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In the last couple decades there has been a failure of local authorities to act on reports of abuse by gangs in certain parts of England. The Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal comprised of the organised child sexual exploitation that transpired in Rotherham located in South Yorkshire. There was an estimated 1,400 children, predominantly white girls, had been sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 by mostly British-Pakistani men (Jay Report, 2014). There were also cases of abuse against British Asian girls however fear of shame and dishonour made them unwilling to report the exploitation to authorities.
The Rochdale child sex abuse ring was also a similar case that involved underage teenage girls in Rochdale in Greater Manchester. Nine men were convicted of sex trafficking and other offences including rape, trafficking girls for sex and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child in May 2012. The fallout from these revelations was dramatic and is in many senses an on‐going process debate has raged on the roles of race, ethnicity, class and gender in facilitating the abuse of women and of catastrophic and possibly corrupt individual and institutional failure from agencies including the police, council and social services.
The population of Rochdale was 211,699 in 2011. The town’s employment rate has steadily decreased over recent years and falls below the national average. Also, the number of jobs situated in Rochdale dropped by 5,000 between 2007-09.
Rotherham is the largest town in South Yorkshire with a population of 109,691 in 2011. The town has high unemployment rates that are above the national average and there are 23% of homes belonging to social housing.
There were also 610 children in care in 2018, which is strikingly above the average rate. Furthermore, the number of children subject to Child Protection Plans is also above average at 628. In the Rotherham cases, one third of the targeted children were previously known to social services. The prosecutor explained that two of the victims were sisters who were “effectively abandoned” by both their parents when they were very young and that they were already corrupted when they came to the attention of two of the defendants. The prosecutor said: ‘These sisters, like so many others, were easy to exploit because they needed to be loved.’ The vulnerability of the girls made them an easy target for the perpetrators.
With regards to the Muslim community, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, Mohammed Shafiq, blamed elders of the Pakistani community of ‘burying their heads in the sand’ on the issue of sexual grooming and its significant problem in the community with the actions bringing shame on our community. The co-chairperson of the Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi said ‘You can only start solving a problem if you acknowledge it first,’ and added, ‘This small minority who see women as second class citizens, and white women probably as third class citizens, are to be spoken out against.’
The rest of the community however, seemed to have another approach. Protestors from far-right organisations, such as the British National Party and the English Defence League, held demonstrations with banners saying ”Refugees not welcome”. Additionally, Eagle Taxis, which two of the convicted men worked at, said that due to requests clients could choose to have a white driver but this was reversed after 50 Asian drivers protested.
It has been suggested that the media has created a moral panic due to its coverage and portrayal of South Asian men as perpetrators of sexual violence against white victims.’. In the 2012 case, the media and the court explained the perpetration of abuse by drawing parallels between the cultural backgrounds of the perpetrators and the acts they inflicted on the victims. In this account, culture was specifically combined with the ethnicity and religion of the offenders and was viewed as a foundational force in the abuse.
Overall, strengths were shown as the response and awareness to the crime has been detrimental to helping tackle this hidden but widespread issue. Although, some weaknesses lie in crimes like these have a bad portrayal in the media leading to racial division and tensions in the British communities.
In 2012 The Times newspaper published an investigation which revealed a confidential 2010 police report and intelligence had warned thousands of such crimes were being committed in South Yorkshire each year by networks of Asian men. Offenders identified to the police were not prosecuted and that child abuse had taken place on a ‘vast scale’. In the confidential police and council documents they had accessed, there was reluctance to investigate and prosecute Asian offenders due to fear over exacerbating community tensions. The town’s former Labour MP, Denis MacShane, claimed police had kept the abuse secret from politicians. In October 2012, the council, South Yorkshire Police and other agencies set up a Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) team to investigate the issues raised in the report, although South Yorkshire Police denied it had been reluctant to tackle child sexual abuse or that ‘ethnic origin had been a factor’ in its decisions. But the police force was criticised by the Home Affairs Select Committee. One unnamed victim has said she expected police to investigate her case when she first reported it but they ‘never really did’. She said: ‘They seemed to take it seriously at first, and I was video interviewed, but then time passed and nothing happened.” The victim said it became evident that police were not taking her report of sexual abuse seriously. She added: ‘It is obvious to me that back then the police could really have done a much better job and spent more time looking into it.”
The Jay Report is damning of police failure to intervene and to prevent the sexual abuse and exploitation of young girls. Documented victim testimony shows that police officers treated them ‘with contempt’ (Jay 2014: 1) some examples included girls as young as 13 years of age being blamed for placing themselves in situations where they would be sexually exploited. Potential ramifications of such misogynistic and dismissive police attitudes to young female victims of rape and sexual assault are laid out by Kelly et al. (2005) in their study of attrition in reported rape cases. They found that police officers and prosecutors overestimated the scale of false allegations, leading to a ‘culture of scepticism’ and that discouragement by the police during investigations was a strong reason for victims ceasing to cooperate.
