THE BLOG

Child Sexual Exploitation - The Momentum for Change Must Be Maintained

11/06/2013 17:33 BST | Updated 11/08/2013 10:12 BST

On Monday, the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report into localised grooming. Even the title of the report sounds a bit sanitised. Let's be clear what this means, localised grooming is a type of child sexual exploitation - child sexual abuse.

It involves mainly girls as young as 11 and 12 being targeted, tricked, plied with drink and drugs until they don't know what they are doing and then raped by an older man, then several men, beaten and abused with implements and weapons, moved around the country and held in captivity sometimes for days on end.

That is what we are talking about. And this is happening in the UK in 2013.

The catalogue of horror and professional failings has unfolded before us over the last two years; Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, Telford to name just a few. This widespread abuse cannot and must not be allowed to continue.

The Select Committee at which the NSPCC, amongst many others, gave evidence has been thorough and thoughtful in its consideration of the evidence. It has rightly concluded that in some areas of the country there has been a catastrophic failure by agencies and organisations who were ignoring and just not seeing the blindingly obvious. Girls have not been believed when it has been clear that something is terribly wrong and even when they have tried to talk about what has been happening to them. Information just waiting to be pieced together has not been because the victims have been seen as making some sort of informed choice; as if they were agreeing to and complying with being raped, tortured, and beaten.

I have said this many times before and no doubt will need to continue to do so for some time; children and young people cannot consent to sexual activity, they cannot consent to being sexually exploited and abused. It's as simple as that.

So how did we get to a place where professionals can think like this, and can effectively consign young people to the rubbish bin of ongoing abuse, by thinking that these young people are making informed choices and cannot be helped or protected?

A young person who has been abused and exploited is angry, sometimes unspeakably so. They feel utterly powerless and betrayed and they can become sexualised beyond their years. This is what makes them so vulnerable to further abuse and what can make their care and protection such a challenge for busy and stressed front line professionals.

But amidst all this horror of deeply damaged (but repairable) childhoods the answers and solutions are there, and they have been well identified by the Select Committee.

We need to refocus our criminal justice, care and child protection systems so that the child and the young person is always at the centre. That can be easier said than done and what does that actually look like?

Children and young people need to be listened to when talking about bad things that have happened to them, not told that "now is not an appropriate time for this conversation" (which is what a care worker said to a child in the Oxford case).

Social workers, youth workers, police officers, teachers and other frontline professionals need to be trained to recognise the signs and symptoms of child sexual exploitation. Unbelievably, even this is not happening routinely everywhere at the moment.

We need to have more therapy for children and young people to help them recover and to help them grow into well-functioning adults and we need consistent deterrent sentencing and swift justice for the abusers.

Changes to the court system that allows victims to be cross-examined on video before the trial will balance the scales of justice and it's great to see this happening. We need to monitor the progress that has been made over the last year or so with local area child sexual exploitation action plans and the co-location of key professionals.

Finally, we need child sexual abuse to be prevented in the first place, through better and more consistent education and information for children and their parents, because this scourge of our communities and families will ultimately be ended by communities and families working together.