Police are still blaming child victims of sexual grooming gangs for the attacks they suffer, an official report has found.
The inquiry by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) comes more than a decade after scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale came to light, revealing failings by the authorities that left gangs of men free to attack vulnerable young girls.
The inspectorate said: “In 2013, the home affairs committee was able to report that child sexual exploitation was a ‘large-scale, nationwide problem’, which was increasing.
“With such a stark warning, we expected to find, 10 years later, that the police and other organisations had a greater understanding of the problem and had developed effective responses to protect children.
“In many respects, we were disappointed. We found that an accurate view of group-based child sexual exploitation still wasn’t available to the police service, data collection was unreliable, and intelligence gathering wasn’t prioritised.”
Examples included police staff saying about one child victim that “concerns [were] raised [due] to her general proclivity with older men”. In another instance, a missing child was described as “medium-risk due to age – streetwise and tends to return the next day”. In another case, a child was described as “putting herself in precarious situations”, while another child was described as a “difficult victim to engage with”.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it received a “staggering” number of reports of child sexual exploitation every month and uncovered 800 suspects and identified 1,200 children as potential victims. A large number of these came from Meta-owned sites and apps including WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook.
Ian Critchley, a deputy chief constable and lead for child protection at the NPCC, said: “The introduction of Meta’s new end-to-end encryption will have a dangerous impact on child safety. Meta will no longer be able to see messages from online groomers which contain child sexual abuse material and therefore they won’t be able to refer it to the police.