ or ‘models’ of child sexual abuse offending are not consistent. They have largely been developed over time by professionals to help them make sense of what they see in the field. Our initial scoping studies on CSE perpetration highlighted the challenges this presents; a lack of shared definitions of the range of child sexual abuse stymies understanding, research, prevention and disruption. Our existing research has also highlighted the challenges of developing appropriate and effective responses to child sexual abuse offending. Part of this challenge stems from difficulties encountered in identifying patterns of offending and the contexts in which child sexual abuse offending occurs.
That’s why we have developed a new typology of child sexual abuse offending focusing on the context of offending and reflecting different patterns of behaviour rather than focusing on the characteristics of either the perpetrator or the victim.
We hope that this typology will make a significant contribution to both policy and practice, by illuminating and more fully articulating the range of contexts in which child sexual abuse offending takes place and increasing understanding of the nature and dynamics of different forms of abuse. It is intended to inform rather than direct practice, helping to improve our collective responses to child sexual abuse by developing a stronger shared understanding of the complexity of this abuse and the many different forms it can take.
The typology of child sexual abuse offending
The typology seeks to present a fuller representation of child sexual abuse offending, including online and contact abuse, enabling us to view child sexual abuse through a different lens and to make connections between different types of offending that might otherwise be missed.
Identifying and articulating patterns of offending, and the contexts in which child sexual abuse occurs, is key to developing a better understanding of and response to child sexual abuse. We wanted to explore the nature of the abuse being committed. For example, what connections exist between victims and perpetrators? What does the abuse consist of? Where and how does the abuse take place?
Initial research to develop the typology was carried out by the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies at Middlesex University. It involved analysis of 157 case files provided by Norfolk Constabulary, the Metropolitan Police Service, Sussex Police, West Yorkshire Police and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, plus 10 focus groups with professionals from a range of statutory and voluntary sector organisations across England and Wales.
Further review, testing and refining of the typology was carried out by the CSA Centre. This involved review by the National Crime Agency, practitioners at conferences hosted by the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers and Rape Crisis England & Wales, and the wider team at the CSA Centre.
The typology sets outs nine types of child sexual abuse. There is no implied sense of hierarchy in the presentation of the types; although there are overlaps between different types, each type seeks to describe a specific context that comprises a set of behaviours and features that characterise a particular type of abuse. With regard to the nature of child sexual abuse itself:
- Online interaction is now so ubiquitous that it is likely to feature in almost all cases of child sexual abuse. At the same time, it is clear that the online world has created new environments providing perpetrators with opportunities and channels to facilitate child sexual abuse.
- Child sexual abuse is complex, and it is important to understand that individual cases will not always fit neatly into any one specific type as defined in the typology. Recognising and articulating this complexity is imperative, both for the identification and disruption of child sexual abuse and for effective response to the children and young people who experience it.
The focus of this typology is on offending by adults. The contexts of abuse by under-18s are likely to differ significantly from those of abuse committed by adults, and we feel this should be approached separately and in a different way.
A review of methodology
In 2018, we commissioned the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) at Middlesex University to develop and test a draft typology of child sexual abuse offending, which was then developed further by our own research team. In order to learn from previously published typologies related to child sexual abuse offending, we first conducted a rapid review of the empirical studies describing these typologies and how they were developed. This rapid review focused on methodology, and did not attempt to analyse the content of the typologies; in particular, it sought to identify common limitations of earlier studies and typologies, and how these might be addressed. The findings from the rapid review, outlined here, informed the work by CATS and the CSA Centre to develop the new typology.