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  1. ITV Report

Authorities 'slow to recognise' abuse of teenage girls in Bristol

Avon and Somerset police has been criticised for delays in their investigation into the sexual exploitation of young girls in Bristol.

A report from an independent review of Operation Brooke (a major criminal investigation into Child Sexual Exploitation in the area) has been published by the Boards responsible for overseeing child safeguarding.

Operation Brooke

13
men convicted
42
child sexual exploitation offences uncovered
116
combined prison sentences
A total of 13 people were convicted during Operation Brooke - though an independent report has found shortcomings in the investigation. Credit: ITV News

It was the biggest child sexual exploitation investigation Bristol's history. The men - all from Somali families, were jailed for a total of 116 years. But the report sought to establish whether the men could have been stopped sooner.

The independent Serious Case Review (SCR) looked at how agencies worked together before, during and after the investigation.

They were trying to find out the strengths and gaps in the multi-agency responses to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in order to learn from any shortcomings and improve for the future.

In particular, the report said the authorities were "slow to recognise" that teenage girls in Bristol were being abused, raped and forced into prostitution.

The report highlighted a number of shortcomings by the authorities whose multi-agency working "was not joined up", the review said

Key findings

  • The multi-agency system is not set up to provide an effective response to the particular needs of adolescents - leaving children with a fragmented and reactive response to different aspects of their behaviour
  • There is a confused and confusing national stance about adolescent sexual activity - this leaves professionals and managers struggling to recognise and distinguish between sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and/or underage sexual activity
  • The national child protection process designed more around abuse or neglect within a family and is less suited to other circumstances
  • In cases involving sexual exploitation, there is a pattern of focusing primarily on trying to stop victims having further involvement with perpetrators, and less on the prevention of the abuse in the first place and the disrupting and prosecuting of perpetrators: this means victims often continue to be at continual risk of abuse by the same perpetrators
  • Current working methods and recording systems do not reliably identify patterns in individual and group behaviour. This reduces the chances of a timely response in the detecting child sexual exploitation and leads to a more reactive rather than proactive approach
  • The decision to make the investigation of these crimes into a complex investigation in May 2013 enabled the police to adequately resource an enquiry, which led to the successful prosecution of the offenders and the co-ordinated multi-agency support for the victims
  • relatively new CSE and Missing Children strategies take time to embed, and are not yet always translated in the day to day work of all staff

It is reassuring that the review does not identify or suggest the kind of endemic failure to act which has been seen in other parts of the country.

However there have been specific instances of shortcomings which I know have been given appropriate attention by each agency.

– Sally Lewis OBE, Independent Chair of the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board

We’ve learnt a great deal in the last four years about child sexual exploitation and child abuse. Now we’re much better able to spot the links, join up the intelligence and, alongside our partners, see a fuller picture. But we’re not complacent.

Serious case reviews such as these are enormously valuable and we’ll continue to learn as long as there’s more we can do to put a halt to exploitation.

– T/Assistant Chief Constable Kay Wozniak, Avon and Somerset Police

To report a Child Sexual Exploitation related crime:

  • call 101
  • if a child is in immediate danger, call 999
  • if you want to give information anonymously, call the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org