Child Abuse and Information Communication Technology


For further reading, go to the Child Exploitation and On-Line Protection Centre (CEOP) which can be found at the CEOP website. The CEOP is a partnership between government, law enforcement, NGO's (including children's charities) and industry, with the common aim of protecting children. It works to protect children, families and society from paedophiles and sex offenders - in particular those who seek to exploit children sexually online.


Child Safety Online: A practical guide for parents and carers whose children are using social media

Catch 22 Social Media as a Catalyst and Trigger for Youth


This chapter was updated in October 2022 to include a Further Information Section.

This chapter is currently under review.

1. Introduction

This multi agency toolkit has been developed to highlight the challenges posed by the increased use of information technologies by young people and by those who pose a risk to their safety. The toolkit aims to bring together research and best practice to enable individuals and agencies working with children and young people. To develop effective policies / procedures and education / training to minimise the risks associated with internet use.

The toolkit will refer to abuse associated with the internet and other information technologies. Methods of information technologies and e-communication are varied and include text, digital images both still and moving.

The toolkit recognises that the term 'child pornography' is fast becoming outdated when relating to indecent sexual images of children. Pornography in general has become more socially acceptable so there is a fear amongst professionals that continued use of such a phrase might serve to legitimise material and minimise the harmful effects of this activity on children. In fact, DSI Michael Hames of the Obscene Publications Branch wrote in 1993:

"…the use of the term (child pornography) in the context of child abuse leads to a ready comparison with 'adult' material, which covers a very wide range of tastes and degrees of explicitness, some of which is seen as acceptable.

The reality is that the material is, quite simply, child abuse on film or photograph".

This toolkit provides a framework for those working with children, young people and families by giving research based evidence on internet use and safeguarding children. It is not intended to provide a thorough understanding of abuse associated with information technologies. References and resources are provided at the end of this toolkit.

2. Background

The internet and new associated technologies offer opportunities for fast and effective communications, access to information and chances for individuals to be creative and network socially in new and innovative and interactive ways. However the rapid growth and widespread use of the internet has also brought a new and often hidden problem consisting of people who could feel this is a safe way for them to exercise their sexual interest in children. Internet use includes use of a range of technologies to access the virtual world from computers to mobile phones.

It is difficult to estimate the numbers of people involved in viewing abusive child images. In the late 1990's Operation Ore identified 7,000 users in Britain of one American website dealing with child abusive images. Many of those individuals had no previous convictions for sexual offending.

3. Safeguarding Children and Young People Using Technologies

Children and young people have access to technology, and greater access to the internet, from a young age. Research published by Ofcom in 2014 – Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes – found that:

  • Seven in ten children aged 5-15 now have access to a tablet computer at home;
  • Ownership of tablets has almost doubled, with one in three (34%) children aged 5-15 now owning their own tablet computer;
  • Four in ten children aged 5-15 go online using a tablet computer, while two in ten children aged 3-4 go online using a tablet;
  • Four in ten 5-15s own a mobile phone, with 59% of 12-15s going online using a mobile phone;
  • For the first time since this survey began in 2005, access to the internet at home via a PC/ laptop/ netbook by children aged 5-15 has decreased;
  • Children aged 12-15 spend more time going online than watching television in a typical week.

The study also found that amongst 12-15s who go online, the mobile phone is the most popular device for social and creative activities such as: arranging to meet friends (71%); messaging friends (53%); looking at photos posted online (47%); and sharing photos they have taken (45%).

Among those 12-15s with a social media profile, boys are more likely than girls to have a profile on YouTube (29% vs. 15%) while girls are more likely than boys to have a profile on three sites or apps: Instagram (42% vs. 30%), Snapchat (33% vs. 20%) and Tumblr (11% vs. 3%).

Since the advent of the Internet few internet forums have triggered such expressions of public concern for the welfare of young people as social network services (SNS). Despite the fact that online social networks have utterly revolutionised social interaction, this new environment can facilitate new forms of social deviance and criminality. Its ability to break down the conventional social barriers that govern sexual behaviour has compounded this situation, presenting new opportunities for sexual expression and deviance both to young people and to adults with a sexual interest in this group. This has resulted in a very real series of risks to the welfare of young people that socialise in this environment.

The emergence of superior communicative technologies, particularly social networking forums, has worsened the ability of those with deviant sexual fondness to communicate with persons who share similar interests throughout the world (Durkin and Bryant, 1995) and has enabled individuals with a sexual interest in children to access and engage directly with a pool of potential victims on an unprecedented scale. The types of interaction now possible present new opportunities to deviants to nurture and advance their sexual interests by observing and interacting with young people online, accessing erotic paraphernalia (text, images, video, live-time communication, etc.) and more ominously, soliciting direct engagement with children offline. The concerns have been reflected in a steady increase in the number of reports to law enforcement in the UK that relate to the sexual abuse of children and young people in social networking environments (The CEOP Centre, 2006).

Concerning as this is, those with a stake in safeguarding young people need to recognise that the propensity to engage in risky, sexually deviant behaviour is not just limited to predatory adults with a sexual interest in children. The accessibility of social networking forums to young people combined with unparalleled levels of media literacy within this population mean that young people can readily use online environments as an alternative social medium. Additionally, traditional social theory dictates that young adolescents engage in an exceptional level of socially disapproved behaviours that pose risks to their long-term well-being (Arnett, 1999), it follows that young people can and will exploit social networks to socialise, express themselves and experiment sexually; to behave and misbehave just as they would in real-world social environments.

This situation presents new risks to young people who use the internet and this brings with it challenges to those in charge of safeguarding them in this environment. Because activity is mediated online, sexual interaction and other risk-taking behaviours among young people find new forms of expression in the social networking context (e.g. through self-production of erotic material such as images/video, participating in sexually-themed chat, engaging in sex acts using webcams, etc.). Though little understood by participants, these virtual interactions can have harmful real-world effects. For example:

  • These behaviours can be witnessed by an unfamiliar audience, particularly by adults with a sexual interest in children;
  • These behaviours cause young people to be prone to unwanted sexual advances (exposure to sexual paraphernalia, harassment, solicitation etc.);
  • Young people may upload visual representations of themselves that are sexual in tone without completely understanding the lasting quality of any image, video etc. that is distributed online. Or the ways in which these can be subsequently accessed and exploited by adult audiences for the purposes of sexual gratification;
  • This behaviour may have a negative social influence on younger, lesser developed children that share these online spaces.

It is also becoming apparent that measures to protect users of their services (e.g. site monitoring, profile protection for under 18s and age verification systems based on credit card use) afford limited protection to children and young people. Some younger users have become skilled at avoiding these monitoring systems or tend to use sites that offer free services. Additionally, these measures may not be useful from a harm reduction perspective; sometimes leading simply to the impersonation of identity among those seeking access to younger users "New rules - based on the ages the users report themselves to be - are in place that control who can view profiles, and the amount of information that can be viewed by other users… so we're right back to the spectre of a predator claiming to be 14 so that he can more easily target other teens." (Granneman, 2006).

4. Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying is the sending or posting of harmful or cruel text or images using the Internet or other digital communication devices. 33% of children have been bullied online but only 4% of parents know this (UK Children Go Online, Sonia Livingstone, and London School of Economics). From this research, we also know that cyberbullying is on the increase, that it tends to happen more outside of school than in school, that phone calls/ text message and email are the most common forms of cyberbullying, that girls are more likely than boys to engage in cyberbullying and around a third of those bullied do not report it.

Examples of cyber bullying which distinguishes it from other forms of bullying include:

FLAMING: Cyber bullying insults can get angrier and more vulgar. The indirect and often anonymous nature of it makes the bully more likely to escalate what they say and threaten.

HARASSMENT: The ease of communications results in anonymous taunts, insults, and threats which are ongoing and frequent in nature.

DENIGRATION: This is where the bully sets up a false profile with cruel and false contents and posts further vulgar information. It is difficult to pretend to be someone else in the real world.

IMPERSONATION: This is the stealing of passwords to send threatening messages including breaking into an e-mail account and sending vicious or embarrassing material to others pretending it is from someone else.

