The following statement has been released by Assistant Chief Constable Will White:
The sexual exploitation of children is an abhorrent crime and we’re absolutely committed to protecting the vulnerable and relentlessly going after those who perpetrate this abuse.
Every child matters and should be safe and cared for. As police, we’re doing all we can to pursue and prosecute offenders, but we recognise more must be done by all safeguarding agencies to prevent the abuse from happening in the first place.
We’ll reflect on the findings in the latest report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) into CSE by organised networks and welcome and support the recommendations made. We’ll implement any learnings necessary, including identified issues around the quality of data recording.
Our response to child sexual exploitation (CSE) has evolved over the past seven years and we welcome the report’s positive recognition of the work of Operation Topaz to prevent and disrupt offenders.
Operation Topaz is our forcewide response to CSE developed following a serious case review into Operation Brooke, an 18-month investigation into a child sexual exploitation network in Bristol in 2013, which resulted in 13 men being convicted and jailed. It ensures we have dedicated policing resources in place to disrupt offenders, engage with victims and undertake prevention work.
In 2021, we increased the number of Operation Topaz engagement officers, who are allocated to support and help a child identified as being at risk of being exploited. Officers do this through developing a professional and empathetic relationship with the child, building up their trust and confidence, which increases the success of both safeguarding measures and any necessary investigation. Around half of the children our engagement officers speak to provide an account of what has happened to them.
We proactively seek out and find offenders and remain proactive and vigilant in our response to the threat posed by organised crime networks.
We are advanced in our use of data science to give us a greater understanding of those at risk of exploitation and proactively support them through a multi-agency response, rather than waiting for them to become a victim. We want to find the exploitation which isn’t being reported.
Data science also enables us to create a hostile environment for offenders, disrupting their criminal behaviour through the range of tools available to us, including CSE warning letters, Child Abduction Warning Notices, Sexual Risk and Sexual Harm Prevention Orders, as well as more intensive means of disruption.
In today’s report, it comments:
“The force’s location-specific disruption activities have included working with housing officers to evict suspects from an illegal sub-tenancy and a two-week operation at a park in Bristol. Disruptions and prosecutions undertaken by Operation Topaz are often done without disclosures from, or support of, child victims.
“This meets one of the key difficulties in responding to CSE which we have seen on a national level, namely the considerable barriers to disclosure of exploitation by children.”
The report also highlighted good multi-agency partnership working and information sharing in Bristol, and went onto cite a case in which a CSE perpetrator was disrupted, arrested and convicted for knowingly inducing a child to run away, or stay away from care.
The report does highlight examples of where victim blaming language has been used in the past. This is unacceptable and we’ve come a long way in making sure officers recognise the signs of exploitation and are empowered to challenge this type of behaviour or language if witnessed. We are very clear – the abuser is always responsible, never the victim.
Through the invaluable work of our dedicated CSE prevention and co-ordination officer we’re continuing to build stronger relationships with residential children’s homes, schools, religious communities, GP surgeries, community groups and businesses such as hotels, taxis and nightclubs – with this officer providing awareness and training sessions to more than 21,000 schoolchildren, professionals, police staff, business employees and parents in just one year. This training reiterates the need to avoid victim-blaming language.
We know children are exploited in more than one way, which is why our focus on CSE must constantly evolve and develop and perpetrators of this abuse should be warned that we intend to keep on coming for them and bringing them to justice, so they can no longer inflict their insidious and corrosive harm on others.