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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

Recidivism, desistence and life course trajectories of young sexual abusers

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


Since the early 1990s, there has been a growing recognition in the UK that children and young people are responsible for a significant proportion of reported and unreported instances of sexual abuse against children and, on occasion, adults. There has been, however, very little evaluative research or follow-up of ex-service users to discover and analyse their subsequent adolescent development and their life circumstances as young adults. This study will describe and analyse the experiences and lifecourse trajectories of young adults who, in their childhood, were subject to professional interventions because of sexually abusive behaviour. 100 former service users known to welfare or criminal justice agencies will be traced 10 years following the emergence of their initial sexual behaviour problems. In-depth qualitative, narrative interviews with respondents will cast light on their current circumstances and personal functioning. Interview data will be complemented with data collected from historical case files, criminal statistics and interviews with professionals. The study will assist in the identification of factors which promote resilience, desistance and positive outcomes as well as risk and recidivism. Findings will inform policy and practice and will give a voice to a user group previously neglected in social research.


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Recidivism, Desistance And Life Course (£199816.60 from ESRC)


The overall aim of the study is:

  • To describe and analyse the experiences and life circumstances of young adults who, in their childhoods, were subject to professional interventions because of their sexually abusive behaviours, and to consider the implications of these experiences for policy and service delivery.

The key objectives are:

  • To identify, trace and secure a total sample of 100 ex-service users who were known to welfare and/or criminal justice agencies ten years ago because of sexually abusive behaviours in their childhoods;
  • To undertake an in-depth interview with respondents about their experiences as former service users and their life circumstances in the intervening years, complementing this data, where possible, with study of their case records and interviews with professionals who knew the respondents;
  • To assess the current social circumstances and personal functioning of participants via the completion of a range of standardized measures;
  • To identify rates of recidivism amongst participants through analysis of official records;
  • To identify factors to explain why the life circumstances of participants who have continued to have significant psychosocial problems in adulthood (both sexual and non sexual in nature) may differ from those of participants who have not;
  • To give voice to a service user group which has been neglected in social research; and
  • To synthesise findings in order to inform future policy, service provision and professional practice in relation to children and young people with sexually abusive behaviours.


From the Department of Sociology