Wednesday 29 June 2011

DON’T LEAVE VICTIMS OUT OF MIND, OUT OF SIGHT

UK NATIONAL CENTRE FOR CHILD PROTECTION PUBLISHES OUTCOME OF SIX MONTH ASSESSMENT INTO “ON STREET GROOMING” AND CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION

The UK’s national centre for child protection – the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre – today published the findings of a six month investigation into the devastating crime that has widely been called “on street grooming”.

CEOP announced its intention to carry out a thematic assessment in January 2011 after growing public concern of a trend whereby groups of men were reportedly grooming and sexually exploiting children across the UK.

This type of child abuse often involves rape. It is premeditated, planned and carried out systematically with a complete lack of respect or empathy for the victims, often singled out for their vulnerability, and its damage can last a lifetime.

Relevant research was reviewed, debriefings with practitioners, frontline staff and the wider safeguarding community conducted, as well as face-to-face victim consultation. This review covered 65 pieces of research literature from 1998 and 24 policy guidance documents from 2001. CEOP also requested relevant data on cases of child sexual exploitation since 1 January 2008, from all police forces, LSCBs, children’s services and voluntary service sector providers.

‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’, published today, shows that while some areas of the UK have victim focused services with agencies effectively working together to identify victims of child sexual exploitation this is not the case in all areas.

The assessment highlights multi-agency work as essential to ensuring that the victim’s needs come first and key to tackling this crime. All agencies in contact with victims must be aware of the early signs and effects of abuse and vulnerability. Many victims often fear the police and court processes and are intimidated and threatened by offenders so a long term and coordinated approach to supporting them is needed.

It is possible that the majority of incidents of child sexual exploitation are currently unrecognised and unknown, remaining unreported or hidden in other recorded data.

Areas cannot conclude they do not have an issue with localised grooming simply because this has not been researched in the area and all agencies and the wider community must be alert to the issue to identify children at risk from ‘localised grooming’.

Victims of sexual exploitation may come into contact with agencies through a range of behaviour. Early warning signs like going missing from home or truancy may be missed by agencies. This led to inconsistent methods of data and intelligence collection of sexual exploitation.

‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’ acknowledges the major challenges faced by agencies in identifying victims of child sexual exploitation and in gaining the trust of victims to build successful cases against offenders. The grooming process itself often means some victims don’t see themselves as victims of sexual abuse and are unwilling to disclose information to police or other authorities.

Full details of best practice around the UK are available in the assessment document. The assessment advocates similar approaches be more widely adopted, based on the needs and specific risks to children in local areas.

Each local authority has a Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). These have responsibility for coordinating the protection of children from sexual exploitation through agencies working together, under clear statutory guidance. The assessment revealed that a comparatively small number were effective in this. As a result, data on child exploitation may not be collected or easily obtainable, with no single system used to record data on child sexual exploitation.

Membership of LSCBs includes the police, the Local Probation Trusts, Youth Offending Teams, NHS Trusts, and the Connexions Service with representation from schools and involvement from voluntary and community sector organisations.

Peter Davies, Chief Executive of the CEOP centre, said:  

We set out on this exercise to gather together what can currently be known. We wanted to explore in particular any trends, themes or patterns of offending or vulnerability and to share that understanding in a collaborative way that would allow us all to think objectively about how we safeguard children from this brutal crime.

“In this complex crime you cannot tackle it or support victims unless you can see this crime, and in order to see this crime agencies need to look for it.

What we found from talking to academia, front line police officers and the wider safeguarding community was that very often understanding and awareness among agencies of this complex crime was not widespread enough. It was not being approached with sufficient appreciation of the victim's perspective and we are still some way from creating environments where the victim is encouraged and supported in coming forward. It is only by proactively looking for child exploitation that agencies are able to identify and support victims and this requires a long term and coordinated approach.

“We also found that very often by labelling the crime as “street grooming” or other terms or focusing on offending from particular cultural or other socioeconomic backgrounds it merely provided further obstacles or distractions to bringing this crime out of the dark. Offenders do not come from any particular background and any child can be sexually exploited.

“Child sexual exploitation is child sex abuse – no matter who carries out the act, no matter what the background of the offender. The effects are devastating and abuse can continue into adulthood. We need to focus on that and break down the barriers that stop any child from coming forward. Agencies need the awareness be able to identify the signs of abuse and the services to build a supportive relationship with victims. Vulnerable victims may not present themselves as victims, may be fearful of investigations or the court process and we need to create an environment throughout the whole of the UK where this is no longer the case.

“None of this is easy and none of this is down to one particular structure or sector. It is not an issue that is overly weighted to one particular part of the community and all communities have their part to play. So we must move away from labelling and passing blame. Local professionals face major decisions each day to protect children and major challenges to identify victims of child sexual exploitation as a result of grooming. I hope that our work over the last six months highlights this and shows the complexity of this crime. We have applauded and highlighted best practice – from the police service and local safeguarding boards – and advocate that more needs and can be done to share that practice and to increase that understanding.

