On behalf of the charity PACE UK
‘Parents Against Child Exploitation’
Represented by Switalskis
- We act for the charity Parents Against Child Exploitation. Gill Gibbons, CEO of PACE, gave oral evidence before you on Day 10. We also supported the witness CS-A12 who gave oral evidence on Day 2. She was particularly brave to do so.
Salient features of evidence
Paucity & quality of data compared to reported experiences
- The gap between the reality of abused children’s experiences in recent years and the bureaucratic response by statutory services is probably vast. We frankly do not know because the data is so poor. It is plagued with poor collection, definitional problems and diversity of approach across the country. If you accepted the overall tenor of the police evidence you would think there was little evidence of organised networks – however defined – in the six regions and even less CSE that is accompanied by serious threats of violence.
- This is not the experience of sexually abused children and those having to confront CSEN at the frontline in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford.
- It is at the frontline we suggest that further resources need to be concentrated with a particular recognition of the role of:
- Third party non-statutory organisations like the Angelou Centre, Apna Haq and youth centres.
- They are the ones best placed to spot CSE early. They are the ones to whom a child is most likely to confide. They are the ones who can cut across cultural difficulties, because they are in the same culture. They are the ones who are best-placed to influence and curb their child’s access to perpetrators fast. They are the ones who are best able to provide key forensic information to the authorities to disrupt the activities of perpetrators.
- The State already has great powers to confront Child Sexual Exploitation. They include:
- Taking children into care; but too often out of their home area;
- Placing them in secure accommodation; but too often it is an unregulated bed-sit;
- Detection and prosecution of offenders who have already committed terrible crimes; but the process is brutal for victims.
- These are blunt, expensive, impersonal instruments. When exercised, it is already an explicit admission of failure. For children who have already been traumatised, it represents further trauma and, too often, no end to what they have suffered. They may end up separated from their parents, stigmatised, and exposed to further abuse. Children’s homes, we know, are targets for organised perpetrators. You heard from parent CS-A2 about her bruising experiences with the police and social services. PACE’s own report from Nov 2019 shows a slow poor response typical . It reminds us of Ronald Reagan’s quip, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Far from helping parents, parents were treated like the enemy.
- If ‘Exchange’ is the key distinguishing feature of CSE then it should be supported parents who are providing that exchange, not abusers, not cold institutions.
Nature of the Problem
- What you have heard differs little, except in its graphic detail, from adult predation on children described by Dickens in Oliver Twist in 1837, before the first national police force. We are so much richer. We have a national police force. We have extensive social services. We think ourselves so much more enlightened. And yet, we heard from CS-A12 her recent experiences:
- “I was called a liar, a rebellious, out-of-control, teen and told I was the problem.” Day [2/p.9].
- When she was placed in care, it turned out to be just as dangerous as at home. “It has high rape, child abuse, drugs, violence; everything as high as it can be. There was often instances that we witnessed from the care home of violence out on the streets from gang members beating each other up, fighting, throwing each other out of windows, tying a guy to the back of the car and dragging him down the road over drug money, and this is a care home that was specialised in people aged between 12 and 18, all having to witness instances like that”. [Day 2/p.a13]
- Staff knew what was happening. One was even suspended for trying to prevent her ‘ending up dead in a ditch’. [Day 2/11] It was happening in plain sight. The police picked her up in the company of her abusers and called her a child prostitute, [Day 2/22]. Staff called the police to arrest her for minor criminal damage even though she was virtually comatose after having her drink spiked [Day 8/31]. “If I ever lashed out or got upset I was either restrained, arrested or prosecuted [Day 2/38].
- The only physical contact allowed was physical restraint. Self-harming. Isolated. Unloved. Hardly surprising CS-A12 became increasingly dependent on her abusers [Day 2/18]. Even when she finally came to give evidence against them ‘I had such conflicting feelings because to a certain degree I loved these men…..they were my family…’ [Day 2/20-21].
