One in eight internet offenders has a history of contact sexual offending in their official criminal records. Seto, Hanson and Babchishin reviewed available studies and identified 21 samples of internet offenders a total of 4, mostly child pornography offenders, although some samples also included solicitation offenders with information about their contact offending histories. More than half of internet offenders self-reported a history of contact sexual offending.
Buschman and Bogaerts noted that polygraph examination can increase disclosures not only of prior contact sexual offenses but also of sexual interest in young children, including admissions of masturbating to sexual fantasies of children and seeking opportunities to have sexual contacts with children. Online-only internet offenders have a relatively low risk for sexual recidivism compared to offline contact sexual offenders.
Further research is needed to identify the factors that distinguish those who have committed contact sexual offenses against a child from those who do not commit such offenses. This empirical knowledge would advance the understanding of risk of recidivism and the relationship between online and offline offending.
For example, it has been hypothesized that internet offenders who are lower in self-control e. Consistent with this idea, Lee and colleagues found that online offenders who had committed contact offenses scored higher on a measure of antisocial behavior and traits than online offenders who had no known history of sexual contact victims.
McCarthy found that "dual" offenders i. Similarly, Long et al. However, dual offenders were less likely to admit pedophilic sexual interests when interviewed, had less child pornography content and were involved with child pornography for shorter periods of time.
Reflecting the potential importance of opportunity, dual offenders were more likely to have access to children than child pornography only offenders, through co-residence or occupation. Seto, Hanson and Babchishin also reviewed recidivism rates from nine samples of internet offenders a total sample size of 2, online offenders followed for an average of slightly more than three years ranging from one-and-a-half to six years at risk. Approximately one in 20 4.
Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center
Indeed, there may be a subgroup of online-only offenders who pose relatively little risk for a contact sexual offense. In a recent preliminary analysis of data from federal child pornography offenders in the United States, using data obtained from the U. Sentencing Commission, Burgess, Carretta and Burgess noted that a majority of the offenders were employed 68 percent , had some college education 58 percent , were married or had previously been married 59 percent and had no prior criminal offenses 53 percent.
Offenders with these kinds of characteristics are relatively unlikely to criminally offend again compared to those who are unemployed, did not complete high school, had never married and had prior offenses. Internet offenders are not homogeneous with regard to risk. Some of them pose a relatively high risk of directly victimizing children or indirectly victimizing children by again accessing child pornography , and an important task for law enforcement and for clinicians is to identify those higher-risk individuals in order to prioritize cases and make more efficient decisions about resources.
Research is beginning to emerge on the factors that predict recidivism among internet sex offenders, although more studies using large samples, a set of theoretically or empirically plausible risk factor candidates, longer follow-up times and comprehensive criminal records are clearly needed. These initially identified risk factors appear to be the same kinds of risk factors seen in decades of research on contact sex offenders, and in research on all kinds of offenders generally.
The CPORT consists of seven items simply scored as present or absent: 1 offender age under 35 at the time of the police investigation; 2 any prior criminal history, whether sexual or nonsexual; 3 any prior or concurrent contact sexual offending; 4 any prior or concurrent failure on conditional release such as bail, probation or parole; 5 evidence of pedophilic or hebephilic sexual interests; 6 more boy than girl child pornography content and 7 more boy than girl content in other child related content e.
Broadly speaking, and in line with results for previous sex offender risk assessment tools, these items can be viewed as reflecting either atypical sexual interests admission of pedophilic or hebephilic sexual interests, relative interest in boys versus girls or antisocial tendencies younger age, criminal history, failure on conditional release Seto, , Other researchers have found similar results. Faust, Renaud and Bickart examined predictors of recidivism in a sample of child pornography offenders assessed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons between and The average length of follow-up was almost four years, with a sexual offense rearrest rate of 5.
Of the 30 predictors examined, five were significant predictors of sexual rearrest: lower education level, being single, possessing non-internet child pornography, prior sex offender treatment likely a proxy for having a prior sexual offending history and not possessing depictions of adolescent minors suggesting that those who show a preference for depictions of prepubescent children are at greater risk.
Juvenile Sex Offender Policy
Wakeling, Howard and Barnett showed that a modified version of an established risk measure the Risk Matrix ; Thornton, could predict sexual recidivism in a large sample of Internet offenders in the United Kingdom. Risk Matrix items include offender age, sexual and any other sentencing history, having a male victim, having a stranger victim, ever having a live-in romantic relationship, and having any noncontact offenses.
Wakeling and her colleagues obtained recidivism data on 1, offenders followed for one year 2. Although the base rate of sexual recidivism was relatively low after one or two years, making it more statistically difficult to identify significant predictors, the measure was nonetheless significantly predictive — to a similar degree as established risk measures with contact offenders.
Three-quarters of the new sexual offenses were for internet crimes. If this research — showing that the same risk factors that are useful in predicting recidivism among conventional contact sex offenders operate similarly for internet offenders — holds up in subsequent replications, then clinicians will be empirically justified to use modified versions of existing risk measures to assess internet offenders, such as the Static Harris et al.
This research is at an early stage and thus it is too soon to confidently conclude that existing risk measures modified or not will accurately predict sexual recidivism by internet offenders who have no history of contact sexual offending. The applicability and validity of risk measures to internet offenders who do have a history of contact sexual offending is not in question.
