Is a sexual interest in children a new phenomenon or has it just been hidden from view until recent years?

The wide availability of the Internet and the huge variety of adult pornography to be found there may be linked to the apparent explosion in the number of people regularly using pornography and/or viewing sexual images of children.

Whilst the Internet may have led more people to use pornography (legal) than would have done before it arrived, the question remains how and why it becomes a problematic and illegal activity for some and not others.


The process of offending

Many people who sexually offend say the offences “just happened” or “it was a one off”.  The truth is sexual offences rarely ‘just happen’. No-one does anything without wanting to do it and thinking about it first (although some people do spend longer thinking things through). In 1984 David Finklehor developed a model (called the Preconditions model) which breaks down the process someone goes through in order to commit a sexual offence.

Finkelhor’s Preconditions Model (1984) 

What is the Preconditions Model?

David Finkelhor created the preconditions model or ‘steps to offending’. It can be used to help professionals, family members, young people and offenders understand the process of sexual abuse, including online abuse, and what they can do to prevent it/reduce the harm caused by it. He argues that four preconditions must be present in order for a sexual offence to occur.  The model is based on a cognitive behavioural approach; examining the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviour.



For whatever reasons a person begins to view sexual images of children, it has become clear that, for many, it becomes very difficult to stop.  Of all the kinds of behaviours that might cause distress to partners, family members and friends, the thought that someone they love is looking at sexual images of children online is one of the most upsetting. For this reason – and because of the fear of the consequences of getting caught – it is almost impossible for people to talk to anyone about it.  Usually, the first time that anyone else becomes aware of the behaviour is when the police arrive on the doorstep.


We are now going to look at what makes it difficult for people to stop looking at images despite knowing it is wrong and, often, wanting to stop.



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