- Pregnant at 15 by a 17 year old in the same care home. Going to dangerous clubs at the same age without checks on her ID. [Day 2/33]. Her own child, when it came, taken away from her. At age 18 a realisation that she “ was 18 years old, going through family court with my daughter, had liver cirrhosis and had nothing to my name, and no-one actually cared about me.” She had to sort out her life, largely on her own.
- When finally the police prosecuted her abusers, she had to endure an awful trial experience. From first contact with the police to trial was 5 years. The trial was meant to be 8 weeks. Defence tactics meant it overran. There was delay for another year.
Across the country, scale
- That basic story is repeated with cruelly intricate variations across the country. Perhaps 40,000 children where CSE is a notable concern, according to a report in 2016 by Sheffield University [citation required]. Each generation of children must run the CSE gauntlet. It blights the children, their parents and their wider family. “The offending is such that online child sexual abuse and exploitation is recognised by the UK government to be “National threat”, with reports about the volume, severity and complexity of the online threat being made to the National Security Council.”
- You will have read John Wedger’s statement. A police officer in the Metropolitan Police for 23 years who specialised in child abuse investigations and retired only 3 years ago. He gave his view:
“…that awareness of child sexual exploitation by the Metropolitan Police and local authorities has always been very high. Partly as much of the abuse is fairly easy to detect (as I demonstrate in relation to Haringey, in my statement), but also because the abuse is frequently and repeatedly reported. At times those reports are made to, or via, social services, but also they are made to the police directly. The sexual exploitation of children in London is therefore very much in plain sight, as far as policing is concerned. The same is true nationally.”
“When [statutory services] become aware that abuse might be taking place, there is an almost institutional unwillingness to adequately investigate. Indeed the pervasive response is ‘not to notice’.
“The reasons for this are obvious: it is deeply uncomfortable to face the issue, it may expose past or present failings in child protection; the victims are often difficult and challenging people to work with who not only fail to see themselves as victims but also reject, often aggressively, offers of help from statutory authorities that they profoundly (and understandably) distrust.”
- That chimes very readily with parents reflections collected by PACE in their November 2019 report, “I felt as if the social worker was a puppet of Social Care management who were looking to do as little as possible, save funds and wait it out until my child was an adult and it was no longer their problem.”
Speed & technology
- The speed with which a child falls under the coercive control of a sexual predator is alarming. The main reason for that is internet technology. You reported in Internet strand that:
‘99 percent of 12-15 year olds spend 20 ½ hours online per week…..and 83 percent had their own smartphone.’
‘The internet is also used to groom children. Grooming includes building a relationship with a child in order to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation. This can include forcing, manipulating or enticing a child to engage in sexual activity, either with themselves or with other children. These acts are then often live streamed and images taken of the footage. The move from establishing online contact with a child to meeting them in person and physically sexually abusing them can happen quickly.’
- The importance to the perpetrator of mobile phone technology in particular is evidenced by the number of perpetrators who give children mobile phones. It is good grooming. The child is delighted with a phone; it enables the abuser to continue grooming remotely; and to arrange clandestine meetings. All on a ‘private’ phone.
- Such is the speed by which a child moves from innocence to degradation, it does not make sense to talk of risk of harm. Either a child is being abused, or they are not. Once involved in CSE, it is so much harder to get the child back. They are often criminalised, drugged and in thrall to their abusers.
- CSEN is an old problem. But it has been super-charged by modern technology.
Dynamic, fast changing
- We know that organised networks of child sexual exploiters are difficult to define in ways which are meaningful to both academic analysts and the police. While perpetrators may appear to come from a homogeneous ethnic group in one locality, it will be different in another. The experience of criminal gangs and CSE in Tower Hamlets, for example, is quite different from the experience of neighbouring Hackney. A single child can experience a multiplicity of different types of exploitation. It is inevitable that where the police adopt one disruption tactic, a new model of exploitation will emerge as perpetrators change their methods.
