Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks investigation report


H.3: Inaccurate prevalence information

7. In Part B, we described the subjective and inconsistent process of ‘flagging’ criminal offences as child sexual exploitation. The case study evidence indicated that issues with the flagging process have often made the prevalence information provided in local profiles inaccurate.

7.1. The Durham Constabulary 2019 problem profile noted that “Where no explicit mention of grooming or exploitative techniques was mentioned” by the inputting officer, “crimes were classed as CSA [child sexual abuse] rather than E [child sexual exploitation]”. The police and local safeguarding partnership accepted that the consequence was that “we could be underestimating” the extent of child sexual exploitation in the local area.[1]

7.2. In Swansea, South Wales Police’s 2019 problem profile indicated that due to the inconsistencies in reporting and use of the flag system “any occurrence where the exchange between victim and perpetrator is not clear has been categorised as child sexual abuse”. It was accepted that this meant that there may have been “significantly more occurrences that involve sexually exploiting a child than the profile reflected”.[2]

7.3. The pan-London profile, which included Tower Hamlets, identified gaps in intelligence due to, among other things, inconsistent flagging.[3] Some officers wrongly used the child sexual exploitation flag as there was no separate flag for child criminal exploitation until July 2019.[4]

7.4. In Bristol, cases flagged as sexual exploitation could have included criminal exploitation cases, until the system was changed so that cases could be flagged for both criminal and sexual exploitation.[5] Avon and Somerset Police’s 2019 problem profile for Bristol recognised that:

Discrepancies in the identification of CSE offences by officers in general has resulted in a high number either being wrongly identified as CSE or not being identified as CSE … Officer and staff understanding of what constitutes CSE offences is lacking in some areas … Frequently we are seeing occurrences where the CSE flag is used without any evidence of exploitation but in addition there are also incidents where there is clear exploitation where the offence determination is not being used”.[6]

The force also noted that, while 464 offences were flagged on its ‘Niche’ system, a manual review identified that only 276 met the definition of child sexual exploitation. There were also 177 offences which involved child sexual exploitation which had not been flagged.

Back to top