"some police personnel don’t understand the vulnerability of children."
A report has found that the police continue to blame child victims of sexual grooming gangs for the attacks they suffer.
The report from the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) comes more than a decade after scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale.
It exposed shortcomings by the authorities that allowed groups of men to exploit and harm vulnerable young girls.
The report indicates that although there has been some improvement, progress remains sluggish, and warnings from other official entities have been ignored.
Furthermore, the report refutes assertions that a specific ethnic group poses a greater threat to children than others.
The inspectorate said: “In 2013, the home affairs committee was able to report that child sexual exploitation was a ‘large-scale, nationwide problem’, which was increasing.
“With such a stark warning, we expected to find, 10 years later, that the police and other organisations had a greater understanding of the problem and had developed effective responses to protect children.
“In many respects, we were disappointed.
“We found that an accurate view of group-based child sexual exploitation still wasn’t available to the police service, data collection was unreliable, and intelligence gathering wasn’t prioritised.”
The report uncovered instances where group child sexual exploitation went unnoticed, as some cases were dealt with by non-specialist officers who were less equipped to identify the signs.
Additionally, it highlighted a lack of a clear definition for group-based child sexual exploitation within law enforcement.
In one instance, crucial evidence from mobile phones remained unexamined for a year.
In another case, a 30-year-old man exploiting a child and her friend resulted in the initial arrest of the victims, a situation that was later resolved when officers recognised them as victims rather than offenders.
The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) reported discovering a dozen instances of victim blaming in three out of the six forces it examined.
This phenomenon is attributed to a deficient culture within a force rather than individual officer failings.
Examples include a missing child being described as “medium-risk due to age, streetwise and tends to return the next day”.
In another case, a child was described as “putting herself in precarious situations”, while another child was described as a “difficult victim to engage with”.
The inspectorate said: “Victim-blaming language indicates that some police personnel don’t understand the vulnerability of children.
“It means that responses to protect and help them are at times inadequate and risk is missed.”
The report dismissed claims that grooming gang members were likely to be predominantly from one ethnic group.
“Any public perception that those responsible are predominantly from the Pakistani or south Asian community may be influenced by national media coverage of some of the cases.
“Furthermore, we didn’t find that this public perception was supported by the 27 group-based child sexual exploitation investigations we examined during the inspection.”
Lead inspector Wendy Williams said: “It cannot be overstated how complex and challenging these crimes can be to prevent and investigate, and the police can’t tackle them alone.
“Police and law enforcement bodies have improved how they support victims and understand their needs.
“However, the pace of change needs to increase, and this starts with understanding the problem. We found that the police, law enforcement bodies and the government still didn’t have a full understanding of the nature or scale of these crimes.”
Meanwhile, police chiefs have criticised a decision by large tech firms to enact end-to-end encryption.
The authorities feel end-to-end encryption will help shield serious criminals, including grooming gang members.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it received a “staggering” number of reports of child sexual exploitation every month and uncovered 800 suspects and identified 1,200 children as potential victims.
Many of these came from the likes of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook.
Ian Critchley, a deputy chief constable and lead for child protection at the NPCC, said:
“The introduction of Meta’s new end-to-end encryption will have a dangerous impact on child safety.
“Meta will no longer be able to see messages from online groomers which contain child sexual abuse material and therefore they won’t be able to refer it to the police.
“There is a moral responsibility on media companies to ensure this does not happen.”
Previously, Meta said it is developing “robust safety measures to prevent, detect and combat abuse while maintaining online security”.