And he said: “Child sex offenders have seized upon the restrictions intended to protect us from COVID-19, twisting them to their own advantage.”
Mr Javid, the MP for Bromsgrove, chaired an inquiry into child sexual abuse. In a shocking report published today, he says “inadequacies in our system” have allowed predators to operate undetected, sometimes for decades.
The report highlights a number of examples, including abuse in Birmingham, where children in care have been targeted. Department for Education figures in 2019 showed Birmingham had reported 490 cases of child grooming with only Lancashire at 624 registering a higher number of cases.
The report said: “Care settings have featured as a weak link in several of the historic grooming cases.
“In some cases they appear to have been a beacon for predators deliberately targeting vulnerable children. In Birmingham, for example, this pattern was traced going back to the 1980s by a social researcher “
The report, published by think tank the Centre for Social Justice, says Covid-19 and lockdowns have made the problems worse. In some cases, children are stuck at home with abusers. Predators are spending more time online, and The Internet Watch Foundation found that nine million attempts to view child sexual abuse material were made by Britons in the first month of lockdown.
It calls for a range of measures, including:
- All staff at all schools should be trained to spot signs of abuse.
- Restoring school nurse staffing numbers to their pre-2010 levels to enhance identification of abused children.
- An Ofcom-led crackdown on internet bosses who breach a duty of care by allowing design features protecting the identity of abusers.
- New laws to curb live-streamed child sexual abuse.
- Introduce ‘Sammy’s Law’ to wipe criminal records of victims and survivors of CSA.
- Bring in a Victim’s Law to guarantee the rights of victims and support services.
- Victims/survivors to be informed of the release of their abuser so that they can avoid traumatic personal re-encounters.
- The appointment of an independent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Commissioner, modelled on the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to protect victims and reinforce efforts to stamp out CSAE.
- The appointment of a Cabinet committee on CSAE to coordinate Whitehall policy and action.
Mr Javid said: “It wasn’t until I visited the front-lines of the fight against child sexual abuse that I began to understand its horrifying scale and severity in our country. At the National Crime Agency, I was shown intelligence suggesting that 80,000 people in the UK posed a sexual threat to children online
“The evidence that’s emerged since has forced them to revise that estimate to 300,000 – making it clear that we’re facing nothing short of a child sexual abuse epidemic.
“It’s also become clear that although governments, charities and tech companies have made progress on several fronts, we’re currently losing this war. Even before the pandemic … the threat posed by online offending was growing faster than law enforcement could respond.”
Minister for sport and tourism Nigel Huddleston said that “if there are loopholes then we’ll take action”.
He told Sky News: “We’ll listen very carefully about what he (Sajid Javid) and the report has to say. It’s absolutely that we take steps and if there are loopholes then we’ll take action and the Home Office and others will be keeping a very close eye on this development.”
On the impact of Covid-19, he added: “Indeed unfortunately cases of abuse are more prevalent, so further action will be taken there.”