Today, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse’s (IICSA) publishes its 18th investigation report into child sexual exploitation by organised networks
The IICSA has published its long-awaited report identifying eight themes (bullet pointed below) related to child sexual exploitation by organised networks. The report considered those themes in the context of a range of institutions, with significant focus on the response of police forces and local authorities.
The report aims to provide a platform for legislative reform that is informed by the errors of the not so recent past to ensure that child safeguarding informs all decisions concerning vulnerable children.
This highly anticipated report is a direct response to the widespread systematic grooming and sexual abuse of children by groups of offenders in England and Wales.
This report follows public hearings held in September and October 2020, where 34 witnesses gave evidence. The inquiry analysed a large number of previously published reviews, inquiries and reports on child sexual exploitation including a handful of large-scale prosecutions.
A sample of 13 local authority areas and institutions were asked to provide information and complete questionnaires. Taking all this material into consideration, the eight themes identified by the inquiry on which it heard evidence include:
- Child Sexual Exploitation Problem Profiling and disruption of offenders
- Empathy and concern for child victims
- Risk assessment and protection from harm
- Missing children, return home interviews and looked after children
- Male victims
- Children with a disability
- Partnership working on child sexual exploitation
- Audit, review and performance improvement
Children and young people – particularly those who are vulnerable – are often targeted by adults for sexual exploitation. In other cases, they become a by-product of the criminality that they are drawn into, which is usually drug related.
We have seen the direct exploitation of vulnerable children in places such as Bristol; Swansea; Rochdale and Aylesbury, however the report highlights just how widespread an issue this is across the UK.
“Prevention and detection are hindered by the absence of a UK-wide coherent approach on the part of government, local authorities and the police. The report highlights that the absence of a coherent approach means that good practice is not necessarily shared and followed, leaving vulnerable children at risk of exploitation.
Devolved and local government would benefit from a national approach and through sharing experiences and good practice. An example can be found in the approach to missing children.
In the case of missing children, too often there will be issues relating to their background that lend themselves to becoming vulnerable. One question identified by the inquiry is: how are these children to be regarded when their absence is first noted?
A key concern is that by reporting a child missing to the police is to criminalise them. However, that is not necessarily the case, and should the emphasis not be on their welfare instead?
We have seen in Bristol, for example, over recent years teenage boys being targeted and drawn into criminality (“county lines”), associated with the use of knives, going missing, and fatalities as a consequence. Concerted efforts have been made to break the cycle, but what cannot be ignored are the omnipresent risk factors which shout for a greater emphasis on the approach to be taken when a child goes missing.
Given the risks to a child associated with going missing, the following should happen when their disappearance is noted:
- Any person in authority (e.g., a teacher or social worker) should report the matter to the police
- The police should record the missing child as a potential crime
- The police should maintain records and statistics which should be shared with local authorities and government on a regular basis
- When the child is found they should be provided with an independent advocate who has the authority to raise the child’s needs with social services and the police, and to have statutory power to ensure those needs as identified are met.”
The 19th and final investigation report into residential schools will publish at midday on 1 March 2022.