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Government 'record of failure' on tackling child sex abuse is 'inexcusable'

3 min read

The Government has a record of failure when it comes to tackling the rising scale of organised child sexual abuse, says Diane Abbott MP.

The scale of child sexual abuse in this country is staggering and the government is simply not doing enough to combat it. A recent report from National Crime Agency (NCA) shows that child trafficking is at an all-time high, while support provided to victims is at an all-time low.

Policy makers and experts will argue that the nature of the crimes means they are especially hidden from view and difficult to get encourage victims to come forward.  But the government could do much more to tackle organised child sexual abuse, but it cannot be proud of its record. And falling support for victims is inexcusable.

There are three major areas of organised child sexual abuse. The first are online, the downloading or sharing of child pornography as well as the online sexual grooming of children. According to the NSPCC, 50,000 people downloaded or shared images of child abuse in this country in 2012 and 70,000 online images of child abuse were shared in the same year. We also hear horrific reports of young children driven to self-harm and even suicide after they have been caught out by online groomers and blackmailed by them.

Secondly, from the same source, there were an estimated over 2,400 children who were victims of sexual abuse organised through gangs or criminal groups between August 2010 and October 2011. Separately, Childline reports over 10,000 counselling sessions with victims of sexual abuse or online sexual abuse in 2015/16.

Thirdly, more than 230 children were trafficked for sexual exploitation purposes last year. The government recently announced £40 million to tackle these problems, but the NCA data shows a record of failure, with disastrous consequences.

The ad hoc nature of these statistics also points to a key problem. There are no reliable official data in this area and instead we must fall back on the research and estimates of specialists working in the field. The government cannot begin to claim to be effectively tackling this problem when it must be unaware of its true scale.

As a matter of urgency the Home Office should establish a fully-funded specialist task force of police, internet experts, border agencies, statisticians and others to develop full and accurate statistics on the scale of the problem. Its latest Centre of Expertise will not achieve that.

But policing is also vital. Children deserve our protection. The police must be given the resources they need to tackle a set of crimes which can be complex and enormous in scope.

Instead, the police are facing ever more severe cuts. This is strongly opposed by Labour, who increased police numbers and cut crime in office. But specialist policing expertise has been lost. Many of us were sceptical of the decision to allow the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) unit to be subsumed into the NCA. That decision was taken by the then Home Secretary Theresa May.

Jim Gamble, the CEOP head who quit in protest said, the plans, “were ill-informed, politically motivated and potentially dangerous for child safety”. If he is right, it is children who face the horrendous consequences.

Labour will review this area. We will examine whether CEOP or something like it needs to be revived. The overriding aim must be to identify the scale of the problem and to give the police the necessary expertise and resources they need to tackle it. We wish the Tories would treat these appalling crimes with the seriousness they deserve. Labour certainly will.

Diane Abbott is the Labour Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and is the shadow Home Secretary

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