An 11-year-old girl was allegedly assaulted as she walked home from school in Barnstaple on Thursday.
Police are appealing for witnesses to the incident in which an unknown man allegedly grabbed the girl around the neck and pushed her against a wall in Richmond Terrace in Bear Street.
Officers said the child, who was uninjured, screamed before the man ran off following the incident at around 4.15pm.
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said: “After letting the girl go the man ran from Richmond Street into Hills View where he got into a white van and drove off. The van is believed to be a ‘62’ plate and was sign-written.
“The girl was not physically injured as a result of the attack. It is also not being linked to any other incidents in the area.
“We would like to hear from anyone who may have seen the van making off and can provide additional information which may identify the vehicle and its driver.”
Toby Davies, Chief Inspector for North and West Devon, said: “This is an unprovoked assault on a child which is obviously rare for our area and we are treating it very seriously.
“I’m aware that there have been some inaccurate rumours circulating around social media sites relating to this. I would like to reiterate that, whilst the motive for this assault is unclear, there were no threats or demands and we are not treating this as an attempted abduction. At this time we are offering no specific advice to parents.
“We are very keen to hear from anyone who may have witnessed this incident or might have additional information on the identity of the offender."
Police said the suspect is described as being white, 5ft 7”, aged 30-35 years, of stocky build, unshaven and with wavy light brown, dark blonde greying unkempt hair. He was wearing a grey hoody, with the hood down, dark or denim jogging bottoms and white trainers. He was also holding a white hat.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Devon and Cornwall Police on 101, quoting reference CB/12/3967.
Alternatively contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.