Clinicians and others are clearly justified in using existing risk measures to assess the risk of internet offenders who are known to have a history of contact sexual offending. There is relatively little literature on the treatment of internet offenders. Typically, knowledge about characteristics and risk of recidivism is established before knowledge about treatment approaches and outcomes because of the time it takes to develop and implement programs and then evaluate them for recidivism.
Sex offender treatment and supervision professionals are struggling to respond to the increasing influx of internet offenders. Key questions have yet to be addressed regarding intervention, including what the priority treatment targets are, how they should be targeted and whether interventions can reduce recidivism. This program was created as a result of treatment provider concerns about mixing internet and contact offenders in group therapy as well as questions about the applicability of some treatment components and targets of conventional contact sex offender treatment programs McGrath et al.
The program is based on contemporary models of contact sexual offending that emphasize cognitive-behavioral principles, but it also draws in elements of positive psychology, step and self-help approaches which is also common among conventional contact sex offender programs. The program is intended to be less intense than the standard conventional sex offender program available in the United Kingdom; it involves fewer 20 to 30 sessions in either individual or group format and more internet-relevant content.
A substantial number of internet sex offenders e. The i-SOTP content is organized into six modules corresponding to major dynamic risk factors identified in contact sex offender research, including general self-regulation problems e. These factors are dynamic because they can change over time e.
Dynamic risk factors can be distinguished from static risk factors that do not or cannot change e. Static risk factors provide the best long-term prediction of recidivism but they do not identify potential treatment and supervision targets. Treatments and other interventions that can successfully target dynamic risk factors are more likely to lead to reductions in recidivism. There were significant changes on 10 of 12 psychological measures, many corresponding to the treatment targets just described.
However, there was no comparison group, so it is not clear how much of these changes can be attributed to the treatment as opposed to the passage of time, probation involvement or participation in other programs. Another more rigorous evaluation is needed with either a no-treatment e. Continuing follow-up is also needed to determine if treatment participation especially treatment-related changes on specific targets are related to changes in recidivism in the desired direction.
Services on Demand
Another interesting self-help treatment approach is provided by the Stop It Now! UK organization. Also adopting a blend of cognitive-behavioral, step and self-help techniques, this website includes many of the topics covered by i-SOTP but is available to anyone with an internet connection. The main aim of this website is to reach individuals who are engaging in problematic online behaviors before they commit contact offenses.
Given that many such individuals are undetected by authorities U. Department of Justice, , any comprehensive response to internet offending will need to include a self-help component. A similar service is provided by nongovernmental organizations such as Stop It Now! One benefit of self-help and confidential approaches is that a larger group of at-risk individuals can be reached, especially in light of evidence that many online offenders go undetected.
Another benefit is the relatively low cost of such interventions.
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A disadvantage is the likelihood that the highest risk individuals those who have an antisocial orientation and already engage in contact sexual offending are probably less likely to seek self-help options. Another disadvantage is that follow-up data will not be available to evaluate the efficacy of these services.
Undetected internet offenders are unlikely to seek help given the severe stigma associated with self-identifying as being sexually interested in children or engaging, directly or indirectly, in the sexual exploitation of children. Undetected offenders are also likely to be inhibited by mandatory reporting requirements, as they cannot talk honestly about illegal acts they have committed. A research and treatment project the Dunkelfeld Project currently underway in Berlin, Germany, was able to recruit a large sample of self-identified individuals who were sexually interested in children Beier et al.
Most individuals in the sample 95 percent had engaged in illegal behavior at some time in their lives, but some had been inactive and had not committed a sexual offense in the previous six months.
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These men were reached through a mass media campaign with billboard and other public advertisements and television and radio spots. Preliminary evaluation results were reported by Beier et al. Between and , help-seeking individuals 72 percent admitting child pornography offending at some point in their lives expressed interest in participating in the one-year treatment program, based on cognitive behavioral principles. Beier et al. Treated participants showed improvement on sexual self-regulation, emotional problems and offense-supportive attitudes and beliefs, whereas untreated participants did not show any significant differences between their two assessments conducted after the same time interval.
There was no significant difference between groups in self-reported child pornography or contact sexual offending; indeed, many of the treated participants continued to use child pornography. It is clear from this review that research on Internet offending is relatively new and that there are substantial gaps in the knowledge about internet offenders and the crimes they commit.
At the same time, research conducted over the past 10 years paralleling the emergence of the internet in everyday life sheds some helpful light on some key issues.
There is consistent evidence that the number of internet sexual offending cases is increasing rapidly, with major implications for law enforcement, criminal justice, correctional and clinical agencies. However, more precise state-by-state data are needed to better understand the breadth and depth of this increasing demand in order to allocate resources wisely and to determine if there are meaningful geographic differences that might suggest solutions to this demand e.
The Sex-Offender Test
Most of the research on internet offenders has focused on child pornography offenders. Less is known about the characteristics, contact offending history and recidivism risk posed by solicitation offenders and the extent to which they differ from child pornography offenders who also use online technologies to commit their crimes and contact sex offenders who have actually attempted to make or have made physical contact with a victim. Also, little is known about offenders who use the internet to commit sex crimes against adults e.
Internet-facilitated sexual offending includes various types of crimes, including possession, distribution and production of child pornography; sexual solicitations; and conspiracy crimes. Emerging research suggests that solicitation offenders are different from child pornography offenders in meaningful ways. In particular, child pornography offenders are likely to be pedophiles, whereas solicitation offenders appear to be predominantly interested in adolescent girls.