The shockingrevelations in The Times last week of child sexual exploitation in South Yorkshire, alongside thepublication of further details about past failures in Rochdale, raise important questions about how this abuse was allowed to continue for many years after concerns were first raised and how and why these children were failed so completely by the police and social services.
These revelations are, however, only the tip of the iceberg. A survey of service providers by Barnardo’s has shown that there were more than 3,000 known victims of child sexual exploitation in 2009-10 in the UK. The number of undetected victims is likely to be much higher. Despite this, only 57 people in England and Wales were found guilty of offences relating to sexual exploitation in 2010. This demonstrates how far the police and the justice system still have to go to ensure that they are able to tackle these complex issues.
The work by Barnardo’s also found that child exploitation is increasingly organised. This is apparent in the two cases that have been in the newslast week, where the abuse was conducted by organised networks. Tackling organised crime of this kind requires specialist expertise and close co-operation between forces, not least given that it often involves victims being moved from one area to another for exploitation.
In the same week, former Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has argued, echoing his 2010 Police Foundation lecture, that the police are failing to make adequate progress in addressing the challenges posed by organised crime and that “specialist expertise that does exist within policing remains both inadequate and uncoordinated beyond a small number of forces”. Addressing this deficit must be a priority.
This is particularly relevant given the forthcoming introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), who will decide their police force’s priorities and budget. Earlier this year the then Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in London, the closest current equivalent to a PCC,said on his first day in the job that “we need to swing resources back to safer neighbourhood teams and local policing and away from specialist crime”. If this sentiment is replicated among incoming PCCs, it could result in resources draining away from addressing organised crime and towards, for example, that political staple more bobbies on the beat’.
The impact of organised crime on communities is poorly understood, making it an unlikely policing priority at the local level and therefore unlikely to be at the forefront of many PCC manifestos. Yet there is a clear need to provide adequate resources to enable the police to effectively tackle organised crime. Failure to do so would seriously compromise much-needed work to address the sort of offending that can cause the most harm to communities and the people who live in them.