The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its report on Child Sexual Exploitation by organised gangs on 1st February 2022. I represented two witnesses to the Inquiry, CS-A12 who was exploited in Bradford and PACE (“Parents Against Child Exploitation”). Both these witnesses gave powerful evidence to help the Inquiry.
The Inquiry has basically found these conclusions :-
Lack of statistics
There has been a lack of organised and consistent gathering of statistics on numbers, ages, ethnicity of exploited children and perpetrators.
The myth that CSE is reducing
Police tend to be devoting resources to criminal exploitation offending (“county lines”), causing the level of Child Sexual exploitation to be underestimated. The Inquiry concluded the denial of large scale exploitation must be challenged.
Definition of Exploitation
The inquiry says use of the definition of there being an “exchange” in the process of exploitation is misleading and that the process should be re-defined as one that causes “harm” to the child.
Language of risk
The Inquiry believes the link between the words “low risk and high risk” of exploitation are misleading. Intervention by children’s services departments are linked to “high risk” labels but by this stage a child will have already been harmed. The Inquiry suggests the use of the word harm is likely to bring about a more preventative approach.
The Inquiry said :
Despite receiving a welcome higher profile in recent years, some of the processes in place to identify and deal with child sexual exploitation have created an institutional hesitancy to intervene and take the necessary action to protect children and catch perpetrators.
Spotting heightened risk of exploitation.
Being in residential care and having a disability increase the risk of exploitation. Councils haven’t realised the role disability plays in opening them up to exploitation. CS-A12 spoke powerfully in her evidence about not being taken seriously by staff.
“I was told by the staff that I was attention seeking and stuff like that, which I probablywas, to be honest, I probably was … crying for help, trying to get someone to notice thatsomething wasn’t right, but no-one ever paid attention. I were just treated like I wasdisgusting for doing it, not that there was a reason behind me doing it.” (CS-A12)
One of the obligations on police and councils under Human Rights legislation is to disrupt the activities of perpetrators. Police forces use Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs), Sexual Risk Orders (SROs), Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHROs) and full scale investigations.
The Inquiry’s recommended the following measures :
- A CSE element in offending should be considered an aggravating factor on sentencing in criminal courts.
- The Government’s new version of the Child Exploitation Disruption Toolkit should be published as soon as possible.
- The definition of exploitation should include the element that the child has been controlled, coerced, manipulated or deceived into sexual activity.
- There should be a ban on placement of children in semi independent settings if they have been in CSE.
- Police and councils must collect data on CSE disaggregated by sex, ethnicity and disability where there is known or suspected CSE.
As a child abuse lawyer having worked intensively in this field for the last 20 years I was hoping for a recommendation that councils, police and specialist advice agencies create “hit squads” to act immediately on intelligence to disrupt perpetrators. I have heard many stories of police and councils being aware children were in exploitation without action being taken, allowing perpetrators to commit more crimes against them and others. Instant responses are vital in my opinion.
The recommendations are a step forward in this area and the Inquiry has shone a light on how some of the responses to CSE are poor. I was interested in the algorithm used by Bristol Council to identify children at risk as a way to target resources and hopefully prevent CSE.