No one can deny that Louise Casey's report of the Inspection of Rotherham Borough Council, published last month, can be perceived as anything but a crucial wake up call. The denial of Council members, police, social services and other relevant agencies as to the scale and impact of child sexual exploitation in the area was shocking. It is now long overdue for every individual and organisation working with children and young people to recognise this and take responsibility.
Child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent crime that has a long-lasting and devastating impact on victims. Yet it has taken the events in Rotherham and Rochdale amongst others for such abuse to even start to be considered as a priority. But the government has started to take action to tackle it, with a number of actions and announcements that we should welcome without hesitation.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister held a National Summit at Downing Street and announced significant measures to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation nationally, including;
- a consultation on extending the new criminal offence of 'wilful neglect' of patients to children's social care, education and elected members;
- a national whistleblowing helpline to encourage those working in the public sector to report bad practice;
- a new Child Sexual Abuse Taskforce of experts to support local areas; and
- additional funding for survivors of sexual abuse.
Another important step that will make strides in ensuring the police are prioritising child sexual abuse is to give child sexual abuse the status of a national threat in the Strategic Policing Requirement. No longer will the police be able to hide behind other priorities as a reason not to act.
Despite these steps forward, we still face a lack of understanding around this issue. Many perceive child sexual exploitation as uncommon and infrequent, which is both carried out by, and against, minority groups and individuals. This is wrong. We need to recognise that child sexual exploitation can be committed by, and against, any individual, regardless of age, gender, race, background or other characteristic. In fact, a significant proportion of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know. This is a fact that many are not aware of.
As the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire, I am utilising my position as leader in the local area to take action against child sexual exploitation. I have committed to further funding of £1 million through the Police Precept that will be ring-fenced to help support victims of crime, including those affected by child sexual exploitation and young people impacted by domestic and sexual violence.
Later this month, I will be launching a Ten Point Pledge; a commitment to my county and our children and young people as to what action we will take in tackling all forms of abuse. We are committed to bringing the perpetrators of child abuse and exploitation to justice, because we recognise that the absence of prosecutions will fail to give victims the confidence that the justice system is on their side and that the perpetrators will be stopped. We are also committed, as a county, to offer long-term support to victims, with the understanding that it is not just the immediate support that victims need, but for such support to be available throughout their lifetime.
The Commission will also be launching a major piece of research on child online safety. Many meetings between a victim and perpetrator are facilitated by contact online beforehand, and we have recognised the need to deepen our understanding about how children and young people are using the internet. Our work in this area will be able to most helpfully work with parents and carers, children and young people and all relevant organisations to understand how better to protect children online and improve understanding about the risks of using the internet.
We cannot simply do nothing and wait for a repeat of the shocking Rotherham events to unfold in another area. It is encouraging that the government is starting to commit to tackling child sexual exploitation, but this is just the first step. Words need to turn into action. Victims need to be listened to and believed. Perpetrators need to be disrupted, prosecuted, and brought to justice for their actions. Agencies need to take responsibility for protecting, safeguarding and supporting all children and young people that may be exploited. We need to recognise that child sexual exploitation is the rape and abuse of children; and begin to tackle it as just that and no less.