OUTING: This is the sending of intimate personal information to others (covert photos) for example taking a picture of a person in the locker room using a digital phone camera and sending that picture to others.

EXCLUSION: This is ex-communication of an individual from "buddy lists" which leads to real cruelty as the person affected feels isolated and excluded.

CYBER STALKING: This is blackmail (from photos) and sending of harmful messages.

CYBER THREATS: Direct or actual threats to hurt or commit suicide.

Often young people report that cyber bullying starts as a prank, but due to the anonymity and indirect nature of cyber bullying, there tends to be a lack of empathy with the victim leading to escalation.

The impact of cyber bullying is different to bullying in the real world, in that there is no escape. If a young person is being bullied at school, they may feel safe at home, whereas mobile phone access / technologies can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The internet offers a wider scope of distribution of hurtful material where the "bully" can be anonymous. As the information/ images about the individual are distributed on the digital world, there is no closure as the material cannot be returned. The image/ information stays in the public domain for ever.

The following statement is from a father who told of his own family's cyber bullying experience:

  • "Our daughter was 12 when she was bullied through Instant Messenger at school - someone came online and started saying nasty things, probably the kind of things kids would say in the playground. However, because it was anonymous, it made it worse. At least if someone does it on the playground you can shout back at them! But worse for our daughter was that it could've been someone she thought of as a friend. That was the most upsetting part of it."

How to Respond to Cyber Bullying

Schools, youth clubs etc. should incorporate cyber bullying into their anti bullying policies. The following points outline the steps any agencies / school should take when they have identified materials on a mobile phone / internet account where it is alleged that cyber bullying is taking place:

  • The agency should preserve the evidence as this is crucial for making a case and identifying the bully;
  • Children and young people should be encouraged to 'Block' and report the user to the service provider;
  • The agency should contact the Service Provider as there is normally an abuse team. They may be able to help identify the bully;
  • Agencies should work with the police. Death threats or threats of other forms of violence to a person or property, any evidence of sexual exploitation is illegal and MUST be reported to the police (see also Child Exploitation Policy);
  • Policies should encourage proactive work with parents including home School Agreements on the use of technologies/ regular briefings with parents on safe use of the internet and sharing of information with parents on any incidents;
  • However a significant amount of images which start as a prank do not reach the level for a criminal prosecution, but the distress caused to the young person can be immense;
  • A flowchart for responding to incidents of cyber bullying / incidents of abuse through technologies can be found in the attachments section of this page.

5. Measures to Safeguard Young People Online


Educating children and young people in the safe use of technology is key, as is the importance of being a good digital citizen online. The LSCP offer training and lessons for children and young people, but internet safety conversation can be supported by a variety of effective resources in either a classroom or 1:1 setting.

While staying safe online and digital citizenship can be overwhelming subject areas, it's important to try to discuss, at a minimum, the following risk areas:

  • Online Grooming and Exploitation;
  • Online Abuse and Bullying;
  • Youth Produced Sexual Images (Sexting);
  • Permanency of the Internet (Digital Footprint).

The following sites contain guidance, lessons plans, videos and other associated resources which can be used to discuss online risk with children and young people from Age 5 through to 18.

  • Thinkuknow - An education resource programme created by CEOP. Offer access to free resources including videos, lesson plans, leaflets and guidance documents which can be used with children, young people, parents and carers. Register for access at CEOP's Thinkuknow;
  • Digital Literacy – Created by the South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), this site offers a complete scheme of work and associated resources for all Key Stages. Lessons are available on individual areas of digital literacy and safety; resources can be used in settings outside of a classroom. See Digital Literacy And Citizenship With Swgfl.

Children and Young People should also be encouraged to use available support online to safeguard themselves if they feel in danger:

  • CEOP Report Abuse Button – Young people who feel that they, or that a friend, may have been, or are being, groomed online can report to the Police through the red Report Abuse button found at CEOP's Thinkuknow – organisations wishing to add this reporting tool to their website can do so by registering and access the Digital Asset section of the professionals site;
  • ChildLine – Young people can be reluctant to disclose abuse or bullying online as they fear a negative response from trusted adults. It is vital that children and young people feel able to discuss the issues they face rather than try to deal with the issues alone. ChildLine offer support by enabling children and young people to talk in a confidential and anonymous environment. More information can be found at ChildLine;
  • Kooth – An online counselling service available to young people in Lincolnshire. Free and anonymous. Find out more at;
  • LawStuff – LawStuff is run by Coram Children's Legal Centre and gives free legal information to young people on a range of different issues. See Children's rights in the digital world in particular. 

The responsibility to educate children and young people about the opportunities and risks posed by new technologies belongs to everyone. However to do this effectively, the educators (whether it be teachers, youth workers or parents etc.) need to be educated themselves. To achieve this, all staff who work with children, young people and carers should receive guidance relating to safe online working practices and policies as part of their induction. E-safety and digital literacy skills should be developed as part of a continuous process both for educators and for the children and young people in their care.

LSCP promote the Think U Know education and awareness programme available through CEOP as an example of good practice for raising awareness and encouraging safe internet activity.

Information on internet safety is also available through Childnet International.

These programmes works on the following principles:

Keep it online - by withholding personal contact details like mobile number, home address or anything which gives away your location

Keep it legal - Be aware of the legal consequences of online activities: This includes downloading music or film or harassing other: You are not anonymous online and things can get traced back to you. If you receive a rude of embarrassing image don't pass it on. Distributing sexual pictures of other young people by phone or the internet is harassment and could be illegal.

Keep in Mind - Not everyone you meet or see on line is reliable - Online contacts are strangers no matter how long you have been talking to them or how friendly they are.

Keep in Control - Adults who go online to chat to young people and arrange to meet in order to have sex are breaking the law - If you meet someone on line and conversations make you feel uncomfortable report it to the police at Think U Know website - If you get texts which annoy or upset you, don't reply, keep a record and report to an adult or your internet operator.

Keep your Mates Safe - Think before you send a picture or video and always ask permission from your friends. Once you have sent a picture, you have lost control of it. Respect the privacy of your mates and don't give out numbers or e mails without their permission.

Mobiles - It's not only when young people are in front of your computer that they need to remember to keep safe. Young People should be told that if they start getting upsetting or annoying texts - don't reply to them and tell an adult they trust straight away; Parents should be advised to contact the network and ask for help.

Remember to reinforce safety rules for mobile phones:

  • Don't reply to abusive messages that may only encourage the bully;
  • Keep a record of events/messages or pictures, you will need them for the police or the ISP, or mobile phone company to trace the bully;
  • Users and phone numbers can often be blocked. Visit the service providers website for more information;
  • Think before you send pictures of someone via email, or mobile phone, they can spread far beyond your circle of friends;
  • If you receive a rude image or text about someone else do not forward it, you could be assisting a bully or breaking the law;
  • You have a right not to be harassed and bullied online, make sure you tell someone. *Tell an adult or call an advice line*;
  • Treat your password like your toothbrush: Don't let anyone else use it and change it regularly.

Empowerment: "Informed Choice" - Keeping Young Users in the know

Young people want to understand about specific types of behaviour and other risk factors that can be harmful to themselves and/or others in the virtual world.

LSCP recommend that if online activity occurs within your environment a terms and conditions section with advice pages for online activity should contain more information on safeguarding. The following websites provide helpful information:

Empowerment: Keeping Parents in the know

Media coverage of the threats to child safety posed by internet use and in particular social networking forums have generated uncertainty and confusion among parents and caregivers unfamiliar with the use of the Internet. The effect of this is that parents and carers feel overexposed to dangers of social networking, badly-versed on the finer points of safeguarding their children in the online environment and frequently powerless to intervene. Clearly, there is a need for a broader programme of education and awareness-raising among this population. "As with all other Internet safety issues, the single biggest positive impact on children's online behaviour is brought about by active engagement by parents in the online activities of their children," (Morrisey, 2006).

LSCP encourage individuals and agencies working with children and young people to add internet safety messages into their activities with parents and that information leaflets on internet safety should be made available to parents. Printable handouts for parents can be found in both the Parent and Professionals section of the LSCP website.

