Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Home Office [LCG 11]

Introduction

The Government published its action plan to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE), in all its forms, in November 2011. The plan includes a range of commitments for the Home Office and the police to ensure we are tackling this issue, alongside commitments and actions from other Departments which aim to ensure victims are identified and supported to escape exploitation. The Government’s progress report was published alongside the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England’s (OCC) report and the separate Government responses on 3 July.

The police and the Home Office have a critical role to play in tackling all child sexual exploitation, but in particular in tackling the form of organised, “on street” or localised grooming that is the subject of this inquiry and which so predominantly affects girls. At a local level, the police are actively tackling this issue, with a significant number of operations underway and before the courts. The police are also looking increasingly to Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs and equivalent models to deliver the effective partnership working that is key to addressing this issue successfully.

Whilst good progress is being made locally and nationally, it is clear from the increasing number of horrific cases the police are dealing with, that more can, and should, be done to tackle and prevent this crime. In addition to the measures outlined in the cross-government action plan, the Home Office is therefore supporting the police in this work through a focus on the following four key areas:

1.Child sexual exploitation as an Organised Crime.

2.National Capability (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and the National Crime Agency NCA)).

3.Ending Gang and Youth Violence (EGYV) and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).

4.Understanding Culture.

Organised Crime

At a national level, CSE is now explicitly included in the definition of organised crime used in the Government’s organised crime strategy “Local to Global”. The strategy recognises that while CSE is not driven by profit, it does share many features with other forms of organised crime. “Local to Global” aims to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests from organised crime by reducing the threat, vulnerabilities and criminal opportunities based on the following themes:

Stem the opportunities for organised crime to take root;

Strengthen enforcement against organised crime; and

Safeguard communities, businesses and the state by raising awareness of the threat and methods used.

The UK Threat Assessment of organised crime includes an assessment of the threat from the sexual exploitation of children. Both lone offenders and groups are engaged in CSE, and offending can be enabled by new technologies. The sexual exploitation of children sometimes involves an element of trafficking as victims are moved around the UK or across the national border for these purposes. Although the understanding of gang and group associated child sexual exploitation is growing, the full nature and scale of the threat is not yet fully understood. Awareness of these forms of child sexual exploitation has increased in recent months as a result of a number of successful police investigations attracting significant media coverage.

Threat Reduction Boards have been established to provide a focus for law enforcement partners in tackling these issues. These multi-agency boards aim to improve the national understanding of a particular threat, and to identify appropriate and effective action to reduce that threat to the UK. The sexual exploitation of children is currently considered as part of the Organised Immigration Crime Threat Reduction Board which includes “child sexual exploitation” as one of its key threats.

Each Threat Reduction Board is responsible for driving improvements to the intelligence picture on which the multi-agency action needed to reduce the threat to the UK is based. In the case of the sexual exploitation of children, all the relevant law enforcement agencies are involved, including CEOP and the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC), as well as private sector, and other relevant, stakeholders when necessary.

National Capability (CEOP & NCA)

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre was launched in April 2006, as a multi-disciplined “centre of excellence” focused on protecting children from sexual exploitation, especially in the online world. The Centre is law-enforcement led with multi-sector teams working to understand and tackle sexual exploitation. CEOP provides a national approach and is leading international action to tackle paedophile networks across many countries.

Recognising CEOP’s expertise in protecting children, and the links between child sexual exploitation and missing children, this Government took the decision to transfer responsibility for missing children services to CEOP. This has ensured that the UK has in place, for the first time, a dedicated capability to tackle this issue and ensure our national response to these issues is robust.

Child sexual exploitation ranges from individual abuse to highly organised criminal group activity with little distinction in people’s lives between the online and offline world. Offenders look to exploit wherever and whenever they can and patterns of offending and victimisation are constantly changing, not just in terms of how technology is being used, but also in line with many other factors. CEOP’s approach is to understand those trends, themes and patterns and to distil them into integrated programmes of activity that:

brings added value to front line practitioners across the wider child protection community in terms of sharing thematic knowledge, understanding, skills, techniques and providing bespoke specialist services where the impact is greatest; and

builds and maintain public confidence through empowering children, parents and intermediaries to spot the risk, prevent the harm and know where to turn if things go wrong.

During 2011–12, CEOP developed and disseminated intelligence packages leading to the arrest of at least 192 suspects, and safeguarded and protected 427 children.

In addition, CEOP has delivered targeted work to increase the police understanding and enhance the UK‟s ability to respond to organised child sexual exploitation through the:

delivery of CEOP’s Thematic Assessment “Out of Mind—Out of Sight”;

delivery of a specialist training seminar on child sexual exploitation; and

provision of tactical operational support to forces leading investigations into organised CSE.

