The Role of Social Media
It is acknowledged that the internet and other forms of social media (including smart phone/mobile technology and the internet) are often utilised by perpetrators to identify potential victims:
- Online grooming is achieved via social networking sites where children and young people are vulnerable and easy to locate as they often post detailed personal information including their home addresses, schools and mobile contact details etc.
- Non-contact sexual exploitation which involves children and young people being persuaded, manipulated, groomed and/or threatened into exposing themselves or performing sexual acts over a webcam or sending indecent images of themselves to offenders
- Meeting children offline following online grooming for the purpose of sexual exploitation
Sexual Exploitation is often linked to other types of crime including:
- Child trafficking (this can be within a town, region or into/out of the UK)
- Domestic Violence
- Sexual violence in intimate relationships
- Grooming (both online and offline)
- Viewing, creating or distributing abusive images of children
- Organised sexual abuse of children
- Gang related activity
- Immigration-related offences
Prevalence in Northumberland
The government action plan highlights the importance of understanding the prevalence and nature of the problem including circumstances and locations in each area where children and young adults are particularly vulnerable and at risk. Subsequently, the government has identified the need for Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards to put systems in place so trends and patterns of child sexual exploitation can be identified and monitored, and service responses developed effectively. The Safer Northumberland Strategic Board are under a duty to consider trends and patterns of crime and disorder.
In Northumberland there are a range of professionals and specialist agencies that have recognised this form of abuse for many years. However, the hidden nature of sexual exploitation means that it potentially remains under recognised and under reported. To address this issue data about sexual exploitation is systematically gathered by several agencies across Northumberland including Children’s Services, Police and other organisations. The methods used to gather data include:
- Police and Children’s Services data bases record all known incidences where a child, young person or vulnerable adult (with leaving care status) has gone missing and/or is at risk of sexual exploitation
- Adult service data base records sexual exploitation as a form of abuse so that this information can be extracted at referral and assessment
- A risk assessment framework to assist all agencies in identifying if a child or young person is at low, medium or high risk of sexual exploitation
- Multi-agency strategy meetings to consider S47 child protection enquires where a child is identified or suspected to be at risk of sexual exploitation
- Use of adult safeguarding procedures where sexual exploitation is identified and the person is identified as having care and support needs and unable to protect themselves
- Identifying if a child or young person is at risk of sexual exploitation at the point of referrals and the completion of a Child and Family Assessment (C&FA)
- Return interviews
- The Risk Management Group (RMG) and vulnerability check list (VCL) to establish where a potential victim is at risk of sexual exploitation and at what level of risk. This includes monthly meetings in between the RMG with the Senior Manager, CSE Lead and RMG chair meeting, Police Missing from Home Coordinator and the Missing Children’s Social Worker.
Extent and Nature of SE in Northumberland
Operation Sanctuary is the Northumbria Police response to all aspects of sexual exploitation of Children and Adults within the Northumbria Police area.
Operation Shelter (which sits under the umbrella of Operation Sanctuary) focusses on the sexual exploitation of Children and vulnerable Adults predominantly, but not exclusively, within the Newcastle area.
The operation has been ongoing for 17 months and is the most significant investigation concerning sexual exploitation that Northumbria Police has undertaken.
Operation Shelter staff have spoken with in excess of 300 potential complainants (i.e. young girls and young adults who are believed to have been at risk of sexual exploitation, either historically or currently).
33 people have been charged with significant numbers of offences relating to sexual exploitation resulting from Operation Sanctuary investigations.
A series of four trials will commence in September 2015 and conclude in February 2016. These trails will involve 25 defendants.
Thus far this investigation has identified few instances of sexual exploitation within the Northumberland area or with Children resident in Northumberland.
To date, through Operation Sanctuary, there have been 163 arrests, 51 charged, 10 Deportation Orders and 30 taxi licences suspended or revoked.
Northumberland County Council Licensing department revoked licenses for 5 taxi drivers as a direct result of information received from Northumbria Police as part of Operation Sanctuary and as a result now have a direct link through NCC Intelligence Manager and the Northumbria Police Traffic Intelligence ensuring all timely and effective response to intelligence and information.
In response to Operation Shelter and Operational Sanctuary:
- meetings are held between Adult Services, Children’s Services, the Police and Public Protection to ensure effective coordination and to ensure that robust safeguarding arrangements are in place in relation to those identified.
- a weekly meeting is held between representatives of all six Local Authorities and Northumbria Police to share information and to ensure effective arrangements are in place.
- The Missing Children’s Social Worker attends the weekly operational meetings and the Missing Children's Social Worker and Team Manager from the 16+ team attend the 6 weekly complex abuse meetings. The formal operational and strategic regional links through Operation Sanctuary are important in terms of sharing information, identifying and preventing sexual exploitation in Northumberland.
- Northumbria Police have recently been successful in their bid to the Police Innovation Fund. And plans are in place to develop Project Sanctuary, an Intelligence Led Multi Agency Operational Hub to tackle Sexual Exploitation, Vulnerability and Modern Day Slavery
- Project Sanctuary will build on key learning from Operation Sanctuary by establishing two multi-agency operational teams, one covering the north of the force and the other the south, to tackle child exploitation, vulnerability and modern day slavery.
