What are the risks?

The risks of engaging in sexual thoughts about children can be significant, not only for the person who is experiencing the thoughts, but possibly for the children that he is in contact with in the ‘real world’. Risks associated with engaging in sexual thoughts about children can be viewed in three broad ways:

  • Risk of continuing to engage in sexual thoughts about children
  • Risk of committing online offences against a child
  • Risk of committing contact sexual offences against a child


The link between thinking and doing

It’s sometimes assumed that everyone who has sexual thoughts about children will go on to commit a sexual offence against a child, either on the Internet or in the‘real world’.

This venn diagram, however, illustrates that although sexual thoughts about children can be linked to both of these offences, it is not an inevitable process, especially if measures are put in place to protect children.

Adapted from Wilson, D., & Jones T. (2007). In My Own World: A Case Study of a Paedophile’s Thinking and Doing and His Use of the Internet. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 47(2), 107-120.

The diagram shows:

The fantasy space

This is where sexual fantasies are initiated, replayed and constructed in an individual’s mind. This can include the mental images of memories as well as newly constructed fantasies.

The virtual space

This is where fantasy and reality are ‘blended’ together, and can include looking at sexual images of children on the Internet, as well as using pictures of children from other offline places such as the television. The virtual space has the ability to further reinforce sexual fantasies, as well as helping individuals to update their fantasies with new material.

The real world space

This represents the physical world and the behaviours an individual might engage in as a result of having sexual fantasies about child. This can include contact offending, but also sexual gratification behaviour (masturbation).

For some individuals, the fantasy space can result in a want to engage in behaviours, for example receiving sexual gratification in the real world space. This can be seen by the circles of the fantasy space and real world space overlapping.

The risks are that the fantasy space can feel like a private world with no links to the real world space, however for some people this fantasy space can encourage behaviours in the real world and virtual space, further reinforcing and perhaps intensifying the want to fulfil the fantasy.

However, this is not an inevitable process, illustrated by the fact that the circles in the diagram are not completely overlapped. Some individuals have no motivation to move out of the fantasy space. Additionally, by making the real world space inconsistent with the fantasy space can help to reduce the chances of offending behaviour. This can include putting protective barriers in place in the real world to reduce access to children and the opportunity to offend, or by the individual not engaging in sexual gratification behaviour from the fantasy.

To reduce the possibilities of someone progressing from the fantasy space into the offending spaces, there are things that can be done to help:

  • Recognising future risk
  • Recognising risk situations and moods
  • Identifying and employing strategies to deal with these, including fantasy management strategies
  • Investing in a positive future life
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