Joint Serious Case Review into sexual exploitation published

Image of person holding a copy of the report
Joint Serious Case Review launched today

Victims of sexual exploitation in Newcastle received effective protection, support and help once the true scale of the problem had been uncovered, says a report out today (Friday, Feb 23).

Large numbers of victims were identified, supported and protected. The high quality of services they receive has attracted national recognition.

As soon as the scale of the problem was known, the response from Newcastle City Council with its partners “was swift, determined and committed.” Perpetrators were arrested, charged and have received lengthy prison sentences.

Prior to 2014, there was evidence that individual cases received committed and persistent interagency support however this had limited impact because it did not involve consistent action to investigate, prosecute or disrupt perpetrators.

In investigating sexual exploitation, there was no fear of appearing racist and political correctness did not influence earlier decisions.

These are just some of the findings in the report written by an independent expert with many years of experience.

The Joint Serious Case Review was commissioned to learn from Newcastle’s experience in October 2015 as there was growing awareness of sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and girls on a large scale across the city.

Some of its main findings are:

  • Sexual exploitation involves adults with vulnerabilities and children
  • Sexual exploitation of adults with vulnerabilities is likely to be occurring unrecognised in other areas
  • From early 2014, the response to victims was swift, determined and committed
  • Political correctness or fear of appearing racist did not influence earlier decisions
  • No complaints about a lack of action by authorities had previously been made
  • Large numbers of perpetrators were disrupted, prosecuted and convicted
  • Large numbers of victims were identified, supported and protected
  • Services in Newcastle were high-quality and have attracted national recognition
  • Innovative use of existing legislation led to victims being protected

The report also found:

  • Until early 2014 despite measures taken to assess the prevalence of sexual exploitation it was not fully understood
  • This was due to a reliance on victims being able to give accounts and to give evidence in court
  • Investigating, prosecuting and disrupting perpetrators was inconsistent before 2014
  • Confidentiality in sexual health clinics made it difficult to identify and help victims
  • Victims found and continue to find giving evidence in court “abusive and destructive”
  • Perpetrators are arrogant, persistent and undeterred by police and agencies
  • Research and guidance is needed to help practitioners and agencies understand the profiles, motivations and cultural influences of offenders
  • Sexual exploitation of boys and men is complex and hidden

The 150-page report covers sexual exploitation in Newcastle from 2007 to 2015 through the experiences of eight victims – both women and girls – with a broad range of backgrounds.

While victims who were identified were helped, authorities were unaware of the scale of the problem until early 2014 when two women – not known to each other - came forward to tell their stories and talk about the abuse of many other victims.

Northumbria Police launched Operation Sanctuary, and with the City Council and other partners, put in place a strategy to raise public awareness of sexual exploitation, disrupt and arrest perpetrators and set up a special multi-agency sexual exploitation hub to give victims comprehensive support.

The report’s purpose is to identify lessons to help agencies be more effective in preventing and tackling sexual exploitation and improve victim support. It makes 33 recommendations - 18 for local agencies and 15 for Government, the NHS and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The reports’ author, Barrister, David Spicer, said: “This is a comprehensive report of a very thorough review that examined sexual exploitation in Newcastle, how the city responded and what lessons can be learned.

“Many agencies and professionals, victims and perpetrators, contributed. Towns and cities across the country can learn a great deal from Newcastle; how it is dealing with this very serious national issue of women and girls being exploited sexually.

“Unlike some other areas, Newcastle agencies did not try and sweep this under the carpet but actively went looking for it and as a result a large number of perpetrators were arrested and prosecuted, and victims saved from further trauma. That is not say that lessons have not been learned.

“Before 2014 perpetrators were not consistently investigated, disrupted and prosecuted. Professionals felt there was little chance of securing convictions for various reasons - a lack of co-operation by victims because of control by perpetrators, victims being undermined in court and a history of a cautious approach by the Crown Prosecution Service in bringing charges.

“However, once the true extent of the problem became apparent, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the City Council and partners across the city put in place a range of measures to disrupt, arrest and imprison offenders while supporting victims regardless of whether they were able to give evidence in court or not.

“My report makes a number of recommendations, in particular the need to carry out research that improves understanding of why people offend in this way, so we can be better at preventing it. Sadly, it is still happening in Newcastle and other cities, but this city is determined to tackle it.

“Finally, I would like to thank everyone who took part in this review, especially the women and girls whose bravery and fortitude has helped to make the city a safer place. Their strength has been remarkable.”

Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council, Pat Ritchie, said: “I would like to thank Mr Spicer for a very thorough and comprehensive report. It highlights the complex nature of sexual exploitation, the difficulties in identifying it, bringing the perpetrators to justice and the specialist long term support that is needed to help the women and girls cope with what is in effect Post Traumatic Stress.

“I would like to reassure everyone that the council is working very closely with both the adult and children’s safeguarding boards to ensure all of the recommendations are progressed and implemented in a timely manner.

“Sexual exploitation is happening in towns and cities across the country but what we have learned can be used to help others.

“We know it is still going on in our city, but we are doing everything in our power to prevent it, disrupt it and deal with it, and support the victims for years to come.”

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, Darren Best, said: “We welcome this review which highlights the complexities of sexual exploitation but also some of the work being done in Newcastle to tackle the issue.

“It is fair to say that in recent years we, as a society, have undergone a sea-change in terms of our knowledge and understanding of sexual exploitation; from the behaviour of perpetrators to the long-term impact on victims.

“This review praises the approach taken by Northumbria Police as part of Operation Sanctuary to proactively disrupt perpetrators.

“But we are far from complacent and recognise we still have work to do to ensure we consistently identify victims and carry out comprehensive investigations on their behalf.

“Preventative work is key and a wide-range of safeguarding work is being carried out across the city involving the likes of police, local authority, health, education, businesses and local communities.

“What cannot be clearer is that safeguarding the vulnerable is everybody’s business.”