Are the police and social workers unwittingly aiding child sex exploitation gangs by denying their existence?

Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry

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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Home Office rewrites definition of child sexual exploitation

home-office

Home Office: trying to define child sexual exploitation Pic credit: gov.uk

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

This week  the Home Office quietly announced a new definition of child sexual exploitation which will be used by all practitioners in the field – from the police and social workers to voluntary organisations and charities.

The decision was overshadowed by an announcement that the Government was spending an extra £40m tackling child sex abuse.

It included the launch of a new Centre of Expertise on child sexual abuse, an extra £20 million for the National Crime Agency to tackle online child sexual exploitation, £2.2 million for organisations working to protect children at risk of trafficking and the launch of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs) in 3 early-adopter sites across the UK.

The latter service will initially be provided by Barnardo’s in Wales, Hampshire and Greater Manchester ahead of a full national roll out.

However the change in the wording of what constitutes child sexual exploitation had been a minefield for the ministry. The consultation paper admitted the existing definition of child sexual exploitation adopted since 2009 had not worked and had hampered investigations.

It described  current rules as ” unclear and out of date.”

“Voluntary organisations, devolved administrations and local agencies have responded over time by developing a number of alternative definitions. Partners have told us that this has led to local agencies using different definitions or using the terms ‘child sexual abuse’ and ‘child sexual exploitation’ interchangeably, resulting in ineffective multi-agency working, inconsistent risk assessments and poor data collection.”

But changing the definition has not been easy. The first draft proposed a year ago has been attacked as both being too broad – and threatening to include all sexual relations between 16 and 17 year olds – and too narrow in its definition of exploitation over the internet.

The original proposed draft said:

“Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse. It occurs where anyone under the age of 18 is persuaded, coerced or forced into sexual activity in exchange for, amongst other things, money, drugs/alcohol, gifts, affection or status. Consent is irrelevant, even where a child may believe they are voluntarily engaging in sexual activity with the person who is exploiting them. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact and may occur online.”

The Home Office received criticism from organisations over under 18 year olds being ” persuaded, coerced or forced into sexual activity”.

” There were concerns that the definition was too broad and had the potential to be interpreted as covering age-appropriate sexual experimentation as well as cases of child sexual exploitation. In particular, a number of respondents felt that the inclusion of the word ‘persuaded [into sexual activity]’ could cover a range of ‘normal’ behaviours within the relationships of 16 and 17 year olds that would not fit the coercive nature of child sexual exploitation.”

Persuaded has now being dropped in favour of ‘coerce, manipulate or deceive’..

The Home Office was also thought to have too narrowly defined exploitation using the internet.

“Respondents thought the phrase ‘may occur online’ in the proposed definition did not adequately capture exploitation that might occur through the use of mobile phone applications and other forms of technology.
We have amended the definition to refer to ‘the use of technology’.

The new revised definition which comes into force next month now reads:

“Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.”

The full results of the consultation can be read here.

It goes to show how difficult it can be to define what people might think is a simple issue – and also if you get it wrong it may explain while child sexual exploitation has not always been properly tackled by the police and social services if no-one agrees what it is.