Yet another disturbing report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse highlights a national failure to tackle gangs sexually exploiting vulnerable children.
The findings of this investigation led me to me to pose the question in the headline. The report’ s conclusion is damning: “Children are sexually exploited by networks in all parts of England and Wales in the most degrading and destructive ways. Each of these acts is a crime. This investigation has revealed extensive failures by local authorities and police forces to keep pace with the pernicious and changing problem of the sexual exploitation of children by networks.”
The question is why. The report took evidence from six diverse areas in England and Wales – Durham, Swansea, Warwickshire, St Helens, Tower Hamlets and Bristol.
What was particularly alarming is that in two – the London borough of Tower Hamlets and Swansea – there was a denial of the existence of any gangs at all. I would really be surprised that such organised gangs did not operate in the borough or elsewhere.
Indeed the report cites two instances where complaints were not taken forward.
“In Swansea, there was a police investigation into serious sexual assault against CS-A25 which led to the arrest of two males but no further action was taken due to evidential difficulties.
• In Tower Hamlets, in the case of CS-A22, the child made disclosures of assault and rape but these allegations did not lead to prosecution. Although a number of named potential perpetrators were added to a crime report and suspects database, the report was closed. Some information was passed to the local force but there is no evidence of any arrests.”
Perpetrators finding new way to exploit children
The report says: “Parental neglect, substance misuse, domestic violence or mental health issues may increase the vulnerability of children to sexual exploitation. Around half of the case study children were in care and more than a third had complex disabilities or neurodevelopmental disorders.
“It is widely recognised that alcohol, drugs and actual or threatened violence against the child, their friends and family are often used as a means to groom and coerce children.
Perpetrators are finding new ways, including through mobile phones and other devices, social media and dating apps, to groom and abuse ever younger children.”
It goes on: “Research suggested that many complainants report dissatisfaction with the responses
of local authority staff and police officers to the sexual exploitation they faced and these themes were reflected in some of the experiences of the case study children. Some felt unprotected by care home staff failing to intervene when they knew or suspected that the children were being sexually exploited. Others were frustrated that those who had sexually exploited them were not held accountable through the criminal justice system.”
The report also highlights a worrying lack of data on who the exploiters are which has led people to blame South Asian males behind the gangs because of some high profile cases.
Poor data collection on the ethnicity of perpetrators
The report says: “Some of the high-profile child sexual exploitation prosecutions have involved groups of South Asian males. There has been heated and often polarised debate about whether there is any link between ethnicity and group-based child sexual exploitation. Poor data collection on the ethnicity of perpetrators or victims fuels that debate and makes it difficult to identify whether there is any such link. It also hampers the ability of police and other services to provide culturally sensitive responses, interventions and support.”
The report recommends that the law should be strengthened so that when two or more people found guilty of sexual exploitation they should get an aggravated sentence.. It also wants both English and Welsh guidance strengthened and tool kit to handle sexual exploitation should be updated and strengthened.
Professor Alexis Jay, who chaired the inquiry, said: “The sexual exploitation of children by networks is not a rare phenomenon confined to a small number of areas with high-profile criminal cases.
“We found extensive failures by local authorities and police forces in the ways in which they tackled this sexual abuse.”
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