Partnership underpins these key aims. Intelligence sharing, and operational and safeguarding successes, are achieved in partnership with local and international law enforcement agencies whilst, for instance, some harm reduction initiatives are delivered by a network of over 70,000 volunteers. CEOP have over 80,000 practitioners registered to access and use harm reduction initiatives and resources available on the CEOP website.

At the same time, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) funds social workers who build child protection expertise into everything that CEOP delivers; and private sector organisations provide direct expertise into a range of CEOP’s work programmes. Current developments supported by partners include work around missing children, victims and digital forensic analysis.

CEOP has identified Group and Gang Associated Child Sexual Exploitation as one of its five strategic threats for the coming year. In addition to work already underway, CEOP is putting in place a CSE strategy and action plan which will guide the centre’s activity in relation to this issue. The plan is currently being developed and will be in place by the end of autumn 2012.

The UK Human Trafficking Centre provides tactical assistance and investigative strategies where any case of CSE contains elements of trafficking, regardless of the age or nationality of the victim. UKHTC and CEOP will work in partnership as they transition into the National Crime Agency in 2013.

The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and its members work to improve the awareness and understanding of parents, children and teachers regarding online safety. This includes educating children and young people about the implications of their online behaviour and the “digital footprint” they leave, particularly where information or images of an extremely personal nature are concerned. CEOP, in turn, has developed a specific educational resource to tackle this issue. This resource is for use in the classroom by teachers and forms part of CEOP’s “ThinkuKnow” campaign, which is designed to reduce the harm caused to children through the misuse of technology to sexually abuse or exploit them.

National Crime Agency

Looking forward, subject to the passage of the Crime and Courts Bill, the National Crime Agency will be established by the end of 2013, at the centre of the reformed law enforcement landscape. It will build on the strengths of the precursor bodies; connecting the efforts of local law enforcement to national agencies and action overseas, in order to coordinate the fight against some of the UK’s most harmful criminals.

The NCA will play a vital role in countering the threat to children and ensuring they are better protected. As well as building on CEOP’s existing role as the national centre dedicated to working with others to protect children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, the NCA will also be subject to a new statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, across all of its functions and activities. Within the NCA, CEOP will:

retain its operational independence within the context of the NCA;

have clear, delegated authority for its budget;

continue to include external partners in its governance;

retain its well-known brand;

retain its mixed economy of staff, from a variety of disciplines; and

continue its innovative partnerships with the public, private and third sector and have the ability to raise and hold funds from donors.

Working across the National Crime Agency’s internal structures (including CEOP, the new Border Policing Command and the UK Human Trafficking Centre) and with external partners, the NCA will enhance our ability to identify the threat from organised child sexual exploitation and ensure that appropriate action is taken to protect children and to disrupt the activities of those perpetrating these appalling crimes.

Importantly, the NCA’s intelligence hub will have access to the full range of serious and organised crime-related intelligence, which it will analyse and assess to gain the definitive national intelligence picture and a consolidated and prioritised view of those causing harm to the UK. The NCA will therefore build a richer picture of organised child sexual exploitation to inform operational, tactical and strategic decision-making on the most appropriate response. The NCA will also have the authority to task and coordinate the national response to threats across the whole of law enforcement—ensuring the most effective activity is carried out by the right agency.

Ending Gang and Youth Violence (EGYV)/Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)

The Government’s report, Ending Gang and Youth Violence, recognised the considerable harms that affect young women and girls involved in gang-related activity. However, most activity to address gang violence is aimed at male gang nominals. Sexual and violent abuse of young girls is a worryingly large component of gang culture and includes girls having to perform sexual acts on one or many gang members, or girlfriends of gang members being targeted and, sexually or violently, assaulted by rival gangs.

Sadly, many girls associated with gangs accept that, to be part of the gang, they have to besexually available to the gang members. Some have little or no understanding about consentor that it is okay to say “no”. In the context of gang-related sexual exploitation, young womenare fearful of violent repercussions from gang members if they take a stand against the abuse.

This presents two major challenges to Government, statutory agencies, the voluntary sector and to communities themselves—tackling the sexual and violent abuse that is currently taking place in gangs across the country, and preventing it happening in the first place.

Tackling existing violence

The Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme focuses funding and support on the 29 areas across the country identified as having the most significant gang problems. £10 million of Home Office funding has been re-prioritised for 2012–13 to support those 29 areas. This is intended to supplement existing local resources used to tackle gang and youth violence, including violence against girls by gangs.

We have established an Ending Gang and Youth Violence team made up of practitioners with experience of dealing with gangs and youth violence, to provide practical advice to the 29 areas. The team has access to support from a network of advisers from a range of backgrounds including community activists, local authority specialists, voluntary organisations and health and education professionals.

