HOME SECRETARY PRITI PATEL has published a new national strategy to protect children from all forms of child sexual abuse. The Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy sets out how the Government will use new legislation and enhanced technology to stop offenders.

This includes investing in the UK’s Child Abuse Image Database to identify and catch more offenders by using new tools to speed up police investigations and protecting officers’ wellbeing by avoidIing them being repeatedly exposed to indecent images. The Home Office will make it easier for parents and carers to ask the police if someone has a criminal record for child sexual offences, with a review of Sarah’s Law.

The Government will also support local areas to improve their response to exploitation with funding for The Children’s Society’s Prevention Programme initiative, and will introduce an Online Safety Bill to ensure that technology companies are held to account for harmful content on their sites.

The Strategy also aims to improve the data that is available on offenders following the publication of the paper on the characteristics of group-based offending which found that it was difficult to draw conclusions about the ethnicity of offenders as existing research is limited and data collection is poor.

Rob Jones, Director of Threat Leadership at the National Crime Agency (NCA), said: “The NCA welcomes this strategy at a time when the threat to children is more severe than it has ever been. Last year, we released an assessment that there are at least 300,000 people posing a sexual threat to children in the UK.

“The NCA in partnership with UK policing will continue to drive the investigation and arrest of offenders. Joint working led to 4,760 arrests and over 6,500 children being safeguarded in just six months. Many offenders feel they can operate with impunity online, but as we have shown we have enhanced our capabilities and remain committed to tracking them down.

“These are not just images or videos being viewed online. What we are uncovering here is evidence of the horrific, real-world sexual abuse of children. It’s really important that connection is not lost or diluted.”

Welcoming the publication of the strategy, Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Sexual abuse and exploitation leave deep scars on young lives and no child should have to go through this horrific ordeal.

“It can affect any child or young person in any community and it’s vital they get the help they need, not only for their immediate safety and well-being, but to help them recover from the trauma and stay safe in the long run. Great strides have been made in identifying and responding to the issue in recent years, particularly as awareness of child sexual exploitation has increased.

“However, there are still too many times when professionals miss early signs of abuse, fail to share vital information, or dismiss children as trouble-makers. Too often, there is an over-reliance on disclosures from traumatised children and too many offenders are not brought before the courts.

“We warmly welcome the announcement of renewed funding for our national Prevention programme, which works with professionals and communities to help them prevent and tackle child abuse and exploitation – for instance through training to spot the warning signs and identify children who need help earlier.

“This strategy is a golden opportunity to improve support for child victims of horrific crimes and send a clear signal that child sexual abuse and exploitation are crimes that will not be tolerated. That is more important than ever right now as successive lockdowns have left many children increasingly vulnerable and isolated, with worrying increases in instances of online child abuse and children coming to serious harm. The focus upon tackling abuse online as well as offline is crucial.

“It’s vital this strategy is followed through with sustained investment and action across national and local government to intervene early to prevent abuse and exploitation escalating, support victims, empower families and professionals to act and bring perpetrators to justice.”

For many years The Children’s Society has campaigned to stop children who were victims of sexual abuse and exploitation being criminalised. It runs local services which support children and young people at risk of, or who have been sexually abused or exploited. Its national Prevention programme works with the police, councils and businesses to help them prevent and tackle abuse and exploitation, for instance by training them to spot the warning signs and working with them to share intelligence about emerging threats.

* Sources:  The Children’s Society; UK Home Office