Home Office publishes paper on group-based child sexual exploitation

The paper, prompted by high profile cases of sexual grooming in towns like Rochdale and Rotherham, sets out academic evidence on characteristics of group-based offending.

17/12/20

Home Office publishes paper on group-based child sexual exploitation

The Home Secretary this week published a paper on the characteristics of group-based child sexual exploitation offending.

The findings provide safeguarding partners with an overview of the current evidence in relation to group-based offending.

The paper sets out the limited available evidence on the characteristics of offenders including how they operate, ethnicity, age, offender networks, as well as the context in which these crimes are often committed, along with implications for frontline responses and for policy development. 

An External Reference Group, consisting of independent experts on child sexual exploitation, reviewed and informed this work. Members included Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion, Conservative MP for Wakefield Imran Ahmad Khan, survivor and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse, and Simon Bailey, National Police Chiefs Council lead on child protection.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “This will enable us to better understand any community and cultural factors relevant to tackling offending – helping us to safeguard children from abuse, deliver justice for victims and survivors, and restore the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system’s ability to confront this issue.”

Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of exploitation and abuse who will be part of the expert panel, said: “As a country we still do not understand abuse and exploitation, and the government is not doing enough to prevent and tackle it, so I welcome the publication of this paper. I want perpetrators to be held to account for their criminal activity regardless of race or religion because unfortunately they haven’t, and it still remains a subject that we cannot openly discuss. No one should be exempt.”

The paper summarises studies which suggest individuals committing group-based child sexual exploitation are predominantly, but not exclusively, male and often under the age of 30. 

Some studies have indicated an over-representation of Asian and Black offenders. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the ethnicity of offenders as existing research is limited and data collection is poor.

Simon Bailey, National Police Chiefs Council lead on child protection, said: “Since 2014 the police service’s response to group-based child sexual exploitation has significantly improved and I remain committed to continue this work, to strengthen it, to build on the investments and to improve it further. All victims of child sexual exploitation have a right to expect the best possible response from the police service.

“The research commissioned by the Home Secretary into group based child sexual exploitation has highlighted just how complex and challenging this particular form of child sexual abuse is and acknowledges there are significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding.”

The Home Office says that the lack of robust data on ethnicity and other factors is “disappointing”, however community and cultural factors are “clearly relevant” to understanding and tackling offending, and an approach to deterring, disrupting, and preventing offending tailored to the communities in which it occurs is needed.

Controversially, the Home Office’s plans include the collection and analysis of data on child sexual abuse, including in relation to characteristics of offenders such as ethnicity and other factors.

Nazir Afzal, former chief crown prosecutor in the north-west, who brought prosecutions over the Rochdale grooming gangs, said: “The danger is that by focusing entirely on the ethnicity of the offender, we miss the bigger picture, which is how the unheard, the left-behind women and girls, are invariably the victims. That’s where the government’s attention and action should be primarily focused.”

Sheila Taylor MBE, Chief Executive, NWG Network said: “Regardless of race or religion, regardless of online or offline abuse, the exploitation of children is a crime that has a lifelong impact.

“There is a continuous need to share good practice, as child exploitation, by its nature, constantly changes. We are seeing the increased awareness of criminal exploitation through county lines, modern slavery and trafficking, however, we need to ensure the learning from tackling child sexual exploitation is embedded within the whole complex intertwined child exploitation responses.”

Studies indicate that motivations differ between offenders, but that a sexual interest in children is not always the predominant motive. Financial gain and a desire for sexual gratification are common motives, and misogyny and disregard for women and girls may further enable the abuse.

Materials used in the paper included published academic research, official statistics and published work by organisations working in the child sexual exploitation area, as well as a series of interviews with police officers and safeguarding officers involved in investigating this type of offending.

Insight gained from this paper will be used to improve guidance to local agencies in identifying and disrupting this form of offending, and work with police to tackle organised exploitation by using improved analysis and sharing of data.

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