THE police response to group-based child sexual exploitation in England and Wales is not good enough because forces do not understand the scale of the problem, and progress to improve is too slow, a new report has found.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) noted that progress had been made in tackling group-based child sexual exploitation, with some relatively recent positive developments, such as the Child Sexual Exploitation Taskforce. However, the inspectorate found that progress, overall, had been too slow and identified the need for forces to urgently make improvements.

HMICFRS said the problems included:

  • A lack of a clear definition for group-based child sexual exploitation. This means there is no common understanding of the threat, and vulnerable children may not be safeguarded promptly enough and instead left at risk of exploitation.
  • Unreliable data collection and a failure to prioritise intelligence gathering, which means forces are unable to form an accurate view of the issue.
  • The quality of criminal investigations is inconsistent, with non-specialist investigating officers lacking the experience and training to progress investigations promptly and effectively.

HMICFRS also found a number of examples of victim-blaming language, with some senior officers failing to recognise this as a cultural issue. This is unacceptable. The inspectorate said that as well as resulting in important lines of enquiry being overlooked, or dismissed, victim-blaming attitudes can lead to a lack of safeguarding, leaving children unprotected.

The inspectorate has made nine recommendations and identified one area for improvement which aim to help ensure children are better protected in future.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams said: “Group-based child sexual exploitation has a devastating effect on children and their families. It cannot be overstated how complex and challenging these crimes can be to prevent and investigate, and the police can’t tackle them alone.

“Over the years, the police and law enforcement bodies have improved how they support victims and understand their needs. However, the pace of change needs to increase, and this starts with understanding the problem. We found that the police, law enforcement bodies and the Government still didn’t have a full understanding of the nature or scale of these crimes. This needs to change, and these agencies must work together effectively to protect children from harm and bring offenders to justice.”

* Read: An inspection of the effectiveness of the police and law enforcement bodies’ response to group-based child sexual exploitation in England and Wales here.

* Source: His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services