Digital behaviours and cognitions of individuals convicted of online child pornography offences
BACKGROUND: Modern Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM) offences predominantly occur within a technological ecosystem. The behaviours and cognitions of CSEM offenders influence, and are influenced by, their choice of facilitative technologies that form that ecosystem. OBJECTIVES: This thesis will review the prior research on cognitive distortions present in and technology usage by CSEM offenders, and present a new theory, Lawless Space Theory (LST), to explain those interactions. The cognitions and technical behaviours of previously convicted CSEM offenders will be examined in a psychosocial context and recommendations for deterrence, investigative, and treatment efforts made. PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Data was collected using an online survey collected from two samples, one from a reference population of the general public (n=524) and one from a population of previously convicted CSEM offenders (n=78), both of which were composed of adults living in the United States. METHODS: Two reviews were conducted using a PRISMA methodology - a systematic review of the cognitive distortions of CSEM offenders and an integrative review of their technology usage. A theoretical basis for LST was developed, and then seven investigations of the survey data were conducted evaluating the public’s endorsement of lawless spaces; the public’s perceptions of CSEM offenders; the self-perceptions of CSEM offenders; the suicidality of the offender sample; the use of technology and countermeasures by the offender sample; the collecting and viewing behaviours of the offender sample; and the idiographic profiles of the offender sample. RESULTS: The reviews found that the endorsement of traditional child contact offender cognitive distortions by CSEM offenders was low, and that they continued to use technology beyond its normative lifecycle. LST was developed to explain these behaviours, and the view of the Internet as generally lawless was endorsed by the reference and offender samples. The public sample showed biased beliefs that generally overestimated the prevalence of, and risk associated with, CSEM offending when compared to the offender sample. Offenders were found to have viewed investigators as having a lack of understanding and compassion, and they exhibited very high suicidal ideation following their interaction with law enforcement. Offenders exhibited similar technical abilities and lower technophilia than the reference sample, chose technologies to both reduce psychological strain and for utility purposes, and many exhibited cyclic deletions of their collections as part of a guilt/shame cycle. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Understanding CSEM offenders’ technological behaviours and cognitions can inform more effective investigative, deterrence, and treatment efforts. Law enforcement showing compassion during investigations may generate more full disclosures while facilitating offender engagement with resources to reduce suicidality. Deterrence efforts focused on establishing capable guardianship and reducing perceived lawlessness provide the potential to reduce offending. Treatment of criminogenic needs for the majority of CSEM offenders is not supported by evidence, but non-criminogenic treatment warrants broader consideration.