Limited resources to snare abusers

    The serious case review into the handling of the Ian Huntley
    investigation should have been titled Review of All Young Women
    Who Were Known or Alleged Victims of Sexual Abuse by Ian
    Huntley
    . Perhaps then there would have been more emphasis on
    the importance of strategies to investigate child sex
    abusers.

    As it is, there is no reference to area child protection committee
    procedures for the investigation of organised abuse. The lessons
    from the network abuse investigations of the 1990s, which led to
    many successful prosecutions, seem not to have been learned.

    The Department of Health’s Working Together document
    defines organised abuse as “involving one or more abuser and a
    number of related or non-related abused children and young people”.
    This definition is crucial as the review refers to 13 cases and
    even these are unlikely to be a complete list of the young women
    with whom Huntley was involved.

    And there may have been more than one abuser. One young woman spoke
    of a “lot of young men” in a flat that Huntley visited while
    another knew Huntley through an adult male. It seems that patterns
    of targeting were apparent, with many of the young women known as
    vulnerable to both social services and their school. The review
    acknowledged that “in practice each case was treatedÉas if it
    was an isolated one”, and “the connections were not made”.

    Parents and friends took protective action directly, or by
    reporting abuse to the school and social services. But statutory
    responses were hasty and swiftly closed, letting perpetrators, the
    young victims and other children at risk slip from view. Given that
    information was not collated, mapped and analysed, it is no
    surprise that a lack of evidence and complainants hindered
    prosecution.

    Effective protection of children from sexual abuse requires a dual
    strategy which safeguards children through multi-agency procedures
    and brings abusers to justice. The procedures are well documented
    and do not need reinventing, but few professionals are now trained
    in their implementation. The public must think it inconceivable
    that so few resources are devoted to the investigation of serious
    sexual crimes against children.

    Liz Davies is senior lecturer in children and families at
    London Metropolitan University.

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