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How police, prosecutors and social workers failed sexually-abused children in Rochdale

2012 September 27
by Paul Vallely

If there is one thing more shocking than the conviction of a gang of men for sexually abusing under-age teenage girls it is the revelation of how negligent our public authorities have been in their failure to prevent the crimes. An inquiry into the conspiracy to groom young teenagers for sex in Rochdale has revealed systemic malfunctions in the institutions of the state. Social workers, police and officers of the Crown Prosecution Service all failed repeatedly for more than a decade. And there must be fears that authorities have demonstrated similar failings in scores of other cases all across the country.

The report by Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board has highlight deficiencies in training front-line staff, alarming snobberies among police and prosecutors and a missed opportunity to end the abuse four years ago.

Lurking behind all that is the claim that the abuse has a racial component, since most of the abusers are of Pakistani heritage and most of the victims are white. The judge in the Rochdale case said that a factor in the men’s treatment of their victims as “worthless and beyond any respect” was that the girls were “not part of your community or religion”. Local MPs in Rochdale and Rotherham have called for an inquiry into the cultural roots of the problem.

The most authoritative figures suggest caution is required here. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre looked at 1,217 offenders and found just 28 per cent were Asians. Most abusers in the North and Midlands have been Asians but in Devon they have been white, in Bristol Afro-Caribbean and in London of many ethnicities. Sensationalist reporting, which confuses the vulnerable with the victims, risks damaging police attempts to build the confidence and trust needed to combat the problem among ethnic minorities.

A minefield of racial, religious and political sensitivities surround the issue, which was lamentably omitted from the Rochdale report. Cultural factors in these crimes must be confronted not buried. Thankfully a number of Muslim religious and community leaders have begun that task.

But there is no ambiguity in the clear evidence that the social services failed to intervene when they had information about exploitation. The law is clear: sex with a girl under 16 is rape. Yet some social workers claimed that 13-to-15-year-olds were “making their own choices”. Police and prosecutors decided that theses young victims would not be found “credible” by a jury because of their “chaotic”, “council estate” backgrounds. A culture developed which blamed the victims for the abuse.

Significant change is now needed.  Social workers must accept that that children under 16, whatever they say, cannot in law give proper “consent” to their own rape. False consciousness is part of what grooming induces. But local authorities and police forces also need to adopt the systems practiced in another northern town, Blackburn, which brings together a range of services – police, social workers, nurses, sexual health and drugs workers, as well parents – to prevent, protect and prosecute.

Blackburn’s Engage project carries out surveillance operations against adults suspects. It issues legal warning notices to them. It tours secondary schools with warning films. In four years it has rescued 80 children and has a 90 per cent conviction rate on child abduction, rape and sexual activity with minors.

Above all the authorities need to listen more to the victims and their parents.  It is through doing this that British society has taken important steps, along with child protection schemes and criminal records checks, to combat paedophilia in recent years. Now we need to do the same to halt the sexual grooming of young teenagers.

Grooming children for underage sex: Part One – the Asian question

Grooming children for underage sex: Part Two – Muslims and sexuality

A problem not only for Rochdale

Rochdale street grooming; a minefield of racial, religious and political sensitivities

The real truth about child sex grooming

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