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Child Sexual Exploitation by organised criminal networks

Work with offenders on a new report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s (IICSA) new report into organised child sexual exploitation makes for pretty grim reading. It concludes that the sexual exploitation of children by networks is not a rare problem confined to a small number of areas with high-profile criminal cases. It is a crime which involves the sexual abuse of children in the most degrading and destructive ways, by multiple perpetrators.

The Inquiry was careful to base its investigation on areas which had not already been the subject of independent investigation (such as Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford). The intention was to obtain an accurate picture of current practice at a strategic level and through examination of individual cases, as well as drawing on wider knowledge about child sexual exploitation in England and Wales. They chose six case study areas: Durham, Swansea, Warwickshire, St Helens, Tower Hamlets in east London and Bristol. The following eight themes were examined in each area:

  1. problem profiling and disruption of child sexual exploitation;
  2. empathy and concern for child victims;
  3. risk assessment, protection from harm and outcomes for children;
  4. missing children, return home interviews and children in care;
  5. male victims;
  6. children with disabilities;
  7. partnership working; and
  8. audit, review and performance improvement.

In addition, the Inquiry undertook a detailed analysis of material held by the relevant local authority and police force in relation to 33 children from the six case study areas, in order to better understand the experiences of children who were currently being (or very recently had been) sexually exploited by networks.

The report includes distressing examples of the sort of experiences undergone by victims and survivors, two of which are reproduced below:

[Name] was taken into foster care when she was 10 years old, supplied with drugs at age 11 and was self-harming by 12. Adult men took her to flats and sexually exploited her. Police became involved when she was 17 and several prosecutions followed. She describes being demeaned by defence barristers in court who accused her of being racist and “a slag[  and said repeatedly that she had wanted sex with the perpetrators and had lied about her age.

At 12 years old, Greg [a pseudonym] was groomed by a 26-year-old man who initially told him he was 18. The first contact was online but soon afterwards Greg met the man in person. This man established a closeness with him, then introduced Greg to other adult males who subsequently ordered him to go to various places and have sex with other men. Greg said the abuse he experienced became more severe and sadistic, as he was put in increasingly dangerous situations.

Findings

The Inquiry was unable to form a reliable picture of child sexual exploitation from the six case study areas that provided data because the the data presented was confusing. There were cases of child sexual exploitation by networks in all six case study areas but the police forces in these areas were generally not able to provide any evidence about these networks, using either the Inquiry’s definition or any other. The Inquiry was particularly concerned that some areas said there were no organised networks despite the fact that the Inquiry was able to identify them.  They highlight continuing concerns about the denial of child sexual exploitation – both locally and nationally.

Another big issue was the national shortage of suitable residential care placements for children who are at risk of or have experienced child sexual exploitation. The Inquiry found evidence of victims placed in unsuitable local or out-of-area placements or experiencing a delay in identifying an appropriate placement. Pre and post placement supports were poor in some cases, with a lack of communication between relevant agencies, especially in distant placements. Poor selection of these placements can result in escalating harm, including to the existing children in a distant care home.

It is also widely recognised that in these circumstances children may also be groomed by perpetrators who have followed them to a distant placement to continue to exploit them or to engage them in county lines crimes. Children in the new area may be exploited by perpetrators, as they are vulnerable and without support networks.

Recommendations 

The Inquiry recommended that the government strengthens the law in this area, updates its guidance on the identification and response to child sexual exploitation and ban immediately the placement in semi-independent and independent settings of children aged 16 and 17 who have experienced, or are at heightened risk of experiencing, sexual exploitation.

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