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Mapping research into child sexual abuse

Findings from an initial survey

Author: Polly Pascoe

Research aims and scope

The Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse (CSA Centre) has identified that, while there is a significant level of research activity on topics related to child sexual abuse (CSA), there is a lack of coordination across the field.

The survey described in this report was conducted by the CSA Centre in early 2018 with the aim of building an understanding of the current research landscape related to CSA. An online questionnaire was completed by 53 professionals involved in the commissioning, funding or delivery of research related to CSA; these respondents worked across a range of organisations in academia, practice and policy. Details of 163 projects were submitted, and additional input was provided via other stakeholder engagement during the survey period.

The survey focused on ongoing and recently completed research. Its limitations are that it did not include older published research, and of course that the respondents were selfselecting from a population that may not have reflected the full extent of relevant research.

Key findings

The survey was intended to provide a first exploratory insight into the types and forms of research currently being undertaken within the field of CSA.

  • Most frequently, research was both funded and commissioned primarily by academic, public sector and charity sector organisations.
  • Online grooming and CSA imagery were key themes investigated by research into perpetration.
  • The analysis and reporting of administrative data by practitioner organisations (mostly healthcare organisations) was a feature of a number of studies.
  • Common topics in research included responses to CSA by the police and the ways in which educational and sporting establishments safeguard children.
  • Evaluative studies focused mostly on services, approaches or tools related specifically to child sexual exploitation.
  • Interventions were the most popular focus of research projects, with the majority of these studies focusing on interventions for victims/survivors.
  • There was a noticeable lack of focus on lesser-heard voices (e.g. BAME communities, children in care, children with learning disabilities, LGBT+) within the projects submitted, highlighting areas for future knowledge development.
  • An interest in risk assessment, with regard to victims, survivors and those who commit CSA, was observed in the data collected. This was most commonly related to preventing victimisation and reducing reoffending.