THE BLOG

Prevention Is Key to Stopping Next Generation of Children Being Sexually Preyed Upon

08/05/2014 22:53 BST | Updated 08/07/2014 10:59 BST

Last week Max Clifford was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexual offences against girls and young women, his horrendous offending spanning decades. He used empty promises of meeting stars, the lure of fame and money to dazzle his impressionable victims and their families. Intimidated by his power and influence into silence, his victims struggled for years with the impact of the abuse they suffered. Clifford thought he was untouchable but has now thankfully been unmasked as the sexual predator he is.

And of course he was untouchable; some of those who knew him and who were close to him would, I think, have at least suspected what he was doing. It was after many years that women, encouraged by seeing the police and CPS beginning to take a more robust approach to cases of historic sexual abuse, began to come forward to talk about what had happened and what they felt they had lived with and keep silent about for so long.

The connections with Savile and Hall are of course clear - the use and abuse of fame, power and influence to groom and silence victims. The unswerving belief that they would get away with it, that their status would drown out any allegations and that victims would never be believed because they would be dismissed as 'liars' or 'fantasists'.

Shockingly, I think there's also a sense that these men thought they had not done anything wrong at all. A belief that these girls really wanted it anyway, that they would do anything for fame (and this was the deal) and that they were probably "damaged goods" because they didn't say no, or didn't say it loudly or clearly enough, or in a way that they really meant no.

These themes are sadly not unique and are consistent with what we hear from victims using our services to rebuild their lives, as well as what we know about child sex offenders and sexually abusive men more generally.

So Clifford is by no means unique in his offending methods and the belief system that has surrounded and supported it for many years.

These similarities with other well-known and not so well known offenders are important pointers to what we need to do now and in the future. I'm sure that we cannot detect and treat all sexual abuse in the UK. Some cases will not result in a successful prosecution - that is the nature and complexity of sexual abuse but there needs to be a sharper focus on the problem and a greater willingness by the police and the CPS to really understand how sexual abuse and exploitation starts, develops and continues. Cases need to be taken to court whenever the evidence is there and victims must be appropriately cared for during and after the process.

Treatment for victims is crucial, to help them understand why they could not talk about it for so long, that the abuse was not their fault and that there is not one bit of them that deserved it. Treatment and support like Letting the Future In and Protect and Respect, provided by the NSPCC, needs to be more widespread. But we need much more investment in this sort of provision. And there has to be treatment for the abusers to crack through the beliefs and behaviours that supported their offending, so the risk they pose to children is reduced.

All of this is acutely important, but there has to be a much greater focus on prevention if we are to protect the next generation of children and those that follow. We need a sea change in how girls, children in general and in how women are seen, perceived and treated in our society.

For a start that involves working with children in primary schools and up so they learn about respectful relationships and consent. It involves supporting, educating and training parents, teachers, social workers and health professionals and it involves an active dialogue with where necessary pressure and compulsion on all parts of commerce that have an influence on attitude and belief formation. It is a big task and a big challenge for us all, especially government, but one that can and must be achieved for a safer society for all.