The importance of engaging parents in online safety is vital to ensure that children and young people are given appropriate support when using digital technologies. Many service providers such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook offer parent guides through their websites, many of which can be found through a quick Google search. Conversations around digital technology must also be 2 way and parents should be encouraged to learn about from their children – giving an opportunity to discuss some basic rules and to share key safety messages.


Industry and enforcement agencies are also working together to identify new social networking functionalities and other technologies that that could facilitate or co-facilitate harm to children in the social networking environment (e.g. live blogging software, Voice Over IP technologies, webcams, new chat or messaging services etc.).

The law makes provision to protect individuals from harassment and malicious communications, although it may be difficult to identify if a message is a prank gone too far or a deliberate act of harassment or harm. The following legislations intend to safeguard individuals:

Note: Where young people are voluntarily sending/sharing sexual images or content with one another the police may use the recently introduced 'outcome 21' recording code to record that a crime has been committed but that it is not considered to be in the public interest to take criminal action against the people involved. This reduces stigma and distress for children and helps to minimise the long term impact of the situation.

See College of Policing Briefing Note: Police action in response to youth producing sexual imagery ('Sexting').

Where cases are deemed to have met the threshold for Police action or there are wider concerns regarding the behaviour, the cases can be referred by Lincolnshire Police into the Lincolnshire Joint Diversionary Panel (JDP). If the young person makes an admission of guilt the case will be reviewed by the panel (YOS, Children Services and Lincolnshire Police) All relevant information regarding the offence and the context of the young person will be considered. The panel has at its disposal a number of restorative, non-criminal alternatives to ensure all relevant factors have been addressed and effective interventions are delivered to minimise risk of further behaviour/offending.

If you become aware of materials which you consider to be a form of harassment, indecent images of children or a young person or if you suspect that information communicated through the internet is deliberately malicious, preserve the evidence and contact Lincs Police on 101.

Child Exploitation Online Protection Unit also has a facility to report abuse across the internet through the Report Abuse button at Think U Know website.

6. Working with Children and Families Affected by Abuse of Technologies

Internet offending

There are distinct areas of the Internet that individuals with a sexual interest in children and young people may go. Durkin, (1997) identifies four possible ways that child sex offenders misuse the Internet. They suggest it can be used to:

  • Traffic child pornography;
  • Locate children to molest;
  • Engage in inappropriate sexual communication with children;
  • Communicate with other paedophiles (as cited in Quayle and Taylor, 2001).

The specific areas are:

  • Websites.

Pornography of all types including (including child abusive images) is available from numerous web sites, either for free or for a charge.

  • Usenet newsgroups and bulletin boards.

Individuals with shared interests can post information and files containing images to a specific group that has an identifiable name, which generally indicates the nature of the subject matter (Carr 2001).

Bulletin boards have been called high tech party lines by which users can send and receive text, engage in conversations and both upload and download files (Durkin and Bryant 1995).

  • Community groups/on-line communities.

These are more specialist communication tools of the Internet, which allows for groups to create invitation-only communities for special interest groups - paedophilia.

  • Internet relay chat (chat rooms).

Allows a person to chat in real time using text. Often used by children, they are used by child offenders as a means of seeking out potential child victims. These adults will often pose as children in order to elicit personal information including sexual orientation.

The offenders can also communicate with individuals who share their interests as a way of normalising their deviant beliefs.

  • Peer-to-peer/direct client to client.

This process will allow a user to access the data drive of another user in order to upload and download files.

'Paedophiles can therefore be invited to 'visit' somebody else's collection and take what material they want' (Quayle and Taylor, 2001)

  • Direct text messaging.

Communication can be sent via computer direct to a mobile phone. This includes text, photographic images or video clips.

Definitions of Child Abusive Images

There are many descriptions of what constitutes child abusive images, but a fairly complete description is identified in People Like Us (Utting 1997)

"Child pornography ranges from posed photographs of naked and semi-naked children, through more explicit shots of their genitalia thumbed apart to still, film and video recording of oral, vaginal and anal sex. Frequently the children are required to urinate on adults or each other. Almost invariably they are coated with semen when their abuser ejaculates over them. Occasionally they are photographed having sex with an animal"

(Taylor et al, 2001) devised a useful descriptive analysis that identifies 10 levels of severity of child abusive images on the Internet, based on the COPINE (Combating Paedophile Information Networks In Europe) research project database. Within the UK this identification system has been cut to a 3 level system of severity, and is generally recognised now by the police and court system as:

Typology adopted by the Court

  • Category A covers penetrative sexual activity and sexual activity with an animal or sadism;
  • Category B covers non- penetrative sexual activity;
  • Category C covers other indecent images not falling within categories A or B.

Source: Crown Prosecution Service.

Reasons for the Collection of Child Abusive Images

Detailed below are some of the reasons cited for the collection of such images.

Hames (1993) identified certain key traits in the material seized by the Obscene Publications Branch. These traits have appeared in earlier literature, and subsequently by numerous authors when discussing images on the Internet.

It remains a concise starting point:

  • To provide a permanent record of the child, frozen in time, which is used for masturbating purposes;
  • For use as part of the seduction process, to desensitise and sexualise the victims;
  • To confirm and validate their belief system;
  • To blackmail the victim. The pressure not to disclose is even more intense when the victim is aware a permanent record exists;
  • As an item of trade.

Furthermore there is information available from researchers, which identifies the compulsive nature of many offenders, who go to extraordinary lengths to compile a collection of child abusive images.

(Lanning 1992) suggests that collections are important to the offender and are 'often a considerable source of loss should the collection be seized'. (Quayle and Taylor 2001) further state that collections are often kept in a secure, permanent way and remain constant, in that 'images are rarely discarded'. Another aspect of collecting is that it leads to an 'increase in fantasy and sexual activity, particularly masturbation in relation to images or through engaging in mutual fantasies with others while on-line' (Taylor et al 2001).

The COPINE (Combating Paedophile Information Networks in Europe) project has also stated that there tends to be a desensitising process to the images in some cases, leading to the offender seeking ever more deviant images to sustain arousal. They believe that this has led to a change in the type of material being found more recently on the Internet; images which more frequently involve younger and younger victims, and those which clearly depict sadistic pain.

However, some offenders will not seek out the most explicit images; they can be aroused by a picture that would not be deemed indecent in criminal justice terms. It is important that practitioners are aware that these types of offenders operate a range of abusive images.

Offenders can become quite powerful within their specific on-line community, especially if they have developed good technical skills. Images become a form of currency, and items are traded and swapped. This process further legitimises the interest of child abusive images, and provides some individuals, who may have limited real world social contacts, with a sense of 'belonging to a community' where they can be 'themselves'.

Do Internet Offenders Commit Contact Offences?

Some statistics

There is little evidence to clearly identify a causal link between the downloading of child abusive images and the propensity to commit contact offences of child sexual abuse.

Some research has been conducted in recent years; however studies are frequently small scale and methodologies differ. Also much of the data is based on self-reporting, and Marshall (2000) concludes that offenders in this situation might think an admission of pornography use will result in them being judged to be even more aberrant and might therefore have serious consequences for them.

A study was conducted by Hernandez in the US of 90 volunteers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons Sex Offender Treatment Program (2000). He believes it was the only treatment program for sex offenders in which the majority of the participants were Internet Sex Offenders. Of the 90 volunteers, 54 men had been convicted of child pornography offences (possession and distribution).

  • Findings - Of the 54 offenders, 29 (54%) had NO documented history of contact sexual crimes based on their pre-sentence reports;
  • 79.6% of the offenders admitted to having prior contact sexual crimes after participation in the treatment program;
  • 62% of the offenders who had no documented sexual crimes (based on reports) admitted to having undetected contact sexual crimes;
  • In his overall study of 90 males (which also included offenders who had made contact with children over the Internet and planned to travel to meet them;
  • 76% had contact sexual crimes.

Hernandez concludes:

  • 'It would be imprudent to conclude that a child pornography offender does not present a risk to the community just because his criminal history does not reflect a prior contact sexual crime against a minor'.

