Innovative research to tackle child sexual abuse


18-12-2020
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A major new research and innovation programme to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation – an area experiencing significant challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – has been launched by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) this week.

New technologies, budgetary pressures and now COVID-19 have led to major issues around identifying victims and those carrying out the abuse, prosecuting the perpetrators in court, and adequately supervising those on the Sex Offender Register.

Thanks to £860,000 of funding from the Dawes Trust, ARU’s Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER) will work closely with the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to help shape policy and develop practical solutions to some of the issues being faced.

The four-year partnership was launched on Wednesday during an online event featuring Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary and the NPCC lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigations, and Dr Samantha Lundrigan, Director of PIER.

The research programme will be led by Dr Lundrigan, with the funding allowing for the recruitment of two Senior Dawes Research Fellows and eight PhD students. It aims to benefit those working in the Criminal Justice System, including the police and probation services, charities, policy makers, as well as existing and potential victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

The latest figures from the National Crime Agency estimate there are at least 300,000 individuals in the UK who pose a sexual threat to children, either through physical or online abuse.

It is thought the rise in internet and social media activity during periods of COVID-19 restrictions could be fuelling an increase in online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Research published last month by the charity NSPCC found that popular social media platforms, such as Instagram, are increasingly being used by offenders to make contact with children.

Additionally, there is a backlog of 8,000 cases involving the indecent images of children subject to on-going police investigations in the UK, and the numbers continue to grow. COVID-19 led to the temporary closure of courts, causing a delay in cases being heard, and it is feared there could be lengthy delays within the Criminal Justice System even once courts fully return to normal.

Dr Samantha Lundrigan, Director of PIER at ARU, said: “Child sexual abuse is a growing problem in the UK and our work, thanks to this funding from the Dawes Trust, will seek to identify new ways of finding, prosecuting and supervising the perpetrators.

“My ambition is to produce world-leading research and innovation that, where necessary, challenges current thinking and policy, and provides the evidence to underpin new directions in criminal justice responses, as well as enhance public understanding of this subject and the enormous challenge the criminal justice system faces in tackling it.

“In 1997, the year it was established, there were 3,365 people on the Sex Offender Register, but by last year the number had risen to 58,637.  Offender managers are each supervising approximately 60 registered sex offenders, and with current demand surpassing resources available, there are fears practitioners will be unable to adequately protect the public.

“Additionally the backlog of cases reaching court is also going to be a major challenge, and efforts to reduce this pressure through finding alternatives to prosecution will be critically important if we are to ease the burden on the court system in the months and years ahead.” 

Chief Constable Simon Bailey said: “PIER’s commitment to evidence-based research into sexual offending has matched my own and this funding gives us an exceptional opportunity to continue our strong partnership and to make a real difference in this fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation. Their new research programme promises to be timely, impactful and meet key operational needs.

“The funding will allow us to continue to innovate and develop a unique ‘environment’ where police and other criminal justice practitioners, both from national and international jurisdictions, can come together to discuss complex cases, share best practice and learn about innovative techniques in the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation.”

 

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Anglia Ruskin University (ARU)