The Home Office is also providing £1.2 million over three years to improve the services for young people at risk or victims of sexual violence and exploitation by gangs, funding 13 Young People’s Advocates. These are new posts providing direct and dedicated support to young people who have been victims, or are at risk of, sexual violence and/or sexual exploitation.

They work in areas most affected by gangs and have an understanding of the specific risks that gang violence has on a young person, working with local agencies to ensure that a robust risk management plan is in place. Alongside this, the Government has commissioned a specialist training package, to be rolled out this year, for practitioners working with women and girls who have been affected by gang-related sexual exploitation or violence.

To drive this work nationally, we have established a Women, Girls and Gangs working group, which for the first time brings together representatives from the voluntary and community sector, government departments and the criminal justice system who work on gangs and violence against women and girls. A specific piece of work has also been set up that looks at the issue of gang-associated women and girls in custody.

Changing the culture around sexual and domestic violence

The Government has an ambitious programme to end sexual and domestic violence as set out in our Violence Against Women and Girls action plan. By tackling this abuse in wider society, we will make a real impact on the abuse that takes place in gangs.

The Government has ring-fenced nearly £40 million of stable funding up to 2015 for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services, rape crisis centres, the national domestic violence helplines and the stalking helpline. This is the first time that funding has been ringfenced for domestic and sexual violence victims on a stable basis (ie over the whole spending-review period).

We have launched our Teenage Rape Prevention campaign to challenge myths about rape and sexual abuse and to educate teenagers about making informed choices and consent. Doing so will help young people, men and women, better understand that these behaviours are wrong.

The actions being taken forward from these two action plans complement, support and reinforce the actions being taken forward in the Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan.

Cultural Issues

Sadly, we know that child sexual exploitation happens in all areas of the country in many different forms. It is not exclusive to any community, race or religion but it must be prevented and punished wherever and however it occurs.

Perceived cultural sensitivities and political correctness cannot and will not get in the way of preventing and uncovering child abuse. We do however want to better understand the landscape of this very complex crime and our analysis must be clear-sighted and based on the evidence, including the very useful emerging findings from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) “accelerated” report, published on 3 July. Those findings state that child sexual exploitation is widespread—and cuts across colour, creed, culture and community.

Recent evidence also suggests that cases of organised child sexual exploitation may in part be linked to outdated cultural attitudes and lack of integration in communities that can sit “outside” shared values of equality, attitudes towards women and civic participation. Women who have no influence over the communities where they live, are the subject of out dated cultural attitudes and are unable to influence the groups of men and gangs that are the perpetrators of these crimes. To understand these issues better, the Home Office will work with relevant Government departments and with community groups to understand more about these cultural attitudes:

building on lessons learnt from our engagement with particular groups and promoting equalities and shared values through our Prevent programme, we will look to further develop the evidence base to inform government’s approach and interventions;

identifying and targeting vulnerable groups such as Pakistani and Bangladeshi women in our engagement work;

using the Government Equalities Office(GEO) work programmes to maximise Women’s potential. The work programme looks at how we can raise girls‟ aspirations and the choices girls and young women make about which subjects to study, qualifications to pursue, and when and how to move into employment or set up a business;

providing information through GEO networks of stakeholders and women’s organisation to support and empower vulnerable young women and their families; and

cross-Government work across the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to look at how we can increase economic participation for these groups.

Next Steps

For those who are convicted of a sex offence, the UK has one of the most robust systems in the world for the management of sex offenders. However, only by enhancing our prevention activity through these work strands will we stop vulnerable children and young people falling victim in the first place. The Home Office will continue to work with partners, in particular CEOP to enhance the law enforcement safeguarding response to ensure we are doing all we can to increase the resilience of young people and parents in preventing this crime.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has developed its own CSE action plan to enhance the local police response and this will be complemented by CEOP’s CSE strategy and action plan. In partnership with CEOP, the Home Office will consider what more needs to be done to ensure early intervention when children and young people display risky behaviours which place them at risk of becoming victims of CSE. As part of our robust EGYV and VAWG programmes, we will continue our work to tackle harmful attitudes about consent, and raise awareness among police forces of the need to ensure safeguarding issues are considered as part of an integrated local response to gangs.

Where cases of organised child sexual exploitation involve elements of trafficking, we will continue to ensure our policy and operational responses are aligned. Through our crosscutting remit on missing people, the Home Office will continue to lead delivery of the Missing Children and Adults strategy and ensure the key linkages between child sexual exploitation and missing are identified and managed. Finally, because ultimately tackling these issues relies on effective local partnership arrangements, the Home Office will continue to lead and fund a local safeguarding support project which will be working with local areas to support the development and delivery of effective multi-agency safeguarding responses across England and Wales.

September 2012

Prepared 29th January 2014