Although he also states:

  • 'It is unclear why some child pornography offenders have contact sexual crimes and others appear not to have any.'

He believes that some offenders are denying past behaviours, whilst others may not have had access to potential victims or had poorly developed grooming skills.

Quayle/Taylor (2002) conducted interviews with 23 men - all convicted of child pornography offences

  • 86.9% had traded images 13% had produced and traded images 4.4% had engaged in the Internet seduction of a child 47.8% had committed contact offences during the period of downloading.

Some Messages When Conducting Assessments on Internet Offenders Within the Home

The issue of conducting an assessment of an offender found to be living in a home where children are present is extremely complex, more so when there seems to be no other indicators or evidence of suffering significant harm. Researchers in the field are divided about the extent of risk that such an individual poses.

It is possible that, when discussing the Internet usage with the offender that a whole range of justification will emerge:

  • Offenders may say that they were just curious, or that they received no sexual gratification from viewing the images.

Joe Sullivan of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation (specialising in work with sex offenders), in a presentation to professionals at a London Conference in Oct 2002, stated that in his experience he could think of no other reason to having a collection (of child abusive images) than the desire to have sex with children.

He further stated that people who have access to children (e.g. within the family home for instance) should be considered the highest risk.

Internet offenders are able to find people with similar interests in children, which normalises their belief systems. Quayle and Taylor (2001) believe that with regard to sexual behaviour the Internet lowers sexual inhibitions and the engagement in the sharing or trading of images acts as a form of social reinforcement.

Certainly the greater the amount of time spent perusing such images, becoming desensitised to the content, seeking more deviant images and collecting and swapping with other like minded offenders, the greater apparent risk.

(Seto et al 2001) would seem to support that belief when they state that, from a theoretical perspective:

  • The effect of pornography increases with continued exposure if the observer masturbates to orgasm;
  • The explicitness and content of pornography viewed shifts over time for regular users;
  • Sex offenders use more unconventional pornography than non-sex offenders;
  • The offender may also state that what they are doing is not really abuse; they are not abusing the child because it is only an image. It is important that we as professionals continue to challenge this perception.

For the image to be created a child has to be abused (unless it is a completely computer generated image).

For example, of the 1,263 children whose pictures were found as part of the investigation into The Wonderland Club (an on-line child abuser community) only 16 victims were identified. Over 750,000 images and 1,800 hours of digitised video of child sexual abuse were seized.

One of the other emerging issues is the increase in Internet offending from young people under the age of 18. It is too early to say how the relatively easy access to all types of pornography via the Internet will affect the sexuality of young people. We are already seeing young men being convicted of Internet offence and this is likely to significantly increase. There is also the issue that for many practitioners, the offender is likely to have a far greater knowledge of the workings of the Internet and computers in general. The offender has often developed a number of skills in order to access and store the required images.

A Note of Caution

Much of the literature warns against the assumption that all offenders who view child abusive images are contact abusers.

(Crepault and Couture 1980) claim that pornography use serves as a therapeutic purpose by releasing pent up deviant desires that would otherwise be expressed in harmful ways (as cited Marshall 2000).

Quayle and Taylor (2002) also state that not all people who engage in problematic Internet use go on to commit an offence through downloading child pornography or attempting to seduce a child through the Internet.

Marshall (2000) concludes in his review of literature on pornography that:

'Pornography exposure may influence (not solely cause) the development of sexual offending in some men, but for most it's use is simply one of the many manifestations of an already developed appetite for deviant sexuality'

7. Assessment

Child Protection referrals relating to Internet abuse do not only come within large-scale police operations and the possibility of accessing child abusive images should be considered during any assessment or investigation where a computer is present in the house.

Assessment Principles

  • It is important in this work to keep an open mind about the possibility that any offender who views child abusive images may also make them and/or at some stage, contact abuse children;
  • It is also important to keep an open mind about the possibility that some children who appear to be meeting all their developmental milestones may have been subject to the making of abusive images by covert or overt photography or have been contact abused;
  • The risk of possible future abuse must always be part of the assessment!
  • In the case of the children of Internet offenders who exhibit puzzling behaviours, suggestive of trauma, there may be no direct evidence of sexual abuse having taken place;
  • The principle of finding and preserving photographic or written evidence in the early stages of an investigation requires a high level of confidentiality and close joint working between agencies;
  • It often takes many months for the material stored on a suspect's computer or software to be forensically examined and there is always the possibility that evidence has been destroyed or hidden;
  • As with any other child protection assessment, the practitioner must use all tools in the assessment framework and not rely only on one source of evidence about risk.

See the LSCP Risk Assessment Toolkit which supports professionals in identifying the sexual exploitation of children, whether online or offline.

Appendix 1: Guidance for the Assessment Where Child Internet Abuse is Suspected

Each case has to be assessed on its individual merits and will be unique; but there needs to be a starting point from which workers can work onwards from. So here are some generalised guides to be considered in consultation with your line-manager in respect of the case you are working with:

In most cases where there are pre-pubescent (with teenagers, their age and understanding would have to be assessed) children living in the home, consideration should be given to asking the suspect to leave the home pending investigation and assessment. Investigation relates to S47 and initial police investigation, not the conclusion of the police investigation, which will be lengthy in most circumstances.

In some of the above circumstances it will be possible to reduce the risks and re-unite the family after a social work assessment, post ICPC, with a child protection plan; which will usually include a written agreement (specifying subjects such as no unsupervised contact, entry into children's rooms, sleep-overs etc.).

Essex Safeguarding Children Board report that they have received legal advice that the grounds for Significant Harm were proven in Operation Ore, and have successfully gained ICO's in cases where the families refused to work in partnership to safe-guard their children. Remember, people who look at these images do so because they have a sexual interest in children, they have already acted on that sexual interest by looking at children being abused, some already have, and others will go on to hands-on abuse; others won't. Safe-guards need to be put in place at the start of your work until you are able to determine that the children are safe - not the other way round.

Best practice is to conduct the social work assessment on the day of arrest (this will not be a typical social work assessment but a full social work assessment likely to take several hours).

Where there are children and a partner, for the assessment involving the partner to commence a.s.a.p. after the suspect leaves the home. These interviews often take a few hours as they involve the partner:

  • Absorbing the details of the investigation;
  • Dealing with the initial shock/disbelief/consequences routine;
  • Providing a detailed back-ground history - how they met, friends/family/hobbies/cultural issues/ both parents own childhood experiences/finances/power within the relationship/religion;
  • Organising practicalities around child-care, finances etc. if the suspects departure from the house impacts on child-care arrangements;
  • Understanding the partner's previous knowledge of her partner's interest/involvement in any type of pornography and then specifically child abusive images;
  • The nature of their sexual relationships, "normal" or "OK" will not suffice because what's normal to them may not be considered safe practice in a house with children in it e.g. 'swinging', accessible pornography and lack of appropriate boundaries. So info about nature of interests, gender, age, frequency, S & M, animal involvement, culture, may all help establish relevant info;
  • Understanding that this is more than just issues around pornography, what is her understanding? When you tell her that it's about children being sexually abused sometimes raped by adults, then what's her response? What if it were a child they knew? What if it were their child that had been abused and photographed and that image being circulated forever on the Internet with no potential to retrieve that image ever?
  • Assess her willingness and ability to co-operate with a plan to keep children safe;
  • Explain about potential future outcomes - Child Protection Conference and multi-disciplinary involvement/media/conviction outcomes/ likely length of police investigation.

Then a similar type of interview will have to be conducted with the suspect. The individual must be treated with respect and encourage an honest and open dialogue, explain it's a joint investigation with the police so the individual is clear that the 2 organisations will share information. Encourage the individual to tell you his sexual interests and his previous involvement with pornography and then child abusive images on the computer. Explain that honesty and co-operation will lead to an increased likelihood of successful and safe rehabilitation to his family as it will prove his insight, remorse and commitment to partnership working.

In most cases where the suspects are to live with children, a CP Conference should be convened.

A more thorough assessment would have to follow if the family are to be re-habilitated.

These cases should not await the outcome of the police investigation before sound child-care action is taken.

