Police disruption of child sexual abuse: Findings from a national survey of frontline personnel and strategic leads for safeguarding

Nadia Wager, Alexandra Robertshaw Seery, Diana Parkinson

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


This research study was commissioned by the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse (CSA Centre) to explore the ways in which police forces across England and Wales seek to disrupt child sexual abuse. Disruption, alongside enforcement and prevention, is one of the principal ways in which police respond to criminality and criminal activity. While enforcement focuses on the
prosecution of past crimes, and prevention aims to stop whole groups of suspects or protect potential victims, disruption is a more flexible and dynamic approach which seeks to disrupt offenders’ networks, lifestyles, and routines so that it is harder for them to commit crime.
Disrupting child sexual abuse is a vital activity because most incidents of such abuse are never reported to or discovered by the police – meaning that many individuals who sexually abuse children remain at liberty to commit further abuse. Disruption measures have the potential to swiftly interrupt contact between a suspect and a child or young person, and to help stop further abuse in the longer term.

Increased disruption activity is key to the UK Government’s strategy for tackling child sexual abuse. This study considers there to be three fundamental approaches to disruption: direct measures which impose legal sanctions on
offenders; disruption-supportive measures which disable or disrupt criminal activity taking place in the community; and online measures which disrupt criminal activity taking place or being facilitated online. However, we know little about current practice in disrupting child sexual abuse, or the extent to which different measures are effective.

The aim of this research was, therefore, to identify and better understand current practice, challenges and enablers in disrupting child sexual abuse, from both frontline and strategic perspectives within policing. The researchers focused on child sexual abuse in all its forms, and considered child sexual exploitation as a form of child sexual abuse. The study involved the collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data from two online surveys, of frontline police personnel (e.g. uniformed response officers, public enquiry desk staff) and strategic leads for safeguarding (primarily Chief Inspectors and
Superintendents) in police force areas across England and Wales.

The survey of frontline police received 754 responses from police officers and staff across32 different forces, although only around half of these provided information on the kinds of disruption activities they had been involved
in. The survey of strategic leads received 38 responses from strategic leads across 20 different police forces.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCSA Centre
Commissioning bodyCentre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse
Number of pages68
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Police disruption of child sexual abuse: Findings from a national survey of frontline personnel and strategic leads for safeguarding'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this