Les cognitions soutenant la cyberdélinquance sexuelle commise envers les enfants : leur nature, leur mesure et leur rôle

Translated title of the thesis: Cognitions supporting online sexual offending against children: Their nature, measurement and role

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Scientific research on contact sexual offenders against children has highlighted the importance of cognitive factors in relation to sexual offending and sexual recidivism (e.g., Helmus, Hanson, Babchishin, & Mann, 2013). Early research focused on identifying the cognitive products, also called cognitive distortions, of individuals who sexually offend against children, and developing psychometric instruments for their measure (e.g., the MOLEST scale; Bumby, 1996). More recently, efforts have focused on developing a better understanding of the cognitive structures, (i.e., cognitive schemas also called implicit theories) that appear to represent the offenders’ deep beliefs about the world and their victims. This knowledge, however, was developed for offenders who engage in contact sexual offending and the research on the cognitions of individuals who engage in online sexual offending remains very limited. While preliminary results suggest that online sexual offenders possess offense-supportive cognitive structures that are different from those of contact sexual offenders (Bartels & Merdian, 2016), much work remains to better understand this phenomenon. The overarching goal of this thesis was to improve our understanding of the offense-supportive cognitions of online sexual offenders.
This thesis presents the results of three separate but complementary studies that shed light on the nature, measure and role of cognitions that support online offending. First, from a sample of sixty police interrogations of online sexual offenders, a thematic discourse analysis identified eight implicit theories shared by child sexual exploitation material users and child luring offenders: 1) Nature of Harm; 2) Uncontrollability; 3) Child as Sexual Being; 4) Entitlement; 5) Dangerous World; 6) Child as Partner; 7) Virtual is not Real and; 8) Internet is Uncontrollable. The results of this analysis served as the basis for the development, following Classical Test Theory and Item Response Theory, of the Cognitions on Internet Sexual Offending scale (C-ISO) which was validated with an independent sample of 241 individuals who had been convicted for online sexual, contact sexual, or non-sexual offenses. The analyses revealed that the scale possesses excellent psychometric properties, includes a wide range of items that represent a continuum of difficulty and that successfully discriminate between offenders’ groups. The third study examined the association of these cognitions, combined with atypical sexuality, problematic self-regulation and perceived anonymity, with online sexual offending against children. Results revealed that cognitions supporting online sexual behaviour are specifically associated with the commission of online sexual offending against children, while cognitions supporting the sexual abuse of children are associated with the commission of contact sexual offending. In addition, results indicate that cognitions moderate the relationship between sexual preoccupation online sexual offending behaviors for men highly preoccupied by sexuality.
The results from this doctoral research have several research and clinical implications. First, this thesis contributes to the development of knowledge regarding the nature of cognitions by identifying the cognitive structures of online sexual offenders associated with the consumption of child sexual exploitation material and the luring of children online. Furthermore, it provided the first psychometric tool specifically validated for the measurement of cognitions supporting online sexual offending, which will allow measuring changes in a therapeutic context. Finally, the improved understanding of the cognitions that support online sexual offending will contribute to the elaboration of better clinical targets in the treatment of men who have engaged in the sexual exploitation of children on the internet.
Date of Award2018
Original languageFrench
Awarding Institution
  • University of Montreal
SupervisorFranca Cortoni (Supervisor)

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