“We are all in this together – whether from a national or local perspective, from voluntary or statutory sectors. We all need to work together, share our knowledge, and listen to victims to ensure their voice is heard, and so that offenders are held responsible for this terrible crime.”

Safe and Sound Derby work directly with children who or are being, or have been victims of sexual exploitation. Sheila Taylor is leaving the position of CEO of Safe & Sound Derby and is taking up the role of Director of the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People from 1 July 2011. She said:

We welcome the scrutiny that this thematic assessment has undertaken. It is the first time the issue has been investigated and analysed in this way. It is clear from the findings that the indicators and symptoms of child sexual exploitation are not being recognised and therefore not recorded as such and in particular we feel there is a huge gap in the knowledge of professionals working in particular with those aged between 10 to 18 yrs old.

“However as this assessment so rightly concludes, we must never look any aspect of this issue in isolation and we must do all we can to achieve that vital multi agency working. That is why in my new role as Director of the National Working Group I will ensure that we do all we can to help agencies deliver joined up services, train professionals and share best practice and achieve that vital co-ordination that is so central to meeting the needs of young victims.”

Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children's Commissioner, said:

CEOP's thematic assessment of street grooming and child sexual exploitation is a vital contribution to the evidence base. It will aid our collective thinking and lead to a clearer understanding of what is happening to children in England. However, we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of the extent and nature of these distressing and shocking acts of sexual exploitation against children. Building on this foundation, supported by Government and partners, we will be launching an Inquiry under our Children Act 2004 powers in the autumn. We are currently working with experts in this field and children who have experience of sexual exploitation to identify where the gaps in knowledge and understanding exist so that we can establish the facts before recommending solutions and advice.

"Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to be protected from sexual exploitation which CEOP, the Government and we are taking very seriously."

Martin Houghton-Brown, Chief Executive for Missing People said:

CEOP’s crucial assessment of the appalling crimes associated with child sexual exploitation is timely

and well judged. Missing People knows all too well that children who go missing are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and this report confirms that fact. We therefore welcome the recommendations to ensure that front line Police, Social Workers and Charities respond effectively to early signs of exploitation, paying particular attention to children who go missing.”

The Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (CROP) played a key role in the assessment and is a national organisation representing and supporting parents and families of children who have been targeted or are victims of child sexual exploitation. Hilary Willmer is Chair of the Trustees:

CROP welcomes this important report which highlights effectively the hidden world of child sexual exploitation, and demonstrates the need for much more careful and joined up research.

“The majority of affected children are still living at home and we are pleased that this report does not ignore the important role that families play and the support they need. The emphasis on multi-agency working puts the debate where it needs to be.”

‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’ makes a number of key recommendations to improve the UK’s response to child sexual exploitation. These include:

  • Victims and their families should receive support from specialist services throughout the process of disclosure, police investigations and court proceedings, until the risk of sexual exploitation is mitigated. Victim’s accounts and experiences should be used to inform agency responses both in designing prevention messages and early interventions – through to the set up of specialist support.
  • All LSCBs need to meet their responsibility under current guidance – Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation (DCSF 2009) – and ensure that there is a coordinated multi-agency response to this issue and clear and up to date procedures. Each LSCB must assume that sexual exploitation occurs in its area unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.
  • LSCBs must ensure that children who are at risk can be identified at an early stage across a range of agencies and that there are clear protocols for sharing information. They should ensure that children at risk have a full assessment of their needs and referral to relevant services for intervention and support.
  • Given the links between sexual exploitation and other vulnerabilities, LSCBs must ensure that those working or in contact with children who are particularly vulnerable, understand the signs of exploitation and can refer children for tailored support. There should be particular emphasis on foster carers and residential care staff, as well as all front line workers that come into contact with missing children.
  • LSCBs should ensure that there is sufficient specialist training for frontline service providers so they are equipped to identify children at risk.
  • Each policing team that may come into contact with victims or offenders needs to have an understanding of child sexual exploitation. Training should be provided to appropriate police units and teams and police forces should develop a strategy to ensure that cases of child sexual exploitation are identified and progressed appropriately.
  • Children’s services must ensure that cases of child sexual exploitation are assessed and responded to appropriately.
  • The Crown Prosecution service should review all prosecutions in child sexual exploitation to identify barriers to taking cases forward, and outline best practice in relation to the support available for victims. The CPS should also review recent cases to identify key aspects of the investigation and criminal justice process that can lead to successful prosecution outcomes.
  • All front line agencies should develop ways of capturing and recording data relating to known or suspected cases of sexual exploitation. LSCBs should coordinate the development of a template for capturing information which is of use to both police and services for sexually exploited children.
  • Police forces should actively gather intelligence and develop regular problem profiles of child sexual exploitation.

Read the thematic assessment - Out of Mind, Out of Sight