The Metropolitan Police Service’s response to the criminal and sexual exploitation of children is not currently effective, with the force not doing enough when children are suffering from, or at risk of, exploitation, a new report has found.
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said that the Met’s lack of understanding of the nature and scale of child exploitation is a significant barrier to the force being able to tackle the problem effectively.
The inspectorate said it had found evidence of good work to protect children, including the Met’s online child sexual abuse and exploitation teams.
However, the inspectorate described other serious concerns including:
- the presence of victim-blaming language among officers and staff;
- officers failing to identify exploitation or to understand the links between missing children and exploitation;
- when children go missing regularly, the force’s response is frequently poor, with officers and staff simply waiting for them to turn up;
- the force often using officers and staff to investigate child exploitation who don’t have the skills or knowledge to do this effectively, with supervisors also lacking the right knowledge and experience; and
- delays in starting and progressing investigations, and many missed opportunities to identify suspects and disrupt their activity, leaving children exposed to risk.
HMICFRS has made 11 recommendations, including that the Met should:
- provide effective training to all officers and staff who interact with children;
- encourage officers and staff of all ranks to challenge victim-blaming language;
- make sure it works effectively with safeguarding partners to prevent children from going missing and find missing children more quickly; and
- follow all reasonable lines of enquiry to identify suspects in child exploitation investigations.
His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Lee Freeman said:
“Children who are at risk of exploitation, or who go missing from home, are some of the most vulnerable in society. The police and other public services have a shared responsibility to look for the warning signs, be alert to the risks and act quickly to protect children.
“It is particularly concerning that the Metropolitan Police Service isn’t doing enough when children are suffering from, or at risk of, exploitation. The force should make sure that it fully understands the risks to children, and that officers and staff are equipped to identify and tackle those risks effectively, so no child is left unprotected.
“The Met has already committed to increasing the number of officers in some teams dealing with child exploitation. For the benefit of London’s children, the force should implement our recommendations in full and without delay.”
Read the full HMICFRS report here.