“It’s not a surprise but it is always amazing to see what we can achieve when we work together” The CSE and Policing Knowledge Hub Conference.

Larisa Hunt is a Regional CSE Coordinator for the South West and this guest blog has been edited and reproduced from the original where she reports on attending a conference organised by the International Centre. To explore the full content of the conference, please visit the CSE and Policing Knowledge Hub website, where you can see all the presentations from the day.

I am the Regional CSE Coordinator for the South West and attended the University of Bedfordshire CSE and Policing Knowledge Hub Conference ‘CSE and Policing: Next Steps’ in March. The work that the University has carried out over the last 18 months – 2 years has been incredible. They started at a similar time as the regional coordinators so I feel that I have been on a journey with them. This conference brought all this together and showcased the work carried out by police officers in the world of academia and completed by police officers working with experts by experience.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey opened the day and reminded us about the changing landscape. He explained that there has been an 80% increase in the reporting of child sexual abuse since 2012, it is estimated that there are 8,500 identified victims of or young people at risk of CSE and there are over 4,000 referrals a month from industry to the National Crime Agency. However, it’s always good to remember that we have made some significant progress in policing in the last two years as well. There is a Child Safeguarding Action Plan, a National CSE Action Plan, the introduction of regional coordinators and analysts and the production of the Regional Problem Profiles. Very soon, I will be joined by a Regional Prevent Officer and this is helping us to deliver more. More victims have the confidence to report, more offenders are being arrested, there are new intervention methods and thanks to the University of Bedfordshire and others, there is academic research to inform practice.

During the experts panel we heard Dr Sophie Hallett, Dr Helen Beckett, Dr Kristine Hickle and DI Ivon Beer talk about the “victim’s journey”. We heard why young people often don’t see themselves as victims because of the wider context of CSE e.g. grooming and/or the fact that a young person is exchanging sex for something so that they can meet their needs – whether this is food, accommodation or affection. The relationship that a professional builds with a young person is really important and must be based on trust. One young person was quoted as saying: “I was basically a puppet…when they wanted me I had to do it. When they didn’t want me I heard nothing.”[1] You could be forgiven for thinking that this young person was talking about their abuser but they were actually talking about the police. It’s really important that we don’t replicate the abusive power dynamic that the victim experiences with the perpetrator. We have to remember that we are asking a young person to speak about their worst experience in a society where we don’t talk about sex easily. Young people want improvements in four areas.

  1. Initial engagement. This is where we can create or close down opportunities
  2. ABE interviews. We have to balance procedural demands, system flexibility and human empathy
  3. Involvement in and communication of decisions – not just what, but why and what this means.
  4. Consistent relationships. Victim welfare contributes to successful outcomes

The more I hear about trauma informed approaches to policing, the more I think that we can really change the way we police and the way we work with young people.  Being trauma informed means you understand trauma symptoms which are normal responses to abnormal situations. If you are in an abnormal situation, your body and brain works to keep you safe. You are unlikely to trust people easily and you might be aggressive, angry, hyper-aroused, numb or removed. This is a healthy response to a frightening situation. You might ‘fight’, ‘flight’, ‘freeze’, ‘flop’, ‘friend.’ If you are traumatised, you may only be able to deal with the here and now – a week may be too far away. The first stage of trauma treatment is to seek stabilisation, and transparent and safe relationships are very important. Choice and control is therefore really important for CSE victims as they often haven’t had this.

It was good to hear from the Metropolitan Police that they periodically re-open CSE investigations to re-establish contact with those young people who were not ready to engage, to see if they will engage. Their investigations look to conclude with a positive outcome or intervention for the young person rather than traditional criminal justice disposals, which is a way of being victim-focused rather than victim-led.

I attended the ‘Marginal Gains’ workshop with the clear message that if we all change a little bit about our practice or make small changes to do something better, then we will all contribute to making a big difference. As a result of the work between police officers and experts by experience we saw two of the new tools they had developed – one being a training video for police officers and one being a poster that can be put up in police stations that is for police and young people.  The video will be edited further before release but this will be a great tool, especially for student officers. The poster gives advice and guidance to police and young people about the journey they will take – a brilliant resource. I have it on a PDF and I grabbed a rather large handful so email me if you would like some. If your force or organisation would like a larger number of copies of the poster please email Fiona Factor with the number of posters required.

I also attended a workshop about Harmful Sexual behaviour (HSB). A significant number of sexual offences committed against children are committed by children so we clearly can’t use the same response you would use for adults. We looked at Simon Hackett’s continuum of sexual behaviours – normal, inappropriate, problematic, abusive, violent – and also the Brooke traffic light system. A contextual safeguarding approach can also help. Rather than the traditional approach of focusing on the child and the home, we need to think about the child, home, peer group, school and neighbourhood, which can be positive and negative influences. A police officer working with the University of Bedfordshire has carried out a study around HSB by persons on their own and in groups. He talked us through provisional findings and then we took part in an exercise, charting a young person’s behaviour in chronological order against child, home, peer group, school and neighbourhood. This was an eye opening experience and really helped me to see where concerns were, as well as opportunities to think about intervention.

The afternoon session focused on the perpetrators of CSE.  Marcus Erooga talked about Organisational Sex Offenders, including the difference between those who are preferential, opportunistic and situational.  Dr Miranda Horvath talked about Multiple Perpetrator Rape, which makes up 10-15% of all rapes in the UK. There are differences between those that offend in groups or pairs to those that lone offend, and we know more about those who offend in groups than those who offend individually. Situational contexts can be strong enough to overcome someone’s inhibitions, and social comparison can mean a person wants to be included in a group and may lose a sense of self/individuality.  Simon Hackett talked about NOTA – a professional association for those that treat abusers. He would like to extend the membership so have a look at www.nota.co.uk.  He said that we need to be really careful about the language we use and should be cautious talking about young people as ‘perpetrators’. Children’s motivations aren’t because of an underlying pathology that means they have a sexual interest in other children, but something that happens in a situational context. Education and early intervention is key.

If you wish to listen to any of the presentations or share them with a colleague, the presentation recordings are available on the CSE and Policing Knowledge Hub website.

[1] Quote taken from Beckett and Warrington, 2015: 46)