The hunters and the hunted
: exploring practitioner and public attitudes towards paedophile hunting groups and the implications for risk management

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Public fascination with those convicted of sexual offences against children and the appetite for naming and shaming these individuals is not a new phenomenon. The rise in popularity of the internet and the surge in content available online is more recent, and so is the problem of threat exceeding capacity. This research therefore set out to critically analyse practitioner and public perceptions towards paedophile hunting activity. Considering both the attitudes of those who have experience in managing the risk of convicted sexual offenders in the community, and synthesising these with the attitudes and opinions of members of the public. To achieve this, the research has utilised a mixed methods design. It included 28 in-depth, qualitative interviews with police and probation practitioners who have experience of overseeing risk management of convicted sexual offenders in the community. In addition to a large-scale online survey, yielding 426 responses, utilised to understand public perceptions of both sexual offenders and paedophile hunting groups.
The research was an exploratory examination using a mixed method approach which included an online survey to generate the quantitative data and in-depth qualitative interviews. As it is an exploratory, mixed-methods analysis of opinions relating to paedophile hunters, there was no overall hypotheses being tested. The aim was to develop new knowledge, to inform community attitudes, engagement, and to provide information for training and advice to police and probation practitioners. The research was interdisciplinary in that it involved the broad topic areas of risk management, public protection, internet-based or cyber-crime, quantitative methods and qualitative methods. NVivo was used to analyse the views and opinions expressed by practitioners in qualitative semi-structured interviews and attitudes and opinions of the public were analysed using SPSS. Data analysis followed a constant comparative method, which allows connections to be made with broader contextual issues. In this research, constant comparison was used to generate hypotheses based on information from both the qualitative and quantitative data that were then tested using correlation analysis in SPSS. Linking the studies has allowed associations to be made to broader contextual issues and in this research, that has most notably included comparing practitioner and public opinions with the literature included within the theoretical framework of public notification.
The research findings indicate a noteworthy conflict in practitioner’s attitudes regarding the moral and ethical validity of paedophile hunting activity. It also identifies that while the public feel police forces should be utilising the information or ‘evidence’ collected by paedophile hunters to convict sexual offenders in court, they do not overwhelmingly support the activity. This research highlights the significant complexities surrounding the issue of paedophile hunting activity and it has identified that there is a continuum. Along this continuum, some, non-violent, forms of paedophile hunting activity are supported and even encouraged. Whilst more violent or aggressive forms of paedophile hunting activity, those more closely associated with typical vigilantism, are not supported and are indeed discouraged. As a result, and despite the actions of paedophile hunters having an obvious impact on risk management of convicted sexual offenders in the community, practitioners and members of the public do not routinely condemn paedophile hunting activity. Indeed, the research concludes that there is neither vast support for paedophile hunting activity in its entirety, nor clarity about the unhelpfulness of the activity. In doing so, it makes four key recommendations relating to community engagement, training for practitioners and identifies areas for further research.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAndy Williams (Supervisor)

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