Guidelines around access to sexually explicit illegal material

Ella Rhodes reports.

The British Psychological Society’s Professional Practice Board has published guidelines for psychologists who may be required to access illegal materials for clinical or research purposes as part of their professional duties.

Access to Sexually Explicit Illegal Material for the Purpose of Assessment, Intervention and Research has been produced against a background of technological advances that have radically changed how sexually explicit illegal materials are reproduced and disseminated. The ease of production, lack of expense, and anonymity in obtaining and distributing illegal material has resulted in an exponential increase in the availability, accessibility and volume of sexually explicit material on the internet. Psychologists are now frequently called upon to access illegal and extreme pornographic material when making assessments of clients or in the course of research or clinical work with offenders.

The guidelines set out the legal protections there are for psychologists and others and advise on the circumstances in which such illegal material may be legally viewed. They also state that the decision whether to view the material ‘remains a matter of professional choice for the professional psychologist’.

Dr Gary Macpherson FBPsS who chaired the cross-divisional Illegal Materials Working Party, commented: ‘…the guidelines should reassure psychologists working in forensic settings who may be instructed to work clinically capacity with persons who have accessed illegal materials or in a research capacity with such materials. Such instructions pose challenges for psychologists. The guidelines seek to protect psychologists whose legitimate duties expose them by necessity to potentially illegal materials.’

The guidelines are available for free download at

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