Working with internet offenders
Working with internet offenders can be a challenging and complex task, made harder by the relative novelty and fast-changing nature of the offending behaviour. Long term research studies about offenders’ future behaviour have yet to be completed and opinion on the relationship between Internet-related sexual offending and contact sexual abuse varies. But we do know some things:
- internet offenders are a diverse group in terms of their demographic and risk profiles
- some internet offenders have already committed contact sexual offences against children
- some offenders use the internet in order to abuse children either online or by attempting to meet up with them in person
- some offenders’ abusive behaviour does not extend beyond their online behaviour
- as a group, internet offenders are re-convicted at a lower rate than those who have committed contact sexual offences against children
You can find out more about current research in the research section of the site.
What’s important to know when working with internet offenders?
The law: if you are uncertain about the different types of sexual offences that are committed via the Internet, or what an indecent image actually is, check out the information in the get the facts section.
Criminal Justice System (CJS): if you are unfamiliar with sex offender registration, sentencing options, and the agencies involved, or want more information about the criminal justice system, please see the Criminal Justice System section.
Assessing Risk: this is not straight-forward. For research that explores the reconviction rates and discusses the cross-over with contact sexual offending see the research section.
Internet sexual offending harms children: by accessing sexual images of children offenders are contributing to sexual abuse through creating demand for more images and through re-victimisation of the children in the images. You can read more about this in the Images Are Children module.
Offenders often minimise their behaviour: offenders often say things like “it’s only images” and “I’m not hurting anyone.” Few relate their offending to a risk to children ‘in the real world’. While it is a natural process for people to minimise their behaviour or to justify their actions when they know they are doing something wrong and harmful, these kinds of thoughts are unhelpful. If you want some practical suggestions about ways to work with offenders around the justifications they use, then see the section Images Are Children in the self-help material. You might want to watch this short film about justifications too.
Understanding motivation for offending: as with any form of sexual offending, offenders’ behaviour is usually about more than sexual gratification. Often it is the other motivating factors that are easier for offenders to acknowledge. There is further information about offenders’ motives in the Family and Friends section. To help explore motivation with offenders have a look at the Understanding Why module in the offender section.
Self-help materials: professionals may want to use some of the exercises included in the self-help material in the offender section with people with whom they are working. The material covers the following areas:
- Understanding offending behaviour
- Problem of immediate gratification
- Taking responsibility
- Images are children (Victim empathy)
- Problematic collecting
- Online relationships
- Talking to others
- Recognising and dealing with feelings
- Self esteem and assertiveness
- Problem solving
- Relapse prevention
- Building a better life (Good Lives Model)
This self-help material will not offer comprehensive answers to the questions posed by someone’s offending behaviour. But it is a good starting point and will help people explore their motivations and to start making responsible changes in their life.
Professionals’ self-care: Working in this field can be difficult and demanding. There is some information about the potential impact as well as advice on self-care and personal support.
Working with families: If you work with children whose parent has been arrested or charged with internet offences please see the section relating to advice for parents/carers on how to discuss sexual offending.
If you want to help offenders talk to their partners or families about their internet offending then please visit the talking to others section.
Specialist assessment, training, intervention and case advice
This site has been developed by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, with funding from the Home Office. If you feel that you need additional support or training to improve your ability to work with particular individuals, or internet offenders in general, then please visit the Lucy Faithfull Foundation website to find out more about our services.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation believes that child sexual abuse is preventable and that we can have a society where children are free from sexual abuse and exploitation. Our purpose is to safeguard children and young people from sexual abuse by preventing it and responding to it. As well as working with professionals the Lucy Faithfull Foundation works with people who have committed offences on the internet, particularly in relation to viewing, downloading and/or distributing indecent images of children. We also work with members of their family to help them address the questions and issues the behaviour of their loved one has raised.
Inform and Inform Plus
Inform for Young People
Inform for Young People is a programme for children and young people with concerning internet behaviour and their families.