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Tackling child abuse

Problem Solved: university research answering today's challenges

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Research carried out by Alliance universities frequently influences policy on a local, national and international level.

Alliance universities work with policy-makers across a spectrum of issues that affect communities and individuals on a daily basis. Researchers at Kingston University through The Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) are investigating the online grooming behaviours of sexual offenders.

Researchers at Kingston University through The Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) are investigating the online grooming behaviours of sexual offenders.

The research project, run with partners in Italy, Belgium and Norway, is attracting interest worldwide and will inform internet safety legislation and policy across Europe, as well as law enforcement agencies and providers of treatment services for sexual offenders.

Working with police and prison services throughout Europe, the project explores motivation and victim selection practices among internet sexual offenders. The breadth of expertise within CATS allows its researchers to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries when working with victims and perpetrators. In the project’s first phase, which began in 2009, they found similarities in the behaviour of sexual offenders, regardless of their country of origin. Previous research had revealed that abusers earn the trust of their victims through a variety of socialisation processes that often last several months. CATS researchers have shown that abusers have become increasingly competent with new technologies, fast-tracking the grooming process through social networking sites such as Facebook.

They work rapidly through lists of hundreds of youngsters until someone agrees to meet with them. Researchers believe that, by talking to convicted offenders about how they selected and prepared their victims, they will be better able to warn of the potential dangers. In addition, by talking to young people, parents and teachers, they aim to identify the most effective ways of promoting safer internet practices. CATS will also work with social networking sites to improve internet safety and is currently collaborating with Facebook to disseminate preliminary findings.

Findings from the first phase of the research are now being disseminated to the police, social and health services, NGOs, children’s charities and others that may be able to use the findings to make positive steps in the fight against child abuse.

“There has never been a more important time for the academic community to step forward and provide their perspective on the challenging world of child abuse. Professionals are so immersed in addressing the symptoms and manifestations of abuse, they rarely have the time or resources to analyse the issues and tailor their response accordingly.”

Peter Spindler, Commander at the Metropolitan Police