Exploring vulnerability among children and young people who experience online sexual victimisation

Batool, Saqba (2020) Exploring vulnerability among children and young people who experience online sexual victimisation. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Online grooming and sexual exploitation of children and young people is an increasing concern for parents, internet providers as well as professionals involved in safeguarding children and detecting offenders. The existing literature has reported online grooming processes as well as risk factors that are associated with victimisation and perpetration (O’Connell, 2003; Webster et al., 2012). However, there is little theoretical understanding of risk factors associated with children and young people being vulnerable to online sexual exploitation. The first part of the PhD programme included synthesising and critically appraising literature on: 1) factors that relate to adolescents engaging in risky internet use, 2) victim risk, resilience and protective factors, 3) online groomer characteristics, and 4) the process involved in an adult grooming an adolescent. These systematic reviews identified methodological and theoretical gaps in the literature and influenced the design of the subsequent empirical studies. The first empirical study explored the influence psychological, interpersonal, developmental and behavioural factors had on online sexual soliciation and exploitation. This study used a quantiative approach and collected data from university students using an online survey. The second empirical study adopted a qualitative approach and interviewed law enforcement personnel and professionals who had encountered at least one victim of online sexual exploitation. In addition, 2 victims of online grooming and sexual exploitation were also interviewed. The results highlighted that behavioural (i.e., online and offline risky behaviours), social, interpersonal and psychological factors increased the likelihood of online sexual soliciation and exploitation. This PhD also developed a typology of victims of online sexual exploitation and this includes ‘naïve / curious’, ‘chaotic’ and ‘situational vulnerability’ victims.

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