National Crime Agency
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Institutions still not safe from child sex abusers

Child sex offenders manipulate their victims into believing the attention they get is an “honour”, making it hard for them to report abuse, according to a report released today.

In the first thematic assessment published by the National Crime Agency (NCA) since it went live three weeks ago, child protection experts at the agency’s CEOP Command have warned that institutions such as schools, churches and care homes are still not safe from child sex abusers despite high profile media coverage of historical offences.

The report, The Foundations of Abuse, warns that more needs to be done by institutions, also including sports clubs, youth groups, charities and companies, to protect children. It also warns that children are not only at risk from those directly abusing them but also from “bystanders” who are aware of the abuse but fail to report it.

The report warns that management structures in institutions can facilitate child sexual abuse by discouraging junior members of staff from reporting suspicions, and allowing offenders to gain the trust of their victims and those who should be protecting them.

It also highlights how in some previous cases protecting the reputation of an organisation has taken precedence over reporting or disclosing child sexual abuse to outside authorities such as the police.

The report also provides an insight into how offenders have used their position in institutions to abuse children. In many of the cases studied by the CEOP Command, offenders groomed their victims by offering rewards or privilege in order to continue their abuse. Particularly in religious settings, the report highlights how “victims and those around them are often in awe of offenders, considering the attention paid to them as an honour”. 

The report outlines eight key recommendations, mainly targeted at institutions themselves, including:

  • Putting the interests of children first
  • Creating a safe environment for reporting
  • Creating a compulsion to report
  • Effectively implementing and monitoring safeguarding policies
  • Improving protection through safer recruitment
  • Releasing alleged offenders’ identities.

Director of the NCA’s CEOP Command Peter Davies said: “The sexual exploitation and abuse of children is most likely when vulnerability meets power. 

“Events of the last year have brought into focus an issue which has, in truth, been in our consciousness for much longer – that there is something about institutions that can amplify both vulnerability and power to a point where sexual abuse of children within them can become endemic.

“A common position for those institutions confronted with their past failures is to admit that things did once go wrong but that they have put measures in place to stop it happening again. There is a risk this will lead to complacency and this must not happen if we want to protect our children. 

“There is no doubt that more needs to be done – and this work has to be done by the very institutions which are allowing this abuse to take place. Vigilance, strong leadership and management, and a safe environment to report are essential for institutions and form the foundations of safeguarding.” 

The full Foundations of Abuse report can be downloaded here.

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