Home Secretary announces new strategy to tackle child sexual abuse

The Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy will see the Government use new legislation and technologies to attempt to prevent offences, but critics question renewed focus on the ethnicity of offenders.

22/01/21

Home Secretary announces new strategy to tackle child sexual abuse

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced a new Government initiative to tackle child sexual abuse, with a focus on speeding up investigations and identifying common characteristics amongst group offenders.

The new Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy aims to identify and convict child sex offenders by collecting additional information about the ethnicity of criminal gangs, amongst other characteristics.

In a statement announcing the new strategy, the Government said the Home Office report on the characteristics of group-based offending released in December had recommended that additional data on all characteristics of group offenders was necessary to combat limited current research on the issue.

“The group-based offending paper [released in December] demonstrates how difficult it has been to draw conclusions about the characteristics of offenders. That is why the government’s forthcoming Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy will commit to improving our understanding of child sexual abuse - including around ethnicity,” said the Government.

“This will enable us to better understand any community and cultural factors relevant to tackling offending.”

However, the Home Office report concluded that the “common denominator” of group offenders “is not immigration, race, culture or Islam,” but rather “the product of a complex interplay of patriarchy, power, exploitation, opportunity and disregard for children."

As a result, some have questioned the strategy’s apparent focus on ethnicity as a key factor in identifying offenders and preventing abuse.

Ally Fog, founder of Gendemic, questioned the effectiveness of any focus on the ethnicity of offenders in getting to the root of the wider issue.

He tweeted: “If you invent a unique category of child abuse which uniquely describes the circumstances & conditions under which offenders from one particular ethnic background operate, then you'll find disproportionate prevalence of that particular ethnic group.”

In addition to the focus on characteristics of group offenders, the new strategy will also aim to utilise the Child Abuse Image Database to “identify and catch more offenders quicker” to try and speed up police investigations.

A new Online Safety Bill will also be introduced as part of the strategy in an attempt to hold technology companies to account for harmful and illegal content held on their sites.

There will also be additional measures put in place to attempt to avoid officers being repeatedly exposed to indecent images during investigations, as well as a review of ‘Sarah’s Law’, the scheme that allows parents and carers to ask police if an individual holds a criminal record for child sexual offence, to try to make it easier to use.

Ms Patel said that the new strategy showed that the Government would be “relentlessly going after abusers” and spoke of the importance of collecting additional data on the characteristics of offenders to help prevent further abuse.

“Crucially, [the new strategy] contains a commitment to collect higher quality data on the characteristics of offenders, so that the government can build a fuller picture of perpetrators and tackle the abuse that has blighted many towns and cities across our country.”

Sir Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, said the announcement "rightly puts the emphasis on early intervention and action across government” but warned that there needed to be additional “serious investment” in help protect vulnerable children in the long-term.

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