Responding to child sexual exploitation (CSE) is not easy. Victims are often reluctant to report offences, due to fear of or attachment to abusers, shame or mistrust of the authorities. For the few who do disclose, their accounts are frequently inconsistent or incomplete – after all, memory responds poorly to trauma.
Yet, prosecution should be a last resort. Funds would be more usefully channelled towards harm reduction, achieved through better prevention, detection, and victim-support initiatives. We need greater awareness, better training and robust systems for collecting, collating and analysing information. This is not an issue for the police alone, nor just for senior management. The best information often comes from the ground up – school nurses, teachers, parents, community support officers, charity and social workers. We don’t necessarily need new laws, just for existing ones to be enforced. Operation Engage, for example, is a highly celebrated counter-CSE programme in Lancashire that also delivers training and mentoring to other councils and police forces nationally.