The guidance is taken directly from Essex Safeguarding Children Board Practice Guidance on internet safety and was written by: Team Leader Child Protection Team, Epping.

First Stages of the Enquiry

The following information is important for the practitioner to obtain as soon as possible from the police and from their own enquiries.

  • Any early information about the nature of the images (levels 1 - 5) age or gender of children?
  • What is known about the source of the images - a commercial site, homemade images, news boards or chat rooms? Is there evidence of trading?
  • What additional material was discovered at the property when the computer hard drive was taken away? Disks, videos, printed out images, written material? Were they hidden?
  • What other technology was present in the home e.g. web cam, digital camera, video camera?
  • If there are no children resident in the home; are there toys or child-centred objects?
  • Is there any early indication that children were present while the material was being viewed or that the material features children or adults known to the suspect?
  • Is there evidence of heavy alcohol or drug use e.g. cannabis?
  • Was hard core adult pornography present as well as child abusive images? (Not illegal, but relevant to assessment);
  • How does the suspect initially present himself? Some background history e.g. previous partners and children, significant life events?
  • Is there any known previous relevant professional involvement?
  • Is there any evidence of obsessive/compulsive behaviour in the suspect?
  • Is there a record of domestic abuse?
  • How does the non-offending partner initially react to the situation?
  • How do the children of the household present themselves and react to the situation?
  • Who are the wider group of significant people in the lives of the children?
  • Are there any initial indicators of abuse?
  • Do other agencies have any concerns?
  • What are the protective factors in the situation?
  • What contact does the suspect have with children and young people?
  • What children and young people have contact with the suspect?
  • What are the characteristics of the daily family routines, particularly with regard to intimate care and bed-time routines?
  • What social and community support is available to the family?
  • Are they socially isolated? (See also framework for initial interviews with suspect and with potentially protective carer and children).

Appendix 2: Guidance for Assessment of Potentially Protective Carers and Children

This guidance is not a replacement for the Assessment Framework. It consists of additional information from research and learning acquired by practitioners involved in Operation Ore.

Practitioners involved in Operation Ore report that they found it more effective to interview the suspect's partner first (usually the parent or protective carer of the children in the family). This is likely to yield more accurate initial information. This may involve insisting on interviewing them separately.

It is important to cover as many of the areas as possible at first interview.

First Interview

  • Very briefly explain your role - here because of the arrest and to ensure the safety and protection of children. (Duties under the Children Act 1989);
  • Your involvement will mean asking them some questions and then discuss your involvement further.

Obtain Some Background History

  • How they met;
  • When they had children;
  • Previous signs - relationships, job, housing, interests, working hours, time spent on computer;
  • Any evidence of grooming behaviour;
  • Has he or she lost interest in their sex life or withdrawn from social relationships?

Levels of Support

  • Family;
  • Friends;
  • Religion;
  • Think about offers of alternative accommodation for suspect while enquiries proceed.

Response to Arrest

  • Immediate;
  • Since then;
  • Have they discussed it?
  • Previous thoughts/discussion;
  • Current media interest in such behaviour.

Explore Feelings

  • What would their response/feelings be if partner convicted of down loading child abusive images?
  • What is their understanding of what is on these sites?

Offer Some Information

  • Fill in the gaps;
  • Do it according to their level of readiness/ability to accept;
  • Consider the need for them to be able to continue parenting safely;
  • Could they be involved too?

Their Children

  • What are their thoughts about protection/safety of their own children?
  • What would their response be if they found out he had contact abused their own children?
  • Feelings;
  • What action would they take?

Is That Different

  • How do they feel about their partner colluding by viewing with the abuse of other people's children?

You May Have to Explain

  • How the children in the images have been abused from having image used and abused by men to masturbate to, through to being filmed whilst raped etc. Age range of babies to teenagers.

Other Risks

  • Does he have contact with any other children; what about their safety, protection?

Future Involvement

  • If you haven't done so already, explain and explore your future involvement;
  • Consider need for written agreement;
  • Possibility of child protection conference and registration;
  • Under what circumstances legal action would be considered;
  • Explain about length of time of police action;
  • Explain nature of CPI action and possible transfer to longer term team.

In Summary

  • Usually very lengthy first interview;
  • Best practice - two workers on first interview;
  • Dealing with any grooming of partner;
  • Keeping the case until transfer or close;
  • Ensure that children are seen within 24 hours;
  • Agree initial protection plan with written agreement in place.

Be aware that the practitioner will often experience powerful grooming behaviour from a suspect or his groomed partner.

This can take the form of denial; minimisation; over compliance and co-operation; misleading through superior technical knowledge of the Internet; blaming others; using the children's needs to divert attention.

Even suspects who admit the offence of viewing child abusive images will totally deny that they are a risk to the children with whom they have contact. The practitioners will have to insist that there is a potential risk which, under the Children Act 1989, they have a duty to assess.

Interviews with Children in Contact with the Suspect

  • Children should be given information in an age - appropriate manner, agreed with the protective carer, about what is happening and about the social worker's role;
  • This may well have to include the reasons why Dad is leaving home for a while;
  • They may have been present during the police search early in the morning and made very anxious by it;
  • They may know about "rude pictures" on the Internet at quite a young age;
  • Appropriate materials are available for helping children to express their wishes and feelings; what is happening in their lives; if anything is troubling them; assessing their knowledge about safe and not-safe touch; assessing signs of grooming or suffering significant harm;
  • Babies and very young children should be observed with the potentially protective carer - and with the suspect if contact is continuing;
  • Older children and young people should be offered time on their own with the practitioners.

Appendix 3: Assessment Tools

Non Abusing Parent/Carer

This forms part of a specialist assessment. The following information will help analysis of information in relation to internet offences.

Both the passage of time and the assessment process itself will affect a parent's response. The worker has a responsibility to make available to the non-abusing parent relevant information concerning sexual offending behaviour and the sexual abuse of children. An important part of the assessment process is an assessment of the capacity to change.

Less Able to Protect

  • Attempted concealment at point of disclosure. Suspected of active participation in the abuse;
  • Minimising events or over-simplifying explanation for the abuse;
  • Denial of possible future risk;
  • Indiscriminate in sharing of information about the abuse;
  • Has not told extended family about the abuse;
  • Continued antagonism to Social Services Department either overt or covert;
  • Emotionally and financially dependent on the perpetrator;
  • History of former relationships with abusing partners;
  • Antagonistic and blaming towards the victim including extended family disbelief of the victim and continued involvement with the perpetrator;
  • Emotionally distant from children;
  • Pre-occupied with own needs which may relate to own abuse history;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Mental health problems such as psychosis, chronic depression, eating disorders which make a parent unavailable or distant to children;
  • Substance misuse both drugs and alcohol;
  • Poor physical health or disability or communication problems;
  • Uses religious beliefs to absolve responsibility or to deny possible future risks.

More Able to Protect

  • Brought concern to the attention;
  • Knows full history and details of abuse and given appropriate explanation to family/friends;
  • Working in partnership with professionals;
  • Co-operation with professionals, but willing also to take responsibility for actions;
  • Understood 'grooming' process;
  • Willing to seek advice;
  • Owns responsibility for allowing abuser home;
  • Believes child and has supported throughout disclosure and therapy, or has demonstrated a change in belief and attitude over time, or acknowledges unsure feelings;
  • Good relationship with children;
  • 'Good enough' parenting skills. Able to empathise with the child and usually puts the child's needs first;
  • Strong personality - able to act independently;
  • Able to challenge future suspicious behaviour of offender;
  • Own abuse history previously disclosed, but has worked out own resolution including self-protection;
  • Continuing network of support from safe family/friends;
  • Sounded social support systems able to share information if appropriate or needed;
  • Keeps appointments with relevant agencies e.g. Health Visitor, GP.

Couple Relationship

Both adults must be interviewed separately and together. Workers need to show sensitivity to race, cultural background and class.

