Safety Sync: Fantasy-Driven vs. Contact Child Predators

Apr 10th, 2020

By: Kaitlin August, Program Intern 

Types of Child Predators

In the United States, the possession and distribution of child pornography is one of the fastest growing crimes, with a 2,500% increase in arrests related to child pornography over the past decade (Lee & Lopez, 2019).  Continually evolving technology make it easier to become anonymous when engaging in illicit activity online.  Child predators can be classified into two categories: contact and non-contact, or contact and fantasy-driven.  Contact predators gain sexual gratification offline.  They may use child pornography or other material temporarily, but their main goal is to eventually meet a child in person.  Fantasy-driven individuals gain sexual gratification solely online, employing the use of child pornography and other explicit materials they can gain access to through the internet.  

Distinctions Between Contact and Non-Contact Offenders

A small collection of research outlines four general themes that distinguish contact from non-contact predators.  These themes include pornography use, the behavioral and psychological attributes of predators, online relationships with minors, and risks for cross-over from fantasy-driven to contact.  One distinction between contact and non-contact child predators is the use of adult pornography.  While both groups view child pornography the same amount, contact offenders use adult pornography more frequently than non-contact offenders.  Contact offenders are also more likely to view non-sexual material of children, like modeling websites (McCarthy, 2010).

In regards to online relationships with minors, it was observed that contact-driven individuals engage in relationship building strategies more frequently than fantasy-driven individuals (Broome, Izura, & Lorenzo-Dus, 2018).  For example, contact-driven offenders often use self-disclosures, negative experiences, and positive emotions in order to build an emotional bond with a minor (Seigfried-Spellar et al., 2019).  This process is known as grooming.  Behaviorally, contact offenders are observed as being more social both offline and online with those who share the same deviant sexual interests.  Contact offenders are also more likely to have a history of child sexual abuse, engage in drug use, and have been convicted of a sex crime(s) (McCarthy, 2010).  Child pornography viewers who later commit contact sexual crimes were more likely to have been convicted of nonsexual offenses in the past; this may be because of the impulsivity and negative cognitive distortions that are present in child pornography viewers (Houtepen, Sijtsema, & Bogaerts, 2014).

Transiting from a fantasy-driven offender to a contact sexual abuser?

A leading reason a person transitions from a fantasy-driven offender to a contact sexual abuser may be long term exposure to child pornography.  As time goes on, more “intense” material is desired and when the material itself is not enough, the risk for crossing over to contact offenses increases. An intense social network is also a factor that may play a role; if a person’s online or offline environment is made up of child predators, they may feel pressure to “fit in”.  If there is not a strong offline environment for the offender, they will tend to surround themselves with people online who express the same sexual interests which can reinforce the use of exploitative material and possibly lead to contact sexual abuse. (Houtepen et. al, 2014)

 Psychological risks for non-contact predators becoming contact predators include the display of extreme antisocial characteristics and cognitive distortions that lead the individual to disregard reality and possess false beliefs about what is normal, healthy, and acceptable (Houtepen et. al, 2014).  Additionally, accessibility to children is another risk for crossing over.  If a child is accessible offline, then an offender may start to groom them over a period of time.  This is a more drawn out process than grooming online, but when a fantasy-driven offender is given the opportunity to do so, they may engage in this real-world scenario (Broome et. al, 2014).


Lee, S., & Lopez, L. (2019, September 23). New Md. law fights child pornography, but more must be done. Retrieved from

McCarthy, J. (2010). Internet sexual activity: A comparison between contact and non-contact child pornography offenders. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 16(2), 181–195.

Broome, L. J., Izura, C., & Lorenzo-Dus, N. (2018). A systematic review of fantasy driven vs. contact driven internet-initiated sexual offences: Discrete or overlapping typologies? Child Abuse & Neglect, 79, 434-444.

Seigfried-Spellar, K. C., Rogers, M. K., Rayz, J. T., Yang, S.-F., Misra, K., & Ringenberg, T. (2019). Chat Analysis Triage Tool: Differentiating contact-driven vs. fantasy-driven child sex offenders. Forensic Science International.

Houtepen, J. A. B. M., Sijtsema, J. J., & Bogaerts, S. (2014). From child pornography   offending to child sexual abuse: A review of child pornography offender characteristics and risks for cross-over. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 19(5), 466–473.

Related Articles

Stay In The Loop

Sign up for our mailing list to receive Frontline, MCASA’s quarterly eNewsletter, and stay updated on MCASA’s programs and upcoming events and training in Maryland.

Sign Up