In this investigation, the Inquiry considered the sexual exploitation of children by organised networks. Department for Education guidance recognises that child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It is said to occur “where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator”.¹
A ‘network’ was defined for the purposes of this investigation as “two or more individuals (whether identified or not) who are known to (or associated with) one another”. Offender networks are often loosely interconnected rather than formally organised and older children or teenagers may also be involved in grooming victims.
The sexual exploitation of children by networks is not a rare problem confined to a small number of areas with high-profile criminal cases. It is a crime which involves the sexual abuse of children in the most degrading and destructive ways, by multiple perpetrators. The Inquiry therefore chose to base this investigation on areas which had not already been the subject of independent investigation (such as Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford). The intention was to obtain an accurate picture of current practice at a strategic level and through examination of individual cases, as well as drawing on wider knowledge about child sexual exploitation in England and Wales.
Six case study areas were chosen: Durham, Swansea, Warwickshire, St Helens, Tower Hamlets and Bristol. Eight themes were examined in each area:
In addition, the Inquiry undertook a detailed analysis of material held by the relevant local authority and police force in relation to 33 children from the six case study areas, in order to better understand the experiences of children who were currently being (or very recently had been) sexually exploited by networks.
¹ Working Together to Safeguard Children, July 2018, HOM003350