Risk increased if:

  • Joint participation in drug/alcohol abuse, sadomasochism/violence;
  • Perpetrator takes charge of personal/intimate care of children;
  • Denial of any problems with marriage;
  • Poor marital relationship;
  • Each partner is 'secretive', anger/anxieties not voiced;
  • Intimacy/sexual relations problem;
  • History of domestic abuse;
  • Unstable lifestyle evidenced by work pattern;
  • Poor communication - lack of empathy between partners;
  • Evident use of pornography/'sexualised' atmosphere in home.

Risk lowered if (including protective factors):

  • Each partner has sought help;
  • Caring tasks negotiated and house agreed;
  • Evidence of ability to discuss the abuse and no minimalisation/denial;
  • 'Mature' couple, good support from extended family with collusion;
  • Appropriate affection and physical contact;
  • Able to discuss sexual matters openly;
  • Draws appropriate boundaries around adult talk and behaviour.

Parenting Styles

Risk increased if:

  • Rigid role definition;
  • Social isolation;
  • Perpetrator makes decisions and rules concerning family members.

Risk lowered if:

  • Children aware of boundaries, listened to and heard by both parents;
  • Appropriate use of community;
  • Family working openly and with professionals on rehabilitation plan.


Each child to be listened to and spoken with separately in a safe, private place. Their needs and vulnerabilities must each be assessed as individuals in their own right.

Increased vulnerability

  • History of the abuse and consequences, have only been half-told and are kept secret;
  • Are on or have been on the Child Protection Register in any category;
  • View victim as 'naughty' or 'indifferent' in other ways - scapegoat victim/disbelieve or blame;
  • Have no adult whom they trust;
  • Poor educational record;
  • Disability/communication problems;
  • Concerns about possible neglect/physical abuse/failure to thrive/emotional harm.

Risk increased if:

  • Over compliant, non-assertive personalities;
  • Feels 'less-favoured' in the family;
  • Poor eye contact/self image;
  • Feels discriminated against because of race, culture or class.

Lowered vulnerability

  • Are age-appropriately aware of abuse and consequences;
  • Have been interviewed and given time to talk with trusted adult outside the family;
  • Understand nature of 'therapy' offered to victim;
  • Strong, assertive personality;
  • Family rules have been established regarding privacy, personal care etc.;
  • Protection/preventative strategies discussed;
  • Age appropriate sex education. Can identify appropriate adults who are safe and can be trusted.

The above factors should also be considered in relation to children in extended family or children who are frequent visitors to the household.

Victim or Potential Victim

Increased vulnerability

  • Regarded by non-abusing parent as a 'rival' or blamed in some way;
  • Continues to show highly sexualised behaviour (age inappropriate);
  • Few friends or trusted adult or 'safe' extended family;
  • Disability/communication difficulties;
  • Physical health poor;
  • Learning difficulties and low educational achievement;
  • Low self-image, poor eye contact;
  • Non assertive body language;
  • Mental health rating indicating depression;
  • Over compliant;
  • Maintains or seeks to maintain relationship with abuser;
  • Feels discriminated against because of race, culture, religion or class;
  • Unable to express feelings relating to abuse.

Lowered vulnerability (Protective factors)

  • Strong loving relationship with non abusing parent;
  • Has engaged in therapy and supported in this by family;
  • Has learnt 'preventative' strategies and age appropriate sex education;
  • Positive experience of education and/or safe activities outside of home;
  • Able to express wishes and feelings to trusted adult;
  • Privacy rules established in house;
  • Positive self-regard and confident;
  • Been able to voice ambivalence towards abuser;
  • Shown this by willingness to make statement or has claimed compensation;
  • Positive and stable friendship network with peers;
  • Are, or have been, on Child Protection Register in any category.

Morrison, T, Erooga, M. & Becket R.C. Sexual Offending Against Children 1994

Appendix 4: Interviewing the Suspect and Partner

At the time of interview the suspect may be in one of three categories:

  1. Accessing child abusive images out of curiosity;
  2. Accessing child abusive images as part of a developing sexual interest in children;
  3. Accessing child abusive images as part of an established pattern of offending, possibly including contact abuse and/or making of own images by hidden or obvious photography.

The material may include written stories about sex between adults and children.


  • There is no evidence that everyone who masturbates to child abusive images has abused or will inevitably, contact abuse children. However, research suggests that it does reduce the inhibitors to contact sexual offending and increase the risk that the sexual fantasies will be acted out in 'real life';
  • There is also an increased risk of trading images with other offenders;
  • There is legal opinion that this behaviour in itself meets the threshold criteria for likely significant harm and that this harm does not need to be to named children;
  • There is no correlation between the level of images viewed and the likelihood of contact abusing. Some of the most dangerous contact abusers discovered during operation ore, possessed mostly lower level images.

Useful Questions for Interviewing Users of Child Abusive Images on the Internet About Their Behaviour.

(From Paedophiles, Pornography and the Internet: Assessment issues: Ethel Quayle and Max Taylor. British Journal of Social Work 2002 - 32,863.875).

Some or all of the following questions can be used when interviewing alleged users of child abusive images.

It may be helpful to cross check some of the answers with partners as part of the assessment of risk to children in the household.

  • What are the number of total hours that the individual spends on-line in any one week, and the proportion of this time that was spent in contact with others sexually interested in children or in downloading images?
  • What has been the level of general disruption in their lives that being on-line has played, particularly in relation to work or real-life social relationship?
  • Has there been a reduction (where appropriate) in sexual interest with their partner?
  • Has there been emotional withdrawal from family members or friends?
  • What are the person's existing social networks and levels of emotional support?
  • What level of social isolation is present?
  • Is there a preoccupation with accessing the Internet such that there are ongoing difficulties in concentrating?
  • How much Internet media is being accessed (Web sites, chat rooms, e-mail, newsgroups)?
  • What do they do with each and what level of pleasure is associated with these activities?
  • What nicknames are used and what do they mean to the person?
  • How is material retrieved from the Internet saved and organised (in particular, how is it stored, how are files labelled, what changes are made to existing file names)?
  • How much time is spent off-line with collected material, either, editing and sorting, or for use as an aid to masturbation?
  • Have images been exchanged with others (how has this been done, what volume and what purpose did this serve)?
  • Have images been created through scanning from existing pictures or by digital camera?
  • Have any fantasies been acted out with real children (which may or may not be of an explicitly sexual nature)?
  • Has there been any contact in real life with people (adults or children) met on-line?
  • What level of preoccupation is there with regard to 're-living' past experiences?
  • How much time is spent thinking about their latest Internet experience (chat or image), or planning the next?
  • Are details of other on-line people kept and reflected on?
  • Does the person keep making promises to stop going on-line and then breaking them?
  • Does the individual take risks in terms of accessing the material (either because of others in the house or same room) or storing it?
  • Have images been downloaded while children were in the room or in close proximity?
  • Have images been shared with others off-line (work colleagues, children)?
  • Is there a sense of excitement in anticipation of going on-line, or a sense of frustration or irritation when blocked from doing so?
  • Does the person chat to others about real or imaged sexual encounters with children?
  • Is there self-representation as other individuals (either same or other sex or age)?
  • What attempts have been made to contact children through the Internet?
  • What level of masturbation is associated with on-line activities?
  • Does masturbation take place on or off-line?
  • What has been the increase or change in sexual activities since accessing the Internet?
  • Does the individual engage in virtual sexual relationships with others (adults or children)?
  • Has there been a change in the kinds of text or images accessed (age or other characteristics of the child, types of images and level of victimisation)?
  • Does arousal happen to other non-child images?

Appendix 5: Implications for Practitioners

It is important that we do not exaggerate the negative aspects of sexual expression on the Internet, either in terms of its extent or its level of pathological expression. Cooper et al. (1999) have identified a number of positive aspects that the Internet may play in sexual relationships, including a reduction in the role that physical attributes play in the initial decision to pursue a relationship. However, in the context of people with a sexual interest in children, the Internet can play a very powerful role in justifying extreme levels of engagement with material that is based on the sexual abuse of children (Quayle et al., 2000). The relationship between justifying the production of and access to such images and the commission of a contact offence is unclear. Existing models of offending behaviour have yet to examine the relationship between the offender and the Internet and how that relationship facilitates sexual behaviour, both on-line and off-line. An analysis of interviews with thirteen men convicted of downloading child pornography (Quayle and Taylor. 2002) would suggest that while some offenders use such material as a substitute for contact offences, there are others who express a strong wish to engage physically with a child and for whom pornography on the Internet may act as a blue print or stimulus for offending. There is also a real possibility that sex offenders are changed by and subsequently contribute to change in others through the Internet, in relation to beliefs, values and cognitive styles.

