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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


A.2: Methodology

11. In preparation for this investigation, the Inquiry reviewed several large-scale prosecutions in England and Wales, and a significant number of previously published reviews, inquiries and reports relating to child sexual exploitation by networks. More than 400 previous recommendations were considered, as summarised by the National Working Group (NWG) Network (a national network offering advice and support to those working with sexually exploited children), as well as those arising from other recent reports and inquiries.[1] A large amount of further information was obtained from a sample of local authority areas and institutions on a wide range of issues, including the range of services provided to victims and those at risk of child sexual exploitation, training, staff awareness and supervision, leadership, governance and accountability.

12. At the conclusion of that scoping exercise, the Inquiry identified eight themes on which to focus during this investigation:

  • problem profiling (ie the collation of data and intelligence to provide a picture of the nature and extent of child sexual exploitation in a given area) and the disruption of suspects and perpetrators of child sexual exploitation;
  • empathy and concern for child victims;
  • risk assessment, protection from harm and outcomes for children;
  • missing children, return home interviews and children in care;
  • male victims;
  • children with disabilities;
  • partnership working between agencies responsible for tackling child sexual exploitation; and
  • audit, review and performance improvement.

13. In order to facilitate the detailed investigation and assessment of the eight themes listed above, as well as drawing on wider knowledge about child sexual exploitation in England and Wales, the Inquiry selected six local authority areas as case study areas:

  • Durham County Council (Durham) covers 862 square miles in North East England, including the city of Durham, Chester-le-Street, Newton Aycliffe, Consett and Peterlee. It is the 50th (of 151) most deprived local authority in England.
  • The City and County of Swansea Council (Swansea) incorporates approximately 150 square miles from the Lliw Uplands, to the rural Gower Peninsula in the west, to the city of Swansea and the related suburban areas. It has a slightly higher proportion of deprived areas than Wales as a whole.[2]
  • Warwickshire County Council (Warwickshire) in the West Midlands, is made up of the five districts and boroughs of North Warwickshire, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Rugby, Stratford and Warwick. It is the 119th most deprived local authority in England.
  • St Helens Council (St Helens) is a metropolitan borough within Merseyside. It is the 32nd most deprived local authority in England and the eighth most deprived in terms of health deprivation and disability.
  • The London Borough of Tower Hamlets (Tower Hamlets) in East London covers much of the traditional East End. It is the 23rd most deprived local authority in England, with 57 percent of children living in poverty.
  • Bristol City Council (Bristol) covers the largest city in South West England. It is the 59th most deprived local authority in England.[3]

14. These six case study areas were selected in order to enable the Inquiry to consider a range of features, including size, demography, geography and social characteristics, and to illustrate different policies, practices and performance on the selected themes.

Map of the England six case and study Wales areas

Map of the six case study areas

Table 1: Overview of the six case study areas

Durham Swansea Warwickshire St Helens Tower Hamlets Bristol
Child population(a) 530,094 246,993 577,933 180,585 324,745 463,377
Number of children in care(b) 914 565 754 496 307 623
Rate of children in care per 10,000 children(c) 90 per 10,000 117 per 10,000 64 per 10,000 135 per 10,000 42 per 10,000 66 per 10,000
  • a) As at mid-2019: INQ006462;
  • b) As at March 2020: English local authority figures, INQ006572; Welsh local authority figures, INQ006439; Total for England: 80,080 children, INQ006485; Total for Wales: 7,170 children, INQ006439;
  • c) As at March 2020: English local authority rates, INQ006572; Welsh local authority rates calculated using 2019 mid-year population estimates, INQ006439; Rate for England: 67 per 10,000 children, INQ006485; Rate for Wales: 114 per 10,000 children, INQ006571

15. In order to better understand the experiences of children who are currently being (or very recently have been) sexually exploited by networks, the Inquiry also reviewed a sample of individual children’s experiences across the six areas, selecting a total of 33 cases (including at least one boy or young man from each area) for closer analysis. The case study children were chosen by the Inquiry on the basis that:

  • there was evidence that the child involved had been sexually exploited by a network within the Inquiry’s definition;
  • the exploitation was known to the local statutory agencies recently, which the Inquiry defined as on or after April 2018; and
  • the child’s circumstances and institutional responses appeared to illustrate one or more of the eight themes selected for this investigation.[4]

The Inquiry obtained the material held by the relevant local authority and police force on each of these children. Witnesses from the local authorities and police forces answered questions about the children at the public hearing. This evidence provided an insight into the threats and dangers that some of these children faced and how the relevant agencies responded to them, in the context of the selected themes.

16. Most of the case study areas had initiated improvements after being notified of their selection and the themes to be examined. This is to be welcomed but inevitably begs the question how much improvement work in child sexual exploitation would have taken place without the Inquiry’s investigation.

17. The Inquiry’s public hearing was held over 11 days between 21 September 2020 and 29 October 2020. This was a virtual hearing, given the restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Inquiry heard from complainants, academics, local authorities, police officers, voluntary sector representatives, government officials, and representatives from victim support and campaigning groups. A further detailed description of the methodology for this investigation can be found in Annex 1.


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