Police disruption of child sexual abuse: A scoping review

University Huddersfield, Alexandra Robertshaw Seery, Diana Parkinson

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This report sets out the findings from a scoping review to explore the existing literature on the use of disruption measures by police forces in relation to child sexual abuse, and the effectiveness of those measures. The scoping review laid the groundwork for two national surveys of police, described in the report Police
Disruption of Child Sexual Abuse: Findings from a National Survey of Frontline Personnel and Strategic Leads for Safeguarding.

Few reports of child sexual abuse result in a conviction, meaning that many suspects remain at liberty to offend against children and young people; efforts to disrupt their circumstances and behaviours are therefore vitally important.
The term ‘disruption’ is used to describe activities which attempt to interfere with suspects’ behaviours and circumstances so they are less able to commit crime. There are three fundamental approaches to disruption,
with some overlap between them: The first approach uses direct measures to impose legal sanctions on suspects, making it harder for them to commit or continue to commit child sexual abuse. The second approach uses disruption supportive measures which disable or disrupt criminal activity in the community.
A third approach uses online measures to disrupt criminal activity taking place or being facilitated over the internet. In addition to reviewing empirical research
studies, the scoping review included material identified from serious case reviews, policy documents, practice guidelines and other sources. The search produced more than 250 relevant documents.

Key findings

Disruption measures
Most disruption measures have been developed to prevent or interfere with the
activities of individuals suspected of extrafamilial child sexual exploitation or sharing images of child sexual abuse online, rather than individuals involved in other forms of child sexual abuse. Direct measures available to police to disrupt
child sexual exploitation include:
‣ sexual risk orders and sexual harm prevention orders (SROs and SHPOs)
‣ child abduction warning notices (CAWNs)
‣ the inherent jurisdiction of a High Court
‣ civil injunctions and restrictions
‣ restraining orders
‣ non-molestation orders
‣ police powers of protection
‣ emergency protection orders
‣ recovery orders
‣ closure notices on commercial premises
‣ the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)
‣ slavery and trafficking prevention orders and risk orders
‣ secure accommodation orders (SAOs).
Measures to disrupt child sexual abuse are used mostly against extra-familial child sexual exploitation or the sharing of images online.

Initiatives, some of which involve multi-agency partners, to support the disruption of child sexual exploitation include:
‣ hotel information requests
‣ use of ‘flags’ and intelligence markers
‣ automatic number plate recognition (ANPR)
‣ taxi and private hire vehicle licensing
‣ suspect warning letters
‣ targeting ‘hotspot’ locations which may be used for child sexual exploitation activities
‣ financial investigations into suspects involved in serious organised crime.

In relation to online offences involving child sexual abuse images, disruption measures carried out at a national level include:
‣ identifying and removing child sexual abuse images
‣ informing people who try to access or share such images of the risks they are
taking, and signposting them to sources of support.

Relatively little literature has been published in relation to the use and effectiveness of measures to disrupt child sexual abuse activity.

From the literature available, it would seem that:
‣ CAWNs are the most commonly used disruption measure
‣ SROs, SHPOs and suspect warning letters are increasingly used, as are referrals to the NRM
‣ several disruption initiatives have been undertaken in identified child sexual
exploitation hotspots and through the use of ANPR
‣ there has been a huge increase in the sharing of information leading to the
removal of online child sexual abuse images
‣ there is a widespread lack of awareness or use of civil orders to protect children overseas from child sexual abuse perpetrated by UK nationals.
In terms of effectiveness:
‣ child sexual exploitation flagging has been highlighted as a core feature of
effective policing of such exploitation, and considered as good practice
‣ SAOs can be successful in breaking contact between suspect and victim
‣ despite the utilisation of CAWNs, there does not appear to be any publicly
available analysis of their effectiveness
‣ for hotel information requests to be effective, hospitality workers need training to recognise signs of child sexual exploitation and record the right information.
Some practitioners and researchers have raised concerns about the use of certain disrupt...
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCSA Centre
Number of pages40
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


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