Officers on the Rochdale division were under pressure at the time to hit ‘volume crime’ targets like bringing down the number of burglaries and were overwhelmed by the complete scale of the grooming problem they had uncovered. Sheer lack of resource, and also the fact that their bosses seemed reluctant to investigate for fear of being branded racist, contributed to delays in the investigation. It took police 11 months to compile a file of evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – after interviewing the young victim on four occasions.
Overall, the strengths were found in have been a number of welcome changes to the law since the Rochdale grooming scandal saw nine men convicted of child abuse offences in 2012. Police forces have been ordered to treat child sexual abuse as equivalent to terrorism and the home secretary has admitted this crime is “not going away”, however the negatives were rooted in the length of time it took police to thoroughly investigate these cases. The girls were given no legitimacy to what they had been saying and at the ages of 11-13 had no right to give ‘consent’ to men in the 30s-50s.
One of the biggest allies to the Rochdale case was the specialist sexual health support service. The service was based in Rochdale’s town centre and aimed to reach out to youngsters and advise young people vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Due to their non-judgmental approach, they were able to win trust in a way that police and social services could not. The girls knew we weren’t there to try to get evidence from them – they were there to help and support them. If this service wasn’t available, half the evidence that led to mass convictions would never have come to light. The girls didn’t trust police or social services to help them as no one wanted to listen to them.
Once they began to see the magnitude of the problem, they went out of their way to tell everyone about it. But it seemed the scale of this crime was something people just couldn’t face up to. Calls to police were ignored and social workers said the girls were making lifestyle choices. A Rochdale sexual health worker told an inquiry that all the girls had been ‘treated appallingly by protective services’. “We were making referrals from 2004, very explicit referrals, referrals which absolutely highlighted for protective services that young people were incredibly vulnerable,” she said. “It was unfortunate that it was about attitudes towards teenagers. It was absolute disrespect that vulnerable young people did not have a voice.“ They were overlooked, they were discriminated against.” Critics say the delays meant more girls were left to be abused while the criminal justice system slowly changed its course.
Schools raised the alert over the years about children as young as 11, 12 and 13 being picked up outside schools by cars and taxis, given presents and mobile phones and taken to meet large numbers of unknown males in Rotherham, other local towns and cities, and further afield. Typically, children were courted by a young man whom they believed to be their boyfriend.
The social workers were supposed to be there to help the girls however as an allie they failed to do this. They failed to accept the severity of the problem and to acknowledge the grooming that had taken place. It was very much passed off as teenage girls making their own choices but in fact these were young girls who were plied with drugs and alcohol and were threatened to an extent were they felt forced to participate in these horrific acts. Social services and social workers did no have the correct barriers there to protect thee young girls. With some of the girls already in care and workers knowing that random men were picking them up a lack of investigation and questioning was happening
Overall, the strengths were found in the trust that the girls had with the workers at the sexual health service however the negatives were rooted in the failure of the services before and after. They had been failed so many times by social services and by police, these girls were already in such a vulnerable position that now they had no one to look after them. Why social services showed wilful blindness in ignoring what was happening and how so many agencies had collectively failed to act much earlier
The perpetrators in both of the cases were very similar they were mostly British Pakistani men who were between the ages of 30s – 50s and who either worked in a takeaway shop or at a taxi firm. While testifying in court, one of the victims stated that a perpetrator told her he was doing nothing wrong delivering her to numerous men for sexual abuse because ‘in his country you’re allowed to have sex with girls from the age of 11’. The focus in these cases appears to be on the sexual abuse of teenagers and young adults on the basis of their vulnerability, rather than as a result of a specific preferential sexual interest in children. The CEOP assesses that type 1 offenders are unlikely to identify themselves as having a sexual interest in children, but molest children because they are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The process of grooming has been well documented in national reports and research. Many of the cases we examined showed classic evidence of grooming. Many of the children were already vulnerable when grooming began. Many of the case files described children who had troubled family backgrounds, with a history of domestic violence, parental addiction, and in some cases serious mental health problems. A significant number of the victims had a history of child neglect and/or sexual abuse when they were younger. Some had a desperate need for attention and affection. Many of the young girls sexually exploited in Rotherham were in care at the time and that many perpetrators actively targeted these residents’ units and services. (Waqas Tufail: 36)
Over a period of time, the child would be introduced to older men who fostered them and supplied them with gifts, free alcohol and sometimes drugs. Children were initially flattered by the attention paid to them, and impressed by the apparent wealth and sophistication of those grooming them. Many were utterly convinced that they were special in the affections of a perpetrator, despite all the evidence that many other children were being groomed and abused by the same person. Some of the victims were never able to accept that they had been groomed and abused by one or more sexual predators. A key objective of the perpetrators was to isolate victims from family and friends as part of the grooming process. (Jay report). Threats were also used by the perpetrators as a way of silencing the girls, they often got the girls friends to help convince the others to stay silent and that it wasn’t so bad to participate in the sexual acts as they were receiving things in return.
