A review of the research on children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour online (HSB) What online HSB is and how it compares to HSB offline

Teenage boy looking at his mobile phoneThis review of the literature about online harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) was carried out to help inform and update guidance for practitioners working with children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour.

The report brings together current research on the developmental appropriateness of children's sexual behaviour online and the comparison and cross-over between children and young people displaying online and offline HSB.

This report is part of our Impact and evidence series.

Authors: Emma Belton and Vicki Hollis
Published: 2016

Key findings from the review of literature published between 2000 and 2015 include:

  • a small proportion of young people view violent pornography or online child abuse images
  • the likelihood of viewing indecent images of children (IIOC) appears to increase with the frequency in which young people view pornography online
  • young people known to have viewed IIOC appear to have different backgrounds, characteristics, friendships and sexual interests to those who have committed contact sexual offences
  • a small proportion of young people who view IIOC online go on to commit further sexual offences. Young people displaying offline HSB were more likely to reoffend than those displaying online HSB.
Foreword 3
Acknowledgements 4
Glossary of terms 8
Key findings 10
Executive summary 12
Introduction 18
Sexual offending and the internet 25
Part 1a: Child and adolescent access to indecent images of children (IIOC): what is developmentally appropriate and when does this become problematic or abusive? 28
Part 1b: Why do children and young people access IIOC and how does this compare to the motivations of adult offenders? 41
Part 2: The profile and characteristics of children and young people accessing IIOC online. 48
Part 3: Is there a link between online/IIOC offending and offline sexual offending? 66
Discussion 84
Bibliography 90
Appendix A: Search strategy 108

Please cite as: Belton, E. and Hollis, V. (2016) A review of the research on children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour online: what is developmentally appropriate online sexual behaviour, do children and young people with online versus offline harmful sexual behaviours (HSB) differ, and is there an association between online and offline HSB? London: NSPCC.

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