"Every picture tells a story". A study of those who gather and accumulate legal and illegal images

McNally, A., 2016. "Every picture tells a story". A study of those who gather and accumulate legal and illegal images. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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Researchers speculated that some child sex offenders who gather and accumulate indecent images of children (IIOC) appear to be engaged in some form of collecting behaviour. Original sentencing guidelines (2004) for IIOC offending recommended higher sentences based on the nature of the images accumulated, the size of the IIOC accumulation and whether it is organised. Updated sentencing guidelines, such as the A, B, C classifications (Sexual Offences Definitive Guidelines in 2014) still see some collecting processes pointing to deviancy in IIOC offenders. This collecting-offending hypothesis is untested and was a prompt for undertaking this thesis. Collecting terminology is not well-defined, there is no unifying psychological theory of collecting and no empirical studies investigating image collecting. Chapter one sought to review the literature in an attempt to operationalise the concept of collecting. From this first formal review of collecting literature coherence in collecting language emerged and a new collecting frame was posited. This collecting frame is thought to incorporate three core collecting units termed the collectible, the collection and the collector. Three core elements are proposed, that is nature, function and process, and these along with the collecting units form part of a relational matrix which was termed the collecting frame. In chapter one the boundary between pathological (hoarding disorder) and normative collecting is also reviewed and it was concluded that whilst further boundary refinement work is needed they are likely to be distinct phenomena. Chapter two contributes original work, as IIOC offending research is reviewed through a collecting lens. Applying the new collecting frame from Chapter one to IIOC offending was not straightforward, and the terms used for core collecting units needed to be adapted to account for the abusive and illegal nature of some images and to avoid reinforcing offence supportive distorted thinking which might encourage further IIOC offending (Sheldon & Howitt 2007). The term collector was changed to IIOC offender, the collectible became the IIOC or images of child erotica, and collection was referred to as the IIOC accumulation. The collecting process was discussed in regard to actual behaviours, that is, gathering, acquiring, keeping and maintaining accumulations. Applying the collecting frame helped map the topography of the extant IIOC literature which pertains to the collecting-offending hypothesis under study. It was identified that whilst the use of objective measures of IIOC classification and collection configuration are popular and useful, this approach fails to take account of the dominant view from collecting theory which emphasises that what is defined as a collectible and collection can also be subjectively defined. The implications of examining the subjective and objective nature of collecting amongst IIOC offenders is examined, and the lack of studies holistically and prospectively studying the function and processes in IIOC offenders accumulating is pointed out based on the review of expert opinion and empirical papers. A case is also made for systematic testing of McIntosh and Schmeichel's (2004) psychological model of collecting process, using a parsimonious model which integrates collecting and offending processes. This thesis also contributes three original studies, using a mixed method design to explore the collecting-offending hypothesis. The first IPA study in this thesis addressed a gap in the collecting literature by exploring the experiences of image collectors. Next a similarly designed IPA study was conducted to examine the subjective experiences of a sample of convicted sex offenders who self-reported gathering and accumulating indecent images of children. Finally in study three a newly developed survey drawn from collecting theory and IIOC research was implemented to examine whether a collecting group could be identified, along with the nature, function and process of collecting-offending in a convicted sample of IIOC offenders. This study also aims to examine the pathological collecting-offending hypothesis suggested by Sheldon and Howitt (2007) and Murrie, Warren, Kristiansson and Dietz (2002), by measuring hoarding and Asperger related symptomology. In this thesis qualitative and quantitative data were given equal priority and the findings from all the studies were merged in the final conclusion to give meaning and detail to our understanding of collecting behaviour and the collecting-offending hypothesis associated with IIOC offending.
Key findings: Using an adapted version of McIntosh and Schmeichel's (2004) model of collecting, a collecting group was identified in the IIOC sample in study three. For both image collectors and IIOC offenders, collecting their objects of interest was an evolving process, and similar collecting processes were found for image collectors and IIOC offenders with a collecting interest, that is the hunt, acquisition, post-acquisition behaviours and refinement. Both groups gained from input with like-minded others, but involvement in collecting communities was especially popular amongst image (postcard) collectors. The function of collecting served cognitive, emotional, behavioural and social functions, and seems to be perpetuated by both positive and negative reinforcement. A possible pathological
collecting function was identified for a small minority of IIOC offenders in study three, and any link between IIOC offending and collected related disorders would need further investigation before conclusions could be drawn. Cognitive-emotional processes used to relate to the image and to continue collecting differed significantly between image collectors and IIOC offenders. IIOC offenders seem to project shame and anxiety onto the image, and use cognitive distortions to support abuse of children. The image collectors appear to imbue images with affection and many built long-term attachments to the images they collected. With more clarity about the processes or steps taken when collecting, McIntosh and Schmeichel’s (2004) model of collecting was adapted and updated to develop a new testable model of normative collecting and a modified version of this new collecting model was developed for IIOC offenders. Limitations and implications for each of the studies are discussed, along with ideas for future research.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: McNally, A.
Date: April 2016
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 12 Jun 2017 15:17
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2017 15:17
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/30944

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