Socialist Worker

Cops and council cuts failed Rotherham abuse victims says new report

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2440

Newspaper websites cover Rotherham

 

Most media coverage of the Rotherham child abuse scandal has focused on “Asian gangs”. Yet a new report is another damning indictment of the local council and South Yorkshire Police (SYP).

Government official Louise Casey’s report into Rotherham Council was published last week. It was commissioned in the wake of Professor Alexis Jay’s 2014 report into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the town. Jay’s report estimated that 1,400 children had been exploited between 1997 and 2013.

Children were raped, assaulted and threatened with extreme violence. Casey said authorities had “no understanding of the level of intimidation victims were experiencing”.

One key partner described a victim who “got a text saying that if she didn’t come out they’d shoot her. We called the police. They said, ‘well why doesn’t she just switch her phone off?’

“There was no understanding of the danger they were in.”

The report looked at Rotherham council but could not avoid examining South Yorkshire Police (SYP). It said SYP “perpetuates the cycle of abuse and psychological distortion suffered by the victims, by reinforcing the message that no crime has been committed, and that they are to blame for their own treatment.”

Attitude

Inspectors were “concerned that this attitude continues in the police to this day, with treatment of current victims remaining at an unacceptably low standard”.

The report questioned the “phenomenally low conviction rate” for abuse despite regular references to “ongoing police operations”.

“Inspectors were left wondering what these ongoing investigations amounted to,” it said. “Perpetrators seemed to face no consequences. Nor were their activities disrupted.”

Police Operation Central led to the conviction of five men in 2010. The operation identified around 80 abusers - but the rest were not investigated. One police officer told inspectors, “I said, ‘what about everyone else on that chart?’ I was told, ‘we’ve got to cut it off somewhere’.”

One former cop told inspectors that police saw victims as “second class citizens” and “blamed” girls for abuse. Such attitudes weren't restricted to police.

One councillor who was serving at the time of the inspection said abusers were “fooled” into thinking child victims were older than they were. A social worker said victims “were seen as prostitutes”.

A former council officer said attitudes contained “an element of they are choosing to do this, getting into cars in the evening”.

One child’s case file describes the child as having “willingly gone” with her abusers to a flat and “consented to sexual activity.” The child was 13 at the time.

The council failed to protect abused and vulnerable children. The report noted recurring complaints about links between taxi firms and CSE. It said the council “has not taken, and does not take, sufficient steps to ensure only fit and proper persons are permitted to hold a taxi licence”.

David Cameron claimed the abuse wasn’t a problem of “resources”. Casey too stressed “political failings” at Rotherham council.

Yet references to resources crop up again and again in her report.

Lacking

The CSE team “suffers from excessive case loads”. Staff are “often exhausted, over-loaded and overwhelmed”. Support for victims is “sadly lacking”.

There is “not enough capacity” to properly undertake preventative work. Outreach work to identify victims at risk is “insufficiently resourced”.

One council officer said, “Resources were an issue. The girls weren’t easy to deal with. They were resource intensive. They were expensive.”

Social workers said victims wouldn’t be placed out of the area to keep them safe “due to costs”. And from 2010 “each annual report notes pressure on the Children’s Services budget”.

Bizarrely Casey’s report commends the council for making budget cuts “in a timely manner”. It goes on to point out that the cuts have meant “some services no longer have the capacity to function effectively”.

From 1 November 2013 to 31 October 2014 there were 273 CSE crimes recorded in South Yorkshire. Some 75, 27 percent, were in Rotherham. Real figures will be higher as many victims are too scared to come forward and some CSE crime is wrongly defined or dismissed.

The council has already missed several of its own targets for tackling CSE.

The council had “available uncommitted reserves of £10.222 million” at the end of March last year.

In September last year the council announced that £120,000 would be made available to support victims in the short term. Inspectors said the package “falls short of what is required”.

It added, “Potential demand could well outstrip supply, and victims who may need urgent help should not be made to wait.”

And there are “serious concerns” about how victims are supported when they become adults.

Some of those interviewed said “services were just turned off” when child victims became adults. As one CSE victim put it, “They’ve got a poster with my birthday on it when I turn 18 and then they don't need to bother with me”.


Few get support they need

Casey criticised one councillor for referring to Jay’s “limited source base”.

This shouldn’t diminish the fact that children have suffered serious abuse. Yet it is true that Jay did not identify 1,400 victims and sampled 66 cases (see below).

The report complained of a councillor who was concerned about focusing on CSE because, “Most abuse happens within the home.” But this is true - and all abused children should be supported.

The real problem is that very few seemed to get the support they needed.

Casey says the council has “struggled with the issue of race”. This seems to amount to evidence that councillors didn’t want to focus predominantly on Asian men as abusers and didn’t want to be racist.


The real figures behind the headlines 

Casey’s report said that Professor Jay found evidence that at least 1,400 children suffered CSE and that “the majority of the perpetrators were described as ‘Asian’ by victims”.

This gives the misleading impression that hundreds of victims identified their abuser as Asian in Jay’s report.

Jay’s figure was an estimate based on a list of 988 children “known to children’s social care or the police”. The Jay report looked at 66 case files in total, the vast majority of which showed “clear evidence” that children had suffered abuse.

Jay added, “In a large number of the historic cases in particular, most of the victims in the cases we sampled were white British children, and the majority of the perpetrators were from minority ethnic communities.”

So it is saying that in "a large number" not "a majority" of this 66 cases, most perpetrators were from ethnic minorities. This is not the same as saying that Asian men abused 1,400 children - but it hasn’t stopped the right wing press.

Casey’s own report points out that abuse isn’t confined to grooming or exploitation by strangers. The victims were “most frequently those with difficult family backgrounds. Many had suffered neglect and abuse within the home.”

A focus on Asian men as abusers leaves children at risk of abuse from those who don't fit the profile.


Backstory

The Casey report is based on over 200 meetings with council groups, voluntary groups, councillors, police, victims and others.

It also reviewed documents and sampled cases of vulnerable children.

Inspectors used "three different lists of children's names which had been linked to CSE and where it was reasonable to assume the children had been harmed".


Police officers accused 

A police officer and two councillors in Rotherham have been accused of having sex with abuse victims.

The police officer is also accused of passing information about victims to abusers. Another officer is accused of failing to take any action despite being aware of the allegations.

The two officers have been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The National Crime Agency is investigating the allegations against the two councillors, one of whom was reportedly still serving until last week.

Just days before the Casey report was published, police officer Hassan Ali was hit by a car in Sheffield. He died nine days later.

South Yorkshire Police described his death as a “tragic accident”.

Two victims of child sexual abuse had complained about Ali to lawyer David Greenwood.

Unwilling

Greenwood said the complaints were about his “unwillingness to pursue complaints of exploitation”.

One victim said Ali had asked her on a date when she was 17 and again when she was 21. She said Ali was aware she had suffered abuse between the ages of 14 and 17 and described his behaviour as “inappropriate and totally unprofessional”.

Greenwood said the allegations must be investigated. “If this has in the past caused girls to be exploited then we need to know about it,” he said.

Meanwhile a former Home Office researcher has said police officers threatened to pass her details to abusers after she produced a damning report.

Adele Gladman’s 2002 report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, which criticised the police and council, was never published.

She said a police officer approached her outside her office. “He and a colleague said words along the lines of ‘Wouldn’t it be a shame if these perpetrators found out where you and your family lived’.

“And I took that as a direct threat to my personal safety. The message was very clear.”

South Yorkshire Police said they can’t comment on the allegation.


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Article information

News
Tue 10 Feb 2015, 17:18 GMT
Issue No. 2440
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