Researching child sexual exploitation: Methodological challenges of working with police data

Taylor, Maureen (2017). Researching child sexual exploitation: Methodological challenges of working with police data. In: Lombard, Nancy ed. The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Violence. Routledge Handbooks. Routledge, pp. 250–261.



The role of research in reducing crime and informing the development of police policy and practice has received increasing acceptance in the past 30 years (Cockbain and Knuttson, 2015). The relationship between researchers and the police has not been without tensions (Cockbain, 2015), but as the momentum for police accountability and cost effectiveness increases, so too does the need for solutions to emerging crime ‘threats’. One such threat is child sexual exploitation (CSE). Whilst not a new phenomenon, child sexual exploitation has emerged as a politically charged issue bounded within a broader concern for child abuse and violence against women. Its nature and prevalence has become the subject of policy debate, particularly following the exposure of failings by the police and social services to protect girls and young women from predatory groups of men in a number of towns in England (Bedford, 2015; Berelowitz et al., 2013; Coffey, 2014; Drew, 2016; Jay, 2014; Klonowski, 2013). The hidden and emotive nature of the subject means that researching CSE presents a number of challenges to the academic researcher, particularly when the research is within the context of policing and in an era of public service austerity and scrutiny. Drawing upon data from PhD research, conducting research in CSE using police data, this chapter will explore some of the methodological challenges, the need for pragmatism in the choice of methods and the practical difficulties encountered in this area of research. It also will highlight for other potential researchers some of the pitfalls in the police research process.

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