Friday, June 21, 2019

Finding pathways to prevention: An international consensus position for better management and prevention of online child sexual offending behavior

By Maggie Brennan, PhD, Derek Perkins, PhD, Hannah Merdian,PhD

A new report released today (Friday 21 June), involving over 2,000 experts in online child sex offending has made strong recommendations on how to better prevent the growing problem of child sexual offending on the internet. 

Recent surveys have found that technological developments are limiting the international capacity for the prevention, detection, and prosecution of online child sexual offending behaviour (e.g. NetClean, 2018). Moreover, “investigators still have to deal with significant numbers of offenders committing preventable crimes such as viewing and sharing indecent images and videos known to law enforcement” (National Crime Agency, 2018).

The recommendations come amid the group’s concerns about ‘epidemic levels’ of child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) offending online. The number of UK-related case referrals received by the National Crime Agency from the online industry almost trebled between 2016 and 2018 - rising from 43,072 case referrals in 2016 to 113,948 in 2018. In the year 2018 alone, the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 18.4 million referrals of suspected online child sex offending cases from around the world (National Crime Agency, 2019). 

The report, developed by the International Working Group for the Prevention of Online Sex Offending (IWG_OSO), features input from a range of experts in the behaviour of online child sex offenders, including the UK National Crime Agency, Interpol, Public Health Canada, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and the Universities of Plymouth and Lincoln, UK. 

In order to scope the nature of, and professional opinions on, the management and prevention of CSEM offending, the IWG_OSO: (1) reviewed the literature on online sexual offending; (2) conducted a Delphi survey with international experts in the management and prevention of online child sexual offending behaviour; and (3) conducted a multi-annual series of consultation events with international stakeholders in the relevant areas. 

The consultations were held between 2014 and 2019 at a range of key events, including at the IATSO and NOTA conferences, and involved clinicians, law enforcement professionals, researchers, policymakers, and offender managers and other stakeholders.

The report highlights that the prevention of online child sexual offending behaviour requires more public engagement to raise awareness and understanding of this problem, closer collaboration between behavioural experts and the online industry, a better balance between punishment and early intervention with potential offenders, as well as increased primary prevention measures to address the underlying causes of online child sex offending.

The report, entitled Best Practice in the Management of Online Sex Offending, is being officially launched on Friday 21 June at the NSPCC headquarters in London. Its recommendations for better management and prevention of online child sexual offending include:

  • Closer collaboration between behavioural experts and the online industry: Experts involved in researching, treating and preventing online child sex offending behaviour should work more closely with the online industry to help design barriers to the commission of sexual offences online. This might include collaborative work to design-out an offender’s ability to produce, share and access CSEM in online platforms and services involved in these offences, as well as further expansion of deterrence messages and splash pages into pre-offending locations online.

  • Increased public engagement with the problem of online child sex offending behaviour: Through, for example, media-supported public awareness campaigns, to increase public understanding of the problem of online child sexual offending behaviour, and to reduce the fear and stigma involved for people who wish to come forward and seek help to manage their pre-offending sexual interest in children.  

  • Better balance between efforts to prosecute and punish online sex offenders with earlier intervention methods to prevent sexual offences occurring – particularly for people with a pre-offending sexual interest in children: For example, an expansion of anonymous helplines and online deterrence campaigns targeting potential online child sex offenders, as well as greater therapeutic provision in the community.

The IWG_OSO was set up in 2014 with the support of the International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders. Its members and consultees include experts in online child sexual offending behaviours, from law enforcement, academia, children’s charities, offender support services, therapeutic providers and the online industry.

The full report can be found at


National Crime Agency. (2018). Supplementary written evidence submitted by the National Crime Agency (NCA) (PFF0011). Retrieved from: http://data.parliament .uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/policing-for-the-future/written/82068.pdf

National Crime Agency. (2019). NCA shines light on online CSAE for public inquiry. Retrieved from (2018). The NetClean Report 2018. Retrieved from https://www.netclean .com/netclean-report-2018/#insiktermobil

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