The justification that these are victimless crimes, in that the offender may not have engaged in actual sexual contact with a child (Taylor et al., 2001a), and those who access it are willing participants in an abusive situation.

The challenge to practitioners is to try and understand the role that the Internet may play in offending behaviour and in particular, accessing and distribution of pictures depicting child sexual abuse. In order to do so, it is necessary to understand how paedophiles use the Internet and for practitioners to be confident about its assessment. As yet, the relationship between the collecting of child pornographic material and the commission of a contact offence remains unclear. In the context of adult pornography and aggressive behaviour. Seto et al. (2001) suggested that individuals who are predisposed to sexually offend are the most likely to show an effect of pornography exposed. Until practitioners include questions about pornography and the Internet in their assessment, which ultimately informs research, there is little hope of bringing clarity to this complex area. It is also the belief of the authors that practitioners will increasingly be faced with problems that relate to the interface of people with the Internet, and an understanding of the latter is central to working with such clients.

Particular Issues for Social Work Assessments and Child Protection Conference Reports Highlighted in Previous Work during Operation Ore

Reasons for the Social Work Assessment or Child Protection Conference

When a central reason is the alleged accessing of child abusive images this needs to be clearly stated with a reference to research. This can be as simple as "Research indicates an association between down loading child abusive images from the Internet and possibly contact abusing children and/or making child abusive images and uploading them onto the Internet".

Child/young person's developmental needs


Findings have included:

  • Failure to follow-up medical appointments;
  • Refusal of help by parent for problem behaviours;
  • Puzzling behaviours at school, home or nursery;
  • Sleep walking, nightmares, disturbed sleep patterns - parental suggestion of medical conditions to explain child's puzzling behaviour e.g. autism, epilepsy, deafness.


Colleagues in schools and nurseries have often been a source of very important information about children and families and have appreciated face to face contact with the social worker in order to clarify what is required of them and to both receive and give relevant information. For example - teachers have:

  • Checked back on earlier education records e.g. in nursery or infant school and found concerns;
  • Observed unusual behaviours in children (often strongly indicative of trauma) recorded concerns which have helped to focus assessments;
  • Observed behaviours in parents that made them uncomfortable - particularly in the light of further information e.g. suspect who helped out a lot in school, but made women feel uncomfortable;
  • Provided support to protective parents and to children and aided self-esteem via the curriculum;
  • Monitored progress and impact of changes in the family and the impact of continuing enquiries.

Emotional and behaviour development: self-care skills

Quite often a different approach to self-care skills has been taken by the suspect to that of the protective parent. Sometimes this involved the suspect taking sole change of care such as nail cutting, nappy changing, attending to injuries, appearing to deliberately exclude the other parent. In one case the suspect continued the intimate washing of a child beyond the age thought appropriate by the mother. These are essentially boundary issues in the day to day care of children and it is only by asking about the basic patterns of everyday life in relation to the assessment framework that possible patterns of grooming and control of child and partners can be revealed and assessed.

Some children and young people had been displaying signs of poor self-image, self-harming and puzzling behaviours at school or nursery for some time. Through interagency checks and interviews; and interviews with wider family members, practitioners built up a pattern of concern about these children, often going back for some years. In some cases this included historical allegations of abuse which had not been fully investigated for a variety of reasons.

In every case the practitioners spent time working directly with children, observing them, listening to their wishes and feelings (using age-appropriate play materials and supporting parents in giving children an age-appropriate explanation of what was happening.

Family and social relationships

Some of the children whose fathers were suspects were living in isolated family units - some in the sole care of the suspect. Others were the children of one of several partnerships which the suspect had had over a number of years. Genograms and ecomaps were vital tools in understanding the complexity and quality of relationships, particularly where sexual abuse was intergenerational and interfamilial.

Parents, carers capacities to respond appropriately to the child/young person's needs

Basic care

It was rare for neglect of basic care to be an issue in this operation. Some suspects claimed that they had higher standards for physical and safety care than the mothers of the children they were in contact with. This seemed to be particularly linked to this distorted thinking about appropriate behaviour and boundaries between parents and children and a wish to down-play the kinds of risks potentially posed by this offending.

Ensuring safety

Only one mother was found to have been an active participant in sexual abuse of children with the suspect. Some mothers had been concerned about their partner's behaviour towards the children, but had not considered the possibility of sexual abuse. Some had found evidence of viewing of child abuse images, but had not linked it to danger to their own children until the day of the arrest.

Some suspects who spent many hours at a time viewing images (especially whilst taking drugs and alcohol) were in no position to be ensuring safety in the home or preventing a young child from catching glimpses of the images. One six year old was able to give a graphic description of images of adult pornography he had seen his Dad viewing and research tells us that suspects often deliberately show child abusive images to children or partners as part of the grooming process.

Emotional warmth

Family members and professionals commenting on behaviours in some suspects reported feeling uncomfortable about the boundaries of touch between them and children. Often this was described as touching which appeared sexualised or "over the top" touching which sometimes appeared to be a form of control. Some suspects were described as often being irritable and withdrawn and spending many hours on the computer when children wanted attention.


Suspects often take a very active interest in their children's development and provided appropriate and varied forms of stimulation.

Guidance and boundaries

Some suspects exercised considerable control over their children and partners as part of the grooming process, thus depriving partners of their independence and power to protect and depriving children of the ability to protect themselves or tell someone what was happening.

With many other suspects, only the existence of the Internet evidence indicated the risk in terms of crossing sexual boundaries. Thorough assessment work is necessary in order to ensure that there is a safe carer who is sufficiently aware and convinced of the potential risk to give the children appropriate guidance and boundaries. Children, themselves, according to age and understanding need to be helped to be part of their own protection plan and to come to terms with the situation that the suspect's behaviour has placed them in.


Often in the early stages of assessment, families see the social work and police intervention as the destabilising factor rather than the suspect's behaviour, particularly where partners have been groomed into minimising the behaviour. It is important to work quickly to mobilise the safe and supportive factors in children's lives and provide a consistent and reliable service at a time of great stress and anxiety. In many cases, children had to experience Dad leaving home on a temporary or permanent basis. In all cases arrests took place early in the morning with no advance notice.

Family history and functioning

The importance of family history, particularly parental histories, in assessing dangerousness has been underlined by the Ore investigation. Factors such as childhood loss and/or abandonment were very common among suspects. They were often unwilling to give aspects of family history which they suspected would add to concerns about them and practitioners obtained a lot of relevant history from partners or other previous family members.

Partners had often experienced life events which had affected their confidence as adults and increased their vulnerability to the grooming process.

Where recent family functioning had appeared to be satisfactory, a higher level of professional support and education about the nature of the revealed problem behaviour was required than where parents had already separated or were already experiencing a high level of conflict. However, even in the latter circumstances, most partners took some time to face up to the reality of the risks potentially posed by the suspect. Also practitioners need to be aware how long this can take and how many factors can encourage denial or disbelief in partners.

Social resources: Wider family, community resources; social integration

Normally supportive wider family and friend networks were often placed under severe strain when the nature of the allegations, were revealed. This was particularly the case when there was evidence that children in the network had been photographed (even not apparently indecently) or actually abused. In one case a partner who was a highly respected child minder, suddenly found herself unable to function in this role and facing suspicion herself from parents. Supportive professionals, such as social workers, teachers and GPs, acting as a team were often able to provide support and reassurance to the safe carer and help establish wider family and county support.

The social integration of several families was increased through the intervention process.


Very few families had pre-existing housing problems.

The main housing issues were to do with housing the suspects whilst assessment was undertaken. In some cases financial support for a period was given under the provision of the Children Act 1989.