Importance of parents, schools and third-party
- It is with that raw experience of CSE – the speed, the use of modern technology, it’s shape-shifting nature and – apparently in plain sight of those charged in law with caring for children, – that we have at times doubted the efficacy of:
- Academic debate on the precise definition of CSE and organised networks;
- Glossaries of acceptable and unacceptable use of language by professionals that appear to have been unread and unimplemented; in one case the policy document suggests alternative language that entirely removes the important element of drugs in the abuse. There needs to more than just cosmetic changes in the attitude of professionals working with CSE.
- Public wrangling between the police and CPS about who is responsible for the low prosecution of reported sex offences;
- Aspirational policy documents rendered meaningless because there is no way of measuring outcome because no one has agreed the definitions.
- The goal, you might think, is a simple one. Every parent, however troubled, would agree. Their child should not be drugged, raped and beaten by known predators in plain sight of the authorities. That is the essence of the Relational Safeguarding model adopted by PACE, an approach “that assumes that parents and carers want to have the capacity to protect their child, unless there is evidence to the contrary.”
- The goal is emphatically not for national institutions to signal their virtue and good intent while achieving little.
- We make these suggestions about practical steps to prevent child sexual exploitation by networks.
- Parents first.
- There needs to be a rolling national campaign of information and advice to parents about CSEN and the resources available to provide support to parents, consistent with the government’s categorization of CSEN as a national security threat.
- Those resources should include independent, non-statutory bodies who can liaise with statutory bodies.
- We would support the provision in each local authority area of Specialist, independent, family support, similar to the role of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors as currently successfully deployed in Rotherham. If the parent is the true expert about their child, it doesn’t follow that they are experts on navigating complex statutory provision in relation to CSE.
- Advice to parents should include:
- The particular dangers of unfettered access to mobile phones and the internet.
- How to monitor and restrict use of a mobile phone by a child.
- Information about the different risks and presentation of CSE against girls and boys and those with a disability.
- Mobile phones and internet
- We would urge you to revisit the evidence and conclusions you reached in the Internet strand of this investigation.
- Consideration if there should be a minimum age for use of mobile phones by children. You recommended the government should require age verification technology for the use of social media platforms. We would ask you to consider if this should be extended to the use of mobile devices. We heard evidence of vulnerability up to the age of 18 and suggest this age restriction should accord with this evidence.
- Whether the technology companies could do more to empower parents to monitor their children’s use of mobile phones.
- Allocation of resources – prevention is better than cure
- Parents first.
We heard extensive evidence of failures to respond quickly to missing person reports and cries for help from parents. We heard evidence of missed opportunities to disrupt perpetrators, all caused by mis-targeting of resources. The current structure of Local authorities looking at the child and family whilst police consider evidence gathering means opportunities for disruption and intense early work with the family are missed. Current resource allocation is failing. A “flying squad” of “CSE busters” with a blend of other organisations such as PACE to simultaneously work with the family and with the powers of the police to disrupt perpetrators early would more effectively prevent children falling into CSEN.
The national adoption of an agreed definition of CSEN. This should be broad, similar to that proposed in this Inquiry. Whether it is precisely right or wrong is less important than having a definition that can be used to capture and monitor progress.
- The case of Poole v CN  UKSC 25 has cast doubt on whether survivors of CSE can take action against local authorities when they are abused resulting from negligent social work. Indeed this legal decision weakens the obligation on social worker managers to follow guidance. They now know failure doesn’t lead to (expensive) sanction through the courts. This decision needs to be rectified immediately by legislation. IICSA is able to make this recommendation to the government.
- All of these proposals, we accept, have cost implications. But they are nothing relative to the costs of harm that will be avoided as a result. The majority of sexually exploited children live at home. That is where it starts. That is the first place to stop it.
29 OCTOBER 2020
 The Internet Investigation Report, page 9
 Internet Investigation Report, p.8; Rapid Evidence Assessment: Behaviour and Characteristics of Perpetrators of Online-facilitated Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation p45; INQ004149_006
 E.g. CS-F237
 Day 7, page 123