The scale of abuse in Rotherham shocked many, but depressingly few of those working at the frontline of child sexual exploitation (CSE). As one support worker told me: “Rotherham is not the exception, it is more likely to be the norm.”
But what was different about Rotherham, was a number – 1,400. That is 1,400 childhoods stolen and families broken. It is hard to conceive in a town of around 250,000 people.
Victims and parents were ignored and at times, treated with contempt by the authorities. It rightly prompted questions about who knew what and why they did not act.
We saw young girls in the early hours of the morning coming in and out of buildings with different men.
But while the victims, now young women, wait to see if their cases will make it to court, grooming continues.
Channel 4 News has obtained figures that show high levels of children at risk of CSE in England in the first six months of this year – in fact, thousands of children are at risk, including in some cases, babies. What we found surprising was the admission by some councils that they only started recording CSE referrals last year.
The data includes a range of abuse and it is recorded in different ways by different councils. However, we wanted to look at grooming and the picture beyond Rotherham.
There have been great strides made by police, social services and charities in some parts of the UK. In Keighley, in a project run by The Children’s Society, former victims of grooming are now acting as mentors to other vulnerable girls and boys. They are taught to spot warning signs and recognise what is unhealthy behaviour. It is significant progress in a town where in 2002, the Labour MP Ann Cryer became the first public figure in Britain to speak out about allegations of “young Asian lads” grooming underage white girls in the West Yorkshire town.
The clock is ticking
But there is no one national support programme, nor is there one single pattern to the abuse or abusers. And the clock is ticking. I was told by one woman working with affected families that a referral to a specialist CSE team within the first six months of the abuse starting is vital. Otherwise the child can become trapped in the abuse, distorting their perspective of a healthy relationship and leading to further trauma that can affect brain development.
We spent three nights in Bradford, one of the towns with the highest number of CSE referrals in England in 2014. We spoke to young people and tried to observe what was happening on the streets. Some of the young girls from Rotherham say they were trafficked to Bradford. It is a lively and multicultural city, but young people told us the reporting of grooming cases has created racial tension.
It is hard to define what we saw, but there were unsettling moments. Within minutes of arriving, we spotted a police officer looking for a missing 14-year-old. He said: “This happens all the time in Bradford and the girl goes missing two or three times a month.”
Rotherham is not the exception, it is more likely to be the norm.Support worker
It is a familiar feature in grooming cases around the UK. Minutes later, we saw young girls in the early hours of the morning coming in and out of buildings with different men. It is difficult to know their age, but they looked like vulnerable teenagers. In the red light area, we also witnessed a group of men abusing a sex worker.
But there is division in the way people describe the situation in Bradford and in many other cities where sexual abuse has been identified. We met a group of young people that in some ways symbolise that divide. A 15-year-old girl told us her mother had moved her out of nearby Keighley because she and her sister were approached a number of times by older white and Asian men. But the girl’s friend, who is Asian, says the media has unfairly focused on grooming gangs with Pakistani heritage. He claims to have been stopped by police simply because he was walking with a white girl.
His concern is backed up by some of the parents we spoke to in the rest of the country. We met one, called Jenny, whose daughter Sarah (not their real names) was abused by a group of white boys from the age of 12. The perpetrators were teenagers – something she feels is often overlooked.
Our film, broadcast on Channel 4 News at 7pm tonight, is only a snapshot of a hugely complex issue. But we hope it goes beyond the issues raised in Rotherham and reflects some of the current challenges and successes in tackling grooming.
The Irish people voted recently in a referendum and gave the Irish state increased powers over families in that jurisdiction. The vote was closer than expected and one of the reasons surely was that a great number of people had concerns about how much trust could be placed in the judgement and competence of the state’s child-care agencies. They did not know then what was going to be revealed about these agencies when they get caught up in the kind of ideology which has gripped Rotherham Council in the neighbouring jurisdiction of Great Britain. Had they done so the vote might have swung the other way.
The Rotherham story, in a nutshell, is this: Three small children are removed from their foster home because the couple taking excellent care of them hold political views that social workers say make them unable to meet the youngsters’ “cultural and ethnic needs”. The children, we are told by council, are now “safe and well, unaware of what’s happening around them”.
Allison Pearson in today’s Daily Telegraph doesn’t put a tooth in it. “That’s a lie” she says. “A comforting, callous, official lie. To remove a baby and her brother and sister from their biological parents is awful, but in dire circumstances it is the lesser evil. To settle the children in a foster home is hard, but possible, particularly when the foster mum is a nursery nurse in her fifties with years of experience. But to snatch them from that loving home a mere eight weeks later is so cruel, so stupid and so damaging that the people who made that decision should be removed from their jobs with the same haste that the infants were taken from their carers.”
This kind of ideology is viral and it is riddled with the kind of deception which Pearson points her finger at in Rotherham. The Irish people would be very naive to think that they are in some way immune from infection by this ideology or these lies. A look at the deceptions pouring out from the pro-abortion activists and their shameful abuse of the memory of Savita Halappanavar in their campaign to bring abortion on demand into the country shows only too clearly how deep the infection has already penetrated. They may live to regret the weakening of the institution of the family which they have just now conceded to. They are about to review their Constitution and for this infected element in the body politic this is going to be a further opportunity to try to bring their country on a short road to social and moral ruin.