Overall, the strengths were found in the, however the negatives were rooted
In the aftermath of the Rotherham and Rochdale scandals, there are a few proposals of measurements that could be made in order to aid these kinds of cases. In order to help these investigation the communities must be built up and there must be a growth in people’s confidence. Areas of vulnerability such as care homes and broken family systems have been ignored for too long and this neglect makes them fertile territory for criminals. In this type of environment more safeguards need to be put in place to protect these types of children who have mostly already been subject to past abuse and neglect. Things like … need to be put in place as protection to help keep children safe and prevent horrific cases like this ever happening again.
Police took too long to firstly acknowledge the seriousness of the crimes and to compose case files after interviewing the girls. Some victims were made to give multiple interviews to police, with the vulnerability of the girls and the ptsd they were experience this seems like a ridiculous thing to put them through, to relive the crimes so many times especially at the vulnerable stage they were at. The lack of compassion paired with victim blaming and lengthy trials can be off putting for a lot of victims. Many perpetrators have still not been brought to justice and that has been largely due to the disbelief and trust that the police can do anything to help or to bring justice to the victims. There needs to be more training for police in dealing with child sexual exploitation and to understand the process of grooming, especially as this scale grows to the internet.
Social services showed wilful blindness in ignoring what was happening in Rotherham and Rochdale. There is a desperate need for better-resourced agencies to help tackle these issues at the first initial stages or to prevent it before a child enters a dangerous and unsafe environment. After the victims have been left completely broken, aftercare in their environment must be made priority to initiate them back to a somewhat normal state of living. The damage that has been done is incalculable/ absolutely devastating. Many children suffered with self-harm, suicidal thoughts, family breakdowns and homelessness. Several years later, some were victims of domestic violence, drug and alcohol addictions, and had parenting difficulties with their own children. Some suffered with post-traumatic stress, emotional and psychological problems, often undiagnosed and untreated. Also, in a number of the cases children and young people had pregnancies, miscarriages and terminations. All services should recognise that once a child is affected by CSE, he or she is likely to require support and therapeutic intervention for an extended period of time. Children should not be offered short-term intervention only, and cases should not be closed prematurely.
To conclude, the cases of child sexual exploitation was on a prolific magnitude and due to the failures of several different agencies it led to young girls experiencing horrific acts against them. In both cities there were environmental factors including unemployment rates and children in care that made the children vulnerable and susceptible to abuse. The police lacked training in this area and due to their poor investigative work it meant a lot of perpetrators were freed, meaning more girls were abused. There were allies such as sexual health support workers and ‘Risky Business’, who in these cases really tried to help the young girls and stop the abuse by reporting their finding to the police. However the police and social services failed massively to investigate and undertake the seriousness and the scale of what they had been told leading to a huge crack in the foundations. Due to the failings of so many people and the lack of safeguards it meant that there was an area of vulnerability that was ideal and a target for these types of perpetrators. Girls who had been failed by so many people and who were desperate for any affection they could get led to the horrific sexual abuse that happened over the scale of several years. Now that the cases have been brought to light and taken seriously there are three suggestive measures as what can be done now: more safeguards in child care homes, more police training and more resources available for social services. These are only a few simple but effective steps to be taken to prevent wide scale abuse like this ever happening again.
‘I know he really loves me … (about a perpetrator convicted of very serious offences against other children)”
“He may have other girlfriends but I am special…”
“Boys gave me drink and drugs for free… I was driven around in fast cars”.
What those in power cannot tolerate is that abuse on the scale revealed in some children’s homes – and it is highly probable in all institutional settings which supposedly care for the vulnerable poor – flows from the systemic disregard which derives from a conception of sections of the population as being worthless. This worthlessness feeds into their powerlessness which in turn provides those in power with a sense of impunity in their behaviour. (Novak and Jones 1999: 88)
However, it is necessary to go beyond terms such as ‘vulnerability’ which, whilst important, adopt a politically neutral position. Therefore recognising that many of the young girls subjected to sexual violence from men as typified in the Rotherham and Rochdale cases were from impoverished working class backgrounds is essential. As Novak and Jones (1999) stress, systemic failings at the institutional level effectively assist in facilitating the abuse of poor, marginalised children by the powerful
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