- A part time NCC social worker will be seconded to Project Sanctuary for 24 months and a single point of contact will be identified for adult services.
- The teams will be co-located within non-police premises to establish community based ‘hubs’ that will take a victim-based approach in keeping with good practice identified during Operation Sanctuary
- There will be a new Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Social Work Coordinator role; four in each hub which will oversee and coordinate social work activity across individual local authority boundaries; with agreement having already been formally agreed with partners from each of the local councils.
- In addition to those organisations occupying co-located space within each hub, SCARPA, The Children’s Society will ‘sit’ outside of the hubs but will have direct links into them and will work alongside the embedded Missing From Home Coordinators and Family Support Workers; to reduce the numbers/frequency of children going missing from home.
- The hubs will link directly with a new ‘Victim Services Hub’ to provide additional opportunities for providing bespoke services to victims by enabling timely and effective access to the improved victims’ services that will be available.
- The hubs will direct and drive the activity of their own dedicated investigative units to target identified perpetrators. Located in police premises and totally separate to the community based hubs
- The activity of the hubs and their dedicated investigative units will be enhanced by the use of state-of-the-art technology including i) a ‘cloud’ based multi-agency information-sharing platform; ii) location-based social media monitoring software together with dedicated Covert Internet Investigation (CII) and iii) a computerised application (App) to create a contemporary, widely accessible interface to share and receive safeguarding information with those susceptible to exploitation, particularly with young people.
The role of Probation Services
The National Probation Service works with both the perpetrators of Sexual Exploitation and the victims. The service has worked closely with the Police and other agencies in intelligence gathering and post-sentence will continue to manage the risks posed by perpetrators
The rehabilitation of perpetrators should take place through:
- Therapeutic treatment of the offender that addresses attitudes and behaviours
- Identification of particular characteristics, such as sexual preoccupation and harbouring of grievances
- Differential approaches and treatment of males and females based on assessment
- Weaning a perpetrator off their dependence on, or identification with, the group they belonged to
Many perpetrators of SE will have multiple offence related problems. The pathway into offending for these people appears likely in many cases to be both sexually motivated and related to an anti-social/hostile orientation. This is a judgement based on:
- The emerging picture that most, if not all, of the (mainly) men who are involved in SE probably do so at least partially because of problems in the sexual interests domain. This assumption is made based on consistent victim accounts of children who describe being sexually abused by the perpetrators prior to or during further exploitation (Berelowitz, 2013, Smeaton, 2013)
- Research also indicates lack of concern about victims, use of fear and violence to achieve aims, controlling nature of the offence (Beckett 2011), and issues of power and control and grievance thinking (Berelowitz, 2013). This suggests a more general anti-social orientation in addition to needs in the sexual interests domain
Consequently a starting point for the appropriate response to such people would be one of the existing sex offender programmes, where they have been convicted of a sexual offence or an offence with an underlying sexual motive (nearly all of them). Most of the needs identified above would be addressed in one of the existing sex offender programmes.
It may be the case that such people will have additional needs to those typically addressed in sex offender programmes, but without further evidence it is not possible to confirm this or identify such needs. However, based on the literature reviewed two potential areas of need can be identified:
1) Inappropriate use of power and control.
Some of the literature points to issues with power and control, and use of fear and violence to achieve aims. These may not be addressed directly in sex offender programmes. It may be the case, therefore, work on a 1:1 basis would need to be completed in these areas by offender managers.
2) Gang related SE.
Although sexual offending programmes would meet many of the offence related needs described above, for those involved in gangs an important aim of any intervention would be to help the individual to disengage from the gang. Some of the future-focused work in the sex offender programmes is targeted directly at relationships and crime so would be relevant. However, offender managers should consider the impact of gang membership, and where possible work with partner agencies in order to assist former gang members to disengage.
- Identifying vulnerable individuals and groups, offering early intervention and providing on-going support to help them build resilience and prevent sexual exploitation occurring in the future
- Enabling children, young people and vulnerable adults to make safe choices, and stay safe in relationships through education and raising awareness of the risks
BRINGING OFFENDERS TO JUSTICE
- By supporting victims, parents and/or carers through interventions designed around their individual needs, aspirations and interests
- Ensuring support from professionals is consistent by drawing on recognised models of best practice to help victims make sense of their experience, regain control and exit from sexual exploitation
BUILDING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
- Being pro-active across multi-agency partnerships and joint protocols to identify, disrupt and prosecute perpetrators of sexual exploitation, and minimise the duration and impact of abuse being experienced by victims
- Making sure that communities understand the nature and degree of the risk of sexual exploitation to them, and that they know how to access help and support
- Providing accessible information which highlights the role of community vigilance in tackling sexual exploitation
To implement this strategy we will focus work activity as detailed below:
- Providing leadership and working in partnership
- Training and awareness raising
- Identification and understanding risk
- Engagement, intervention and supporting victims
- Disrupting and prosecuting offenders