Employment and income

Any employment or financial difficulties already existing in families were usually exacerbated by the suspect's arrest. Some people were immediately suspended if their work was connected with services to or contact with children. Some partners needed to give up or reduce their work in order to provide protection for the children. The financial pressures of living apart from families or loss of employment for suspect or partner were often acute. The threat of future loss of income was always present during the many months of waiting for court appearances.

Summary of development needs - Future protection from harm

Where the sole concerns for the safe care of a child relate to the potential risk of sexual abuse by the suspect, who may be her father, it is vital that the protective carer and others significant to the child as well as the child herself have the necessary information and education to make protection a reality.

This is a process which takes time as few people can readily accept that their partner, son, brother or daughter pose a potential sexual risk to children. However, if there is evidence of possible past harm or grooming in what children say or do it is those in daily contact with them who will notice it, possibly realising the significance of it for the first time.

A few examples from Operation Ore:

  • Grandparents who had been uncomfortable about the way their son touched his daughter were able to voice their concerns;
  • A mother paid particular attention to what her children said. One night when she was leaning over the bed to kiss her 7 year old daughter goodnight the child said "oh Mummy, it feels like you are having sex with me";
  • A step-mother developed concerns about puzzling behaviours in her Step-Daughter which she had previously thought to be just part of the child's personality.

None of the above examples were in cases where evidence of criminal assault on the children concerned was discovered during the assessment process, but they were part of a heightened awareness of children's needs and protective capacity in carers and professionals responsible for continuing protection where the potential risk posed by the suspect was the main concern.

Appendix 6: Further Reading and Quotations From Research Which may be Useful in Reports and Assessments

"What is different about the Internet in relation to collecting child pornography may relate to the volume of material that can be accessed and the fact that once the picture is on the Internet, it will remain there, accessible as a part of somebody else's collection. Unlike where hard copy images are destroyed, it is always possible to access more of the same on the Internet" E.Quale & M.Taylor Deviant Behaviour 2002

"There appeared to be a blurring of the boundaries in what constituted child pornography that was exaggerated on the Internet. In some instances this was used as a justification for downloading material, while in other instances there appeared to be confusion as to the overlap between nudist and 'art' photographs and pornography" E.Quale & M.Taylor Deviant Behaviour 2002

"The person downloading images was able to put himself into another category of offender, one who had done something illegal but who had not committed an offence against a child" E.Quale & M.Taylor Deviant Behaviour 2002

"Pornography was used as a substitute for actual offending, whereas for others, it acted as both blueprint for a contact offence" E.Quale & M.Taylor Deviant Behaviour 2002

"It is dangerous because these people are thinking about sexual behaviour with children and what we know about offending in the area, is that the fantasy and the arousal over pictures or images is often the precursor to abuse of children" Janet Foulds et al Care and Health 29/01/03

"It would be imprudent to conclude that a child pornography offender does not present a risk to the community just because his criminal history does not reflect a prior contact sexual crime against a minor" Hernandez 2000

"…while acknowledging that different studies show different levels of probability… they establish beyond doubt what one's common sense also suggests: whenever authorities uncover someone in possession of child pornography, they are also identifying someone who is potentially a real and active danger to children" John Carr 2nd World congress on commercial sexual exploitation of Children

"The Internet provides an attractive alternative to a mundane or unhappy life"…accessing child pornography on the Internet was often used as a way of creating a private and intensely arousing world, where it was possible to go beyond normal limits" Moraham-Martin and Schumacher (2000) et al E.Quale & M.Taylor Deviant Behaviour 2002

"Offenders may present at any point along a continuous line, from total denial through partial admittance, minimisation and distortion, through to complete admittance" Sexual Offending Against Children - Assessment and Treatment of Male Abusers - Morrison, Eroogan & Beckett (1994)

Appendix 7: Articles and Bibliography

"Are Collectors of Child Pornography a Risk to Children?" Joe Sullivan - The Lucy Faithfull Foundation & The University of Birmingham and Anthony Beech - The Department of Psychology, The University of Birmingham

  • American Library Association, (2006) cited in, (2006). US Social Networking ban could unfairly block some sites;
  • Anderson, G. (2006). The CEOP Social Networking Seminar Series. Using Social Networks. 17 July 2006;
  • Carr, J (2001) Child Pornography. Paper prepared for 2nd World Congress against Sexual Exploitation of Children, Yokohama Japan;
  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, London;
  • Crepault, C and Couture, M (1980) Men's erotic fantasies. Archives of Sexual Behaviour,9, pp565-581;
  • Arnett, J.J. (1999). Adolescent storm and stress. American Psychologist, 54(5), pp.317-326;
  • Boeck, T., Fleming, J. and Kemshall, H. (2006). Young People and Social Capital;
  • Boyd, D. (2001). Sexualities, Medias, Technologies. Sexing the Internet: Reflections on the role of identification in online communities;
  • CEOP, (2006). Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre;
  • Children Act 1989. London: HMSO;
  • Donath, J. and Boyd, D. (2004). Public displays of connection. BT technology journal 22(4), pp.71-82;
  • Durkin, K.F. and Bryant, C.D. (1995). Log on to sex: Some notes on the carnal computer and erotic cyberspace as an emerging research frontier. Deviant Behaviour: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 16, pp.179-200;
  • Durkin, K (1997) Misuse of the Internet by paedophiles: implications for law enforcement and probation practice, Federal Probation, 61 (2), pp. 14-18;
  • Durkin, K and Bryant, CD (1995) Log on to sex: some notes on the carnal computer and erotic cyberspace as an emerging research frontier, Deviant Behaviour, Vol 16, pp.179-200;
  • Faultline, (2006). MySpace music deal poses multiple threats. The Register, [Online]. Available from: The Register website [Accessed 20 November 2006];
  • Goodchild, S. and Owen, J. (2006). Children and the Net: An IoS Special Investigation. The Independent on Sunday, 6 August. pp.1-2, 6-9;
  • Granneman, S. (2006). MySpace, a place without My Parents. The Register;
  • Hames M. (1993) Child Pornography: A Secret Web of Exploitation. In Child Abuse Review Vol 2: 276-280;
  • Hernandez, AE. (2000) Self-Reported Contact Sexual Offences by Participants in the Federal Bureau of Prisons;
  • Presented at the 19th Annual conference of the Association for the treatment of Sexual Abusers. San Diego CA November 2000;
  • Hill, R.A. and Dunbar, R.I.M. (2003). Social Network size in humans. Human Nature, 14(1), pp.53-72;
  • Itsin, C. (1996) Pornography and the organisation of child sexual abuse. Organised Abuse. The Current Debate Peter Bibby (ed) Ashgate 1996;
  • Lanning, K. (1992) Child molesters: A behavioural analysis, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Washington, DC;
  • London School of Economics, UK Children Go Online. Sonia Livingstone;
  • Marshall, WL (2000) Revisiting the use of pornography by sexual offenders: Implications for theory and practice. The Journal of Sexual Aggression 6(1/2) pp.67-77;
  • Morrisey, J. (2006). E-society - Young people social networking online. The Irish Independent, 18 April. [Online];
  •, (2006). US Social Networking ban could unfairly block some sites. The Register, [Online];
  • Quayle, E and Taylor, M (2001). Paedophiles, Pornography and the Internet: Assessment Issues. British Journal of Social Work (2002) 32, 863-875;
  • Quayle, E and Taylor, M (2002 - to be published) A Model of Problematic Internet Use in People with a Sexual Interest in Children. Provided by Dr. Quayle;
  • Seto MC et al. (2001) The role of pornography in the aetiology of sexual aggression. Aggression and Violent Behaviour 6 pp.35-53;
  • Smith R. (2001) U.S. Postal Inspectors Fact Sheet provided by Ray Smith;
  • Sullivan, J and Sheehan, V. Sex Offenders Use of the Internet. Presented at the 2002 Nexus Conference: Sexual Abuse and the Internet;
  • Taylor M, Quayle, E and Holland G (2001). Child Pornography, the Internet and Offending. Isuma Canadian;
  • Utting, W et al. (1997). People Like Us. 9.16 p100 London: the Stationery Office.