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Researchers from UEL and Middlesex to investigate child sexual abuse offender profiles

18 month project will address urgent questions

Researchers at the University of East London (UEL) and Middlesex University will undertake an 18 month project to address urgent questions and gaps in knowledge around child sexual exploitation offender profiles.

The team have been commissioned by the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse, which is funded by the Home Office, to develop evidence-based profiles mapping the different types of sexual exploitation offender.  

For example, it will show, based on evidence, if ‘organised exploitation’ or ‘grooming gangs’ are a clearly defined type of offending, and if so, what the characteristics are and how these overlap with other forms of child sexual exploitation offending.

Commenting on the task ahead, Julia Davidson (pictured), professor of criminology at UEL and senior project lead said, “This project will explore the fluidity of online and offline offending behaviours and contexts across offence categories, based upon analysis of offender case files and interviews with key stakeholders. It has important implications for practice and criminal justice policy in this high priority area.”

Co-leader of the project, Dr Elena Martellozzo, of the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies at Middlesex University, said, “Current ‘typologies’ or ‘models’ of child sexual abuse have largely been developed by those working in criminal justice and child protection to help them describe what they see in their practice.  

“This is an understandable response but has led to inconsistencies and confusion regarding what we mean when we use terms to describe different types of child sexual abuse.  We need to investigate an alternative evidence-based approach. This research will contribute to filling those gaps.”  

Professor Davidson and Dr Martellozzo will be supported by Professor Joanne Alder and Dr Daniela Lup of Middlesex University’s Forensic Psychological Services.

The team has worked with the wider child sexual abuse sector for more than three decades and has strong existing networks with police, health services, social services, prisons and third sector organisations across the UK, EU  and internationally. 

Research and practitioner training related to this work has been carried out by the team across social, charity, voluntary services and the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection command, the Metropolitan Police, the NSPCC, the Ministry of Justice, the Children’s Commissioner for England and the National Probation Service. 

The researchers will not be interviewing or working directly with those who have sexually abused children, and will therefore not specifically look at the motivations of those who offend. It is also not the aim of the project to present a picture of the scale of child sexual abuse, but to focus on the nature of sex offences against children.