Characteristics and behaviors of anonymous users of dark web platforms suspected of child sexual offenses

Jessica Woodhams, Juliane Kloess, Brendan Jose, Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis

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International law enforcement have noted a rise in the use of the Dark Web to facilitate and commit sexual offenses against children, both prior to and since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study presented here therefore aimed to investigate the characteristics and behaviors of anonymous users of Dark Web platforms who were suspected of engaging in the sexual abuse of children. Naturally-occurring data on 53 anonymous suspects, who were active on the Dark Web and had come to police attention in the United Kingdom (UK), were sampled. Analysis of the data yielded 462 features that could be coded reliably. Analysis of these features provided novel insights into suspects’ characteristics, their motivations for using the Dark Web, the nature of the offending behavior they reported engaging in, their technical and security precautions, sexual interests, and the content of their interactions with one another. Findings are discussed in relation to theoretical and practical implications, as well as directions for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number623668
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the unnamed police force who collaborated with them in the production and delivery of this research project. Funding. This research project was funded by an ESRC Impact Acceleration award, a Higher Education Innovation award, and an EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Scheme award from the University of Birmingham, an EPSRC Impact Acceleration Award from the University of Bath, and with funding from the unnamed United Kingdom police force. Later stages of the research project were funded by an award from the Police Knowledge Fund.


  • Internet sex offending
  • TOR
  • dark web
  • offender characteristics
  • online (Internet) child sexual abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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