Technology assisted child sexual abuse in the UK: Young people’s views on the impact of online sexual abuse

Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis, Elly Hanson, Whittle Helen, Filipa Alves-Costa, Anthony Beech

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Background: There is little research exploring the impact of technology assisted child sexual abuse (TA-CSA) and how this is similar to/differs from offline.

Objectives: This novel study aimed to understand the impact following TA-CSA from the perspective of young people, including identifying additional elements or complexities arising from the digital element.

Participants and settings: Quantitative data was collected in the UK from 30 young people, 16 completed qualitative interviews, and screening data was collected from another 230 young people. All were recruited via a children’s helpline, a children’s charity or a law enforcement agency. Interviews were conducted face-to-face, by telephone or online; questionnaires were completed online.

Methods: A mixed methods approach was employed to enable a fuller, richer understanding of TA-CSA using triangulation of data from different sources.

Results: TA-CSA occurred in 46.4% to 62.5% of cases. No statistically significant differences were found between TA-CSA and offline for impact of abuse; although the study was somewhat underpowered. Qualitative analysis identified similar impacts to offline CSA, but also six ways in which technology facilitated the initiation, escalation and maintenance of abuse (e.g., ease of access, control of the night time space, blackmail using images) and complicated the impact in five ways (e.g., permanence and loss of control of images, revictimisation).

Conclusions: This study showed that although TA-CSA is sometimes viewed as less serious than offline CSA, the emotional, psychological and behavioural outcomes appear to be the same. Furthermore, the role of technology as a facilitator of abuse and the additional complexities in impact need to be accounted for in practice guidelines and policies.

Keywords: technology-assisted; digital; child sexual abuse; online; impact
Original languageEnglish
Article number105451
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Early online date19 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2020


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