Hundreds of officers and other employees of the police in Britain have used their power to sexually abuse vulnerable people, says a new report by a national watchdog. It is the latest in a string of institutional abuse accusations in the country, the New York Times reports. In what the independent agency called “the most serious corruption issue facing the service,” among those targeted were victims of domestic abuse, drug and alcohol addicts, and people who work in the sex industry, some of whom were in custody at the time. The inquiry by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulatory, which assesses national police forces, found that there had been 436 accusations of sexual abuse by police officers in England and Wales over two years. It said the accusations involved 334 police employees, including 306 officers. The watchdog emphasized that the scale of the problem was much larger.
The leader of the inquiry, Mike Cunningham, a former chief constable of the Staffordshire police in central England, said the abuse was an egregious breach of officers’ roles as guardians and protectors. “What can be worse than a guardian abusing the trust and confidence of an abused person? There can be no greater violation of public trust,” he said in the report. “It is an exploitation of power where the guardian becomes the abuser.” Britain has been dealing with a series of scandals that have called into question how institutions, including the news media, the church, and sports teams, respond to those who are vulnerable to abuse. This year, Prime Minister Theresa May, who was then the home secretary, asked the independent agency to investigate the issue of sexual abuse by the police, saying she was concerned that victims were not being taken seriously enough by officers.