Child sexual exploitation and abuse – perpetrator typologies, comparisons and implications for risk assessment and treatment

   Centre for Applied Psychological Science

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  Dr Sam Richardson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a distinct form of child sexual abuse (CSA) and thus while CSE, from a victim’s perspective, shares many similarities with CSA, there are likely to be some marked differences between the offenders’ modus operandi, motivations and criminogenic needs. The prevalence of child sexual exploitation (CSE) is hard to determine, due to the lack of self-report survey data exploring rates of perpetration and victimisation. Similarly, the calculation of incidents is hampered by under-reporting by victims, under-identification by safeguarding professionals and inconsistencies in how reported cases are recorded by the police (Home Office, 2020). To-date, there is no known count of the number perpetrators of CSE or calculation of the prevalence of CSE perpetration or studies undertaken to determine whether CSE offenders are a distinct group of CSA perpetrators. The latter issue has significant implications for the applicability of risk assessment tools and treatment options for offenders apprehended for CSE when these have been designed for CSA offenders more generally.

Existing research on CSE perpetrators has largely focused on identifying the nature and dynamics of their behaviours, motivations, target recruitment and grooming strategies (Berelowitz et al., 2015; Home Office, 2020; Sharp-Jeffs et al., 2017; Walker et al., 2018). Risk assessment in sex offenders has typically been conceptualised as risk for recidivism rather than the risk of likely harms to the victims. This might be partly attributed to it being unlikely to leave a child who recognised as a victim of CSA within easy reach of the perpetrator. However, in the context of extra-familial CSE, where successful prosecutions are deemed unlikely, disruption strategies, the efficacy of which to protect the victims remain un-evaluated, are used as an alternative to prosecution. Thus, potentially leaving the victim and the perpetrator in close proximity to one another. Therefore, knowing the likely risk for harm to the victim might aid the selection between disruption strategies and/or the choice between pursuance of prosecution over disruption.

This PhD opportunity would permit a significant development in the understanding of the perpetration of CSE and of the risk for harm that the offenders pose to the victims they target. The project will be interdisciplinary in its focus combining forensic psychology and criminology – particularly policing-practice and is likely to employ a mixed-methods approach to data collection.

The supervisor is Dr Sam Richardson from the Centre for Applied Psychological Science

Entry requirements

You should hold or expect to obtain a good honours degree (2:1 or above) in a relevant discipline. A master’s level qualification in a relevant discipline is desirable, but not essential, as well as a demonstrable understanding of the research area. International students will be subject to the standard entry criteria relating to English language ability, ATAS clearance and, when relevant, UK visa requirements and procedures.

Applications are welcome from UK, EU and International students.

How to apply

Application is online or copy and paste the following link:

Key dates

  • Application closing date: 5.00pm, 5th February 2024.
  • Shortlisting and interviews: March 2024.
  • Start date: October 2024.


Psychology (31) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

The fully-funded PhD studentship covers tuition fees for the period of a full-time PhD Registration of up to four years and provides an annual tax-free stipend of £18,622 for three years, subject to satisfactory progress.