Background: Despite the rise in ‘online’/technology-assisted child sexual abuse (TA-CSA), little research has been conducted on professionals’ perceptions beyond reporting on young people's experiences. Objectives: This novel study aimed to understand how professionals who work with victims perceive online CSA (i.e., dynamics and impact), and organizational responses to it. Participants and settings: Seven child protection professionals completed a paper-based pilot questionnaire; another 45 professionals (from child protection, policing, education and therapy) completed a shorter, online survey. Methods: Recruitment occurred via a child protection conference, relevant law enforcement/child protection organizations, and advertised via BASPCAN (a national organization for child protection professionals). Results: Professionals often demonstrated a limited understanding of the wide range of ‘online’ CSA. Online CSA was often seen by organizations and some professionals as less serious than offline CSA, with offline victims’ prioritized as higher risk, even though respondents noted the impact may be the same. Organizations rarely had clearly outlined assessment/intervention pathways, and some professionals noted that organizations are more likely to perceive victims as ‘active’ participants or to blame for their abuse. Conclusions: There is often a limited understanding of the risks and severity of TA-CSA, and this can lead to victims remaining at risk, a systemic failure to protect, and a decreased chance of accessing appropriate interventions. Drawing on our findings, we make a number of recommendations, including adoption of the term ‘technology-assisted abuse’, adapted assessment tools and interventions, and widespread training. Policies should be reviewed to ensure they are not implicitly minimizing this serious form of abuse.
- Child sexual abuse
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health