Unit To Target Sexual Predators

A new national child abuse investigation unit is being developed to improve the coordination and intelligence gathering around abuse.

Mobile devices such as camera-phones, improved download technologies and sophisticated software to conceal activity have led to a rise in child abuse, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said.

Many offenders are ''resourceful, intelligent and sophisticated in their pursuit of online offending'', he said in a submission to Holyrood's justice committee.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said there are persistent barriers to prosecution, including a distrust of law enforcement agencies by vulnerable teenage girls who have been groomed for sex with cigarettes and alcohol and may not realise they are being exploited.

Mr Graham, Police Scotland lead on major crime and public protection, said: ''This week we issued guidance for all our officers and staff to ensure a consistency of response to children who may be vulnerable to child sexual exploitation and to ensure we remain focused on pursuing those who commit offences.

''Through our action plan, our aim is to improve our work in prevention, our training for our police officers and staff and our work with partners.

''A key part of our plan is the development of a national child abuse investigation unit which will lead and coordinate complex inquiries, develop good practice through making the maximum use of our specialist investigation skills and by improving our links with the third sector and local authorities we can improve our intelligence networks to proactively identify such cases.''

Some 283 individuals have been charged with offences linked to online activity since April 1 last year.

Mr Graham added: ``There is no doubt that across the globe the volume of offending through all forms of online activity, whether possession of indecent images of children, online grooming with intent to committing further sexual offences or the exchange of indecent images amongst groups is escalating due to increased access to mobile devices, improved download technologies and the development of sophisticated software to conceal activity.

''All law enforcement agencies recognise the challenge this presents but the solution will not be offered by one agency alone, but by working together across the justice sector, across the voluntary sector and with local authorities in tackling this issue.

''We continue to invest in developing technologies and investigation techniques and will learn from best practice across the world in order to target offenders to prevent crime.''

COPFS chief executive Catherine Dyer said barriers to prosecution remain.

''In addition to these barriers, recent experience of cases have highlighted that a number of victims of CSE are teenage girls who have lived or are living in care: they have multiple layers of complex needs and concerns,'' she said.

''They can willingly associate with older males who offer cigarettes, alcohol and a night away from their residential home.

''Many of these teenage children do not realise that they are victims of exploitation and even when they commence engagement with the Criminal Justice system they remain extremely vulnerable and distrustful of all agencies. This makes detection and subsequent engagement in the investigation and prosecution challenging. These barriers will not deter prosecutors from focusing on the offending behaviour.

''It may also be helpful to record that while the starting point for some cases is disclosure by a child - and there are many barriers to such disclosure, as I have highlighted - for others the detection and reporting is by a third party leading to investigation and engagement with identifiable victims. This presents a challenge and awareness raising responsibility for many organisations and the wider community.''

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