BACKGROUND: Sexual violence against children across different mediums, both online
and offline is a prevailing problem. Yet there is a dearth of research on clinical
characteristics of these contact child sex offenders, and in particular Internet child sex
offender groups. Primarily previous research has focused on risk and risk management.
In contrast, recently defining clinical characteristics has become a research focus, with
clinical needs and deficits such as social anxiety and loneliness being investigated as
potential psychological factors that precipitate and maintain offending. Despite this,
these clinical characteristics have not been assessed in this offender group in Scotland.
It is on this basis that this thesis endeavours to explore these features within the child
sex offender population.
METHOD: A systematic review of the literature was performed to identify if social
anxiety is associated with male contact child sex offenders. Secondly, the empirical
research study employed an exploratory quantitative design and to inform our
understanding of the psychological characteristics of community Internet child sex
offenders (N =31) when compared with non -offenders (N = 31). It was hypothesised that
social anxiety, loneliness and obsessive compulsive disorder would be greater in the
offender sample. Mann Whitney U tests and Kendal -tau correlations were used to
investigate the hypotheses between the groups. Initially, contact child sex offenders and
violent offenders were recruited for comparison, however due to insufficient numbers
were excluded from the final study.
RESULTS: The systematic review suggested eight of the eighteen studies showed an
inconclusive statistical association between social anxiety and sexual offending against
children. Of the remaining ten studies, one study had a strong statistical association,
four studies had a moderate statistical association and five studies were weak statistical
association. The empirical research study found that social anxiety and loneliness were
statistically significantly greater in Internet child sex offenders than non -offenders.
Additionally, correlations between online cognitions dependency (problematic internet
use) and social anxiety and loneliness were significant, indicating a possible function of
problematic Internet use within this offender group.
CONCLUSIONS: Overall, the findings from the systematic review indicate there is lack of
strong statistical association studies between social anxiety and sex offending, therefore,
the results may have been tempered by other factors due to methodological
inconsistencies across the studies. The empirical study indicated a statistically
significant difference between the groups on social anxiety and loneliness, with Internet
child pornography sex offenders were statistical significantly greater in these deficits
than non -offenders. However, clinically only one fifth of the ICSO group reached the
clinically significant cut off for social anxiety. Additionally, there may not be a direct
relationship due to several possible confounding factors. The role of problematic
Internet use may increase clarity on the clinical characteristics of this offender group
and warrants further investigation. The implications of this research suggest that
treatment may require a focus on social needs and isolation within this group. Strengths
and limitations of the systematic review and the research were discussed with
implications for clinical practice and future research also being proposed.