Child sex abuse investigations ‘inadequate’ – police watchdog

Reuters / Ahmad Masood
Police investigations into allegations of historical child sex abuse have been branded “inadequate” in a new report, which claims more than one-third of such inquiries are substandard.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s latest report found the police response to 38 percent of child abuse inquiries in a sample of nearly 600 was inadequate.

Of the 576 cases considered in the report, 177 were deemed of a good standard, 179 regarded as merely adequate, while 220 were viewed as inadequate.

In one of the cases, social workers blamed the cause of a four-year-old girl’s vaginal bleeding on eczema, despite her claiming she’d been abused by a family member.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said the results demonstrate how often police underestimate the risks facing children.

Poor handling of such cases could fail an entire generation, they add.

A second report, “Online and On the Edge: Real risks in the Virtual World into Online Abuse,” revealed that police handling of online child abuse was even worse.

A sample of 124 online abuse cases found that 52 percent were not investigated properly.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) revealed more than 23,000 child abusers were workers in the UK last year. It also found 2,800 children were identified as needing protection from pedophiles.

Another NSPCC report revealed over 1,000 young people contacted ChildLine last year to seek help over online sexual abuse.

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Commenting on the report findings, NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless says it’s a “damning indictment of police forces” that investigations into online child abuse are so inadequate.

Despite commitment and dedication among officers tackling these “dark crimes,” opportunities to protection children “are being missed by the police,” Wanless said in a statement.

Backlogs in forensic analysis of seized devices, lack of training, supervision and poor prioritization” means the police response is just “scratching the surface of crimes committed,” he added.

The report also highlighted that officers simply don’t believe children in many cases, and in other cases children were arrested and accused of lying when reporting an offense.

This has made it harder for children to open up about being abused. An NSPCC report titled, “Child abuse and neglect in the UK today” shows that 1 in 3 children who are sexually abused don’t speak up.

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Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead officer on child protection and abuse investigations, admitted that the police need to change their approach to “protect the public from harm committed on or offline.”

This requires a cultural shift away from largely reactive policing that targets acquisitive crime with success measures by crime statistics and conviction rates,” he told The Guardian.

It must be supported by all agencies that work with children getting better at spotting signs of abuse, cruelty or neglect and intervening early to protect harm.”

Home Office minister Karen Bradley accepted such investigations are “difficult and complex work” but insists police forces “must do all they can to improve child sex abuse and exploitation.”

Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary Dru Sharpling said the findings suggest that police will “have to adapt to a substantial new challenge.

Children “must be placed at the head of what policing does next,” she added.