A recent survey of health, education and children’s services workers across England has found that professionals helping child victims of sexual abuse are not keeping pace with technological advances. The study, by researchers at Plymouth University and University Campus Suffolk for the Marie Collins Foundation, warned that that perpetrators have become more ingenious in their use of technology to engage with vulnerable children, and that the training available to professionals has not kept up. The gap between the two is so great that professionals are said to be playing ‘catch up’ with abusers.

Those who took part in the survey included school nurses, health visitors, paediatricians, social workers, child protection advisers, family and education welfare officers, teachers and learning support assistants. More than half of the people who responded said they did not currently feel confident about helping children who had experienced harm or abuse online. 

The study uncovered a case where a mother had offered her 11 year old daughter for sex to attract men for herself, as well as many cases of teenage girls being abused by men they had agreed to meet after making contact online.

They also found instances of boys and girls as young as nine using chat rooms to find a boyfriend or girlfriend, and girls being encouraged to perform sexual acts for ‘friends’ which were filmed and then distributed.

Tink Palmer, chief executive of the Marie Collins Foundation, said the study confirmed what he called “a dearth of understanding and professional expertise” about safeguarding children online and the recovery needs of victims. 

He said “The response to the needs of children and their families is at best ad hoc. Professionals lack confidence in assisting children in their recovery and it is apparent that this is due to a lack of adequate training.  Currently, many professionals are attempting to deal with cases for which they are not equipped.”

In light of this, the government have asked the former chief executive of the children’s charity Barnado’s, Sir Martin Narey, to review the training and education of social workers so that there can be a clearer understanding about what social workers need to know.

Online grooming and abuse is an extremely serious matter and one that we are starting to deal with more frequently. Our specialist team of abuse lawyers regularly speak to the victims of abuse and can assist in making compensation claims for the pain and suffering endured as a result of abuse, along with any long term damage.

If you have suffered abuse at the hands of another individual please do not hesitate to contact us for free initial advice on how to go about making an abuse compensation claim.

By Jonathan Bridge,  Abuse Lawyer