Ann Coffey

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Child sexual exploitation: police campaign is guilty of victim blaming

Published January 14, 2015 by misty534

Manchester’s campaign focuses on children and young people rather than abusers

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The phrase “It’s Not Okay” headlines a new police campaign in Manchester, aimed at highlighting the sexual exploitation of children in the city. As part of my training as a social work student, I’m working with young people who are at risk of being sexually exploited. It’s a bold statement, but who is it addressed to? What assumptions underlie this warning and inform how we, as (soon to be) professionals, tackle the problem and work with young people?

The campaign coincides with Ann Coffey’s report, released in October 2014,which describes child sexual exploitation (CSE) as a “cultural norm” in certain parts of the city. Coffey’s report, entitled “Real Voices”, is explicit in putting the voices of young people, literally, at the forefront of her recommendations. The decision to prioritise the voices of young people speaks directly to the criticism levelled at other local authorities (notably Rochdale and Rotherham) for ignoring and blaming young people. Yet I can’t help feeling the recommendations formulated in the Coffey report, and the coinciding police campaign, have not gone far enough in re-framing how we understand child sexual exploitation, and what we do about it. There’s something in the language that does not speak to the cultural shift that Coffey champions.

The website for the It’s Not Okay campaign elaborates on the message and makes it clear who it’s intended for: “It’s not okay for someone to manipulate you into doing sexual things for their own or someone else’s benefit.” Similarly, the Coffey report recommends “build[ing] resilience against CSE in children and young people”. Is this warning, then, aimed at children and young people? How does a child build resilience against an adult sexual predator? Should children be landed with this responsibility?

The sentiment behind these statements is bolstered by the story that is retold, via the campaign and the report, about CSE. Coffey warns that “Sexting, selfies, Instagram and the like have given rise to new social norms in changed expectations of sexual entitlement, and with it a confused understanding of what constitutes consent”. Can the organised exploitation of children be reduced to a communication issue, that young people are not good enough at saying no? To me this is a sugar-coated, online version of the “what was she wearing?” culture of blame that has plagued rape reporting.

In 1999, academics Celia Kitzinger and Hannah Frith took to task rape prevention and resilience training for young women. They argued that our professional focus on teaching young women how to refuse sex not only makes women and girls accountable for their rape, but is counterproductive insofar as it implies that other ways of refusing sex (with silences or even weak acceptances) are open to reasonable doubt. Kitzinger and Firth, using examples from ordinary conversation, demonstrated that people – men – understand refusals even when they’re not explicitly stated. Add to this the recurring theme of drugging, alcohol use and blackmail used by perpetrators in grooming gangs. The idea that consent is “confused” or that we need to build young people’s “resilience” against the actions of these men minimises the crimes that are being committed against them.

As social workers we need to provide a platform for the voices of young people, but we also need to check that our own, professional voice does not echo the victim-blaming culture that the Coffey report very explicitly seeks to address. When I talk about CSE to my colleagues, to other agencies, and to young people, I want to be talking about gender and the entitlement that is afforded to all men, not by social media as Coffey claims, but by a society that still values the lives of girls and women less than the lives of their male counterparts.

When I read about strategies to tackle CSE I want to read about co-ordinated approaches to working with the men who groom young girls and boys. The introduction of injunctions for suspected perpetrators in Birmingham and training programmes for the city’s taxi drivers are an example of this focus being redirected. When I’m working in a multi-agency context I want it to be made explicit that we are working in and against a criminal justice system characterised by a culture of disbelief that continues to be biased against women.

As a profession we have the privilege, and the responsibility, not only to re-tell the stories of young people in our care but to re-write them. To do this we not only need to educate children and teens, who already have brilliant voices: we need to educate ourselves.

Lauren W is a social work student at the University of Salford

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The Guardian

How the cops fail victims of child sexual exploitation

Published November 11, 2014 by misty534

A new report gives voice to young people at risk of sexual exploitation and blows apart the myth that “Asian gangs” are to blame, writes Sadie Robinson

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We are continuously told that Asian grooming gangs are mainly responsible for child sexual exploitation.

And police say they get away with abuse because cops fear being called racist if they arrest Asian abusers.

But a recent report into child abuse in Greater Manchester has blown these myths apart.

It shows how the problem wasn’t cops being too “politically correct”.

It shows how authorities write off working class children as not credible—and not worth protecting.

One girl says of the police, “They seem to be expecting us to cause trouble. They look down on us so we would not go to them if we need help.

“The police have a stereotype of what we are.”

The Real Voices report was put together by Labour MP Ann Coffey.

It follows an investigation into child abuse in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Coffey’s report said that between 2008 and 2013 “the total number of sexual offences against children under 16 was 12,879.

“Yet only 2,341 defendants were proceeded against and of those only 1,078 were found guilty.”

It seems some child abuse reports are more newsworthy than others. Right wing papers didn’t splash these figures on their front pages.

The Times relegated it to page 28. And The Daily Mail reported it on page ten with the complaint, “Author refuses to focus on Asians”.

Coffey said it was wrong to focus on “Asian gangs” because most abuse involves a single offender, not a group.

Greater Manchester Police have 260 live investigations into child sexual exploitation. Some 174 are recorded crimes and just 18 of them involve multiple perpetrators.

Coffey also spoke to the Rochdale Sunrise child sexual exploitation team, which supports young victims.

Around 15 percent of its cases involved groups while 85 percent involved a single offender.

As Coffey put it, “Any exploitation of children for sex is abhorrent even if it takes place within a one-to-one relationship.”

Both boys and girls described how girls are often treated as objects to be used and controlled.

One girl said, “There is no respect whatsoever from the boys on this estate. They are just obsessed with getting their leg over. It’s the culture.”

The report aimed to investigate what steps authorities have taken to better protect children in the wake of a case that saw nine abusers jailed in Rochdale in 2012.

Coffey found evidence of dismissive and sexist attitudes among police and other authorities (see below)—and of failures to protect children.

It paints a depressing picture of what growing up is like, particularly for girls. It shows that abuse and sexist attitudes can’t be explained away by reference to “Asian culture”.

Instead, they are widespread and go right to the top.


Stereotyped and ignored

Police refused to treat some abused children as victims because of their background or behaviour, according to Coffey’s report.

She wrote, “Young people are still too often being blamed for being a victim of a crime.”

Case files where the Crown Prosecution Service decided no further action would be taken show disgraceful attitudes towards vulnerable children.

One read, “The victim is known (as highlighted by social workers) to tend to wear sexualised clothes when she is out of school, such as cropped tops.”

Another read, “Because of her record and her unsettled background, she is far from an ideal victim.”

Coffey cites another report into abused children in Manchester that describes how a police call handler referred to a 13 year old boy as a “rent boy”.

She added that cops were not recording many sexual offences involving children as child sexual exploitation.

This was likely to lead to “significant underreporting”.


‘You have to grow up quick’

Girls reported being constantly judged on their appearance and feeling under pressure to do things to show they were “grown up”.

One main pressure they expressed was “fitting in or else feeling isolated”.

One said, “At high school you have to grow up quick.

“You feel you have to do certain things to show you have grown up.”

She added that girls were frightened of speaking out to strangers, “Girls who are in danger who do not have friends keep it to themselves. They keep it in.

“They are worried that they will be judged.”

A peer mentor who works with vulnerable children explained, “I have seen girls forced to do things they do not want to do.

“They did not feel they had the power to say no.

“The young people I work with do not trust anyone. They are frightened of being blamed.”

Girls who felt they came from the “wrong” background feel even more vulnerable and alone.

One girl said, “You have no one to speak to if you are not from a stable home.”

Another said that abusers “go for the girls with the rubbish family lives because they know they will get away with it”.


Traumatised and locked up

The report states that the trauma of sexual abuse can lead to “petty criminality, drug use, theft, criminal damage and assault”.

One prisoner said, “It made me lash out—criminal damage, theft, and expulsion from school. I turned to drugs to escape my low self-esteem.”


Children failed by the system

In the report Coffey acknowledges that child sexual exploitation can’t be separated from wider problems in society.

“Policies tackling the key issues of poverty, housing, poor education, unemployment, mental health, alcohol and drug use, and low aspirations, are vital,” she wrote.

As she put it, many children are simply being “failed by the system”.


Council cuts cause crisis

Since 2010 Greater Manchester councils have made over £938 million cuts. More than 25 percent has gone from Children’s Services.

Some 19,641 children were identified as in need last year. The main cause was “abuse or neglect”.

Young people have spoken of sexual abuse for years. We just haven’t listened

Published November 3, 2014 by misty534

Ann Coffey MP

Ann Coffey’s report reveals how young people distrust statutory authorities and how much faith they place in peer mentoring and grassroots support

In a week where everyone seemingly has a view on the prevalence of child sexual exploitation (CSE) across Greater Manchester, you may approach this article with a weary eye. Ann Coffey’s report, which claims that CSE has become a “social norm” in some areas, makes for depressing reading – especially for those who already know it to be true.

I lead a small charity called Reclaim. We are not specialists in CSE, but rather in ensuring that working-class young people from pressurised communities have a voice and some level of influence over policy and decision-making. Our young people campaign tirelessly on the issues that affect them and their families. They are young leaders and critical thinkers, encouraged to use their voices effectively to campaign for positive social change.

In 2013 a group of 30 girls from Salford, all aged 13, wrote an impressive youth manifesto. Their final point: “Your daughters should be free to walk around the streets without being harassed by older men.”

Within that small group of young girls the issue of sexual harassment was recurrent: men stopping the girls as they made their way home from school, guys in corner shops offering free cigarettes and sweets in exchange for phone numbers.

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In 2009 we had concerns about a 14-year-old girl, well known to social services and on the “at risk” register. She was pregnant by a 26-year-old man and living with him in a flat. She had not attended school for months and so they just took her off roll. We contacted social services several times to pass on our concerns and the final feedback we received was: “Just accept she is free to make her own sexual choices.” She was 14.

We now know that this girl was being repeatedly raped by several older men after a period of grooming. Free to make her own sexual choices? No. Raped, abandoned, abused, vulnerable and in need of intensive support. She was the “wrong” type of victim and therefore left to fend for herself.

I spoke to her again recently to gain some understanding of what really happens when you’re a young girl in this situation. She was candid and what I heard will stay with me for ever: multiple perpetrators, rapes, filming, victims farmed out to men in nearby towns, older girls paid to procure younger vulnerable girls. She said: “Girls need to realise how much things really cost. When I was 13 I was given a little bottle of vodka by a shopkeeper in Manchester. I found out the real cost later that night; four blow jobs to old men.”

There are inspiring voluntary organisations doing excellent work in this field; often with young people at the fore and passionate staff working around the clock. We’re all battered and bruised from wrestling for the scraps left of centralised and localised funding. Coffey’s report reveals the deep distrust young people have of statutory authorities and how much faith they place in peer mentoring and in independent, grassroots support. My hope is that social services commissioners will trust those working directly with children and teenagers to deliver the outcomes needed to end the horrors of the sexual exploitation of children.

We held a youth conference in central Manchester last week. The first manifesto point agreed by the group of 50