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


I.1: Introduction

1. Police forces and local authorities use a range of tactics to ‘disrupt’ child sexual exploitation. These include:

  • direct disruption: using notices and orders against individual suspects and arresting them for criminal offences; arrests (even if not for a sexual offence) can have the effect of preventing the suspect from continuing to sexually exploit children;
  • indirect disruption: focussing on others linked to a suspect and their activities, such as those who supply hire cars to suspects; and
  • locational disruption: concentrating on the places where sexual exploitation takes place (such as a park or a house) or which support the exploitation in some way (such as a car used to transport victims).

2. There are a number of disruption mechanisms.

2.1. Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs) may be issued by the police against a potential offender. Although CAWNs were designed to be used in potential cases of abduction, we heard that police forces may use them where grooming or exploitation is suspected but there is insufficient evidence of an offence having been committed to make an arrest. The CAWN will inform a suspect that they are not permitted to associate with a named child and, if they continue to do so, they may be arrested for an abduction offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984 and Children Act 1989. There are no statutory or legislative provisions dealing specifically with the issue of warning notices but the Home Office toolkit provides guidance on when and how CAWNs can be used and more detailed guidance is provided by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.[1]

2.2. Sexual risk orders (SROs) and sexual harm prevention orders (SHPOs) can include a range of restrictions if necessary to protect the public from sexual harm. For example, they might prohibit individuals from contact with children or certain internet use.[2] SROs can be made where there has been no conviction but the person is proven (to the criminal standard of proof) to have committed an act of a sexual nature, whilst SHPOs can be made after a person has been convicted of a sexual offence.[3]

2.3. Section 49 of the Children Act 1989 makes it a criminal offence to knowingly and without lawful authority or reasonable excuse take or keep a child (who is the subject of a care order, an emergency protection order, or who is in police protection) away from care, or encourage, assist or incite them to run away from care.[4]

2.4. The police or local authority can apply for a recovery order if a child has been unlawfully taken or kept away from a person with lawful control of the child, which requires the child to be returned and information about the whereabouts of the child to be disclosed to police.[5]

2.5. Longer-term disruption methods include youth service providers conducting outreach work in areas of concern. These can be a useful source of intelligence for police.[6]

3. In April 2019, the Home Office published a national Child Exploitation Disruption Toolkit to present options for disruption action for all local agencies, not just those directly involved in law enforcement. It also includes best practice in information-sharing and multi-agency working, as well as intelligence and evidence-gathering.[7] The various inspectorates are important in identifying weaker practices and improving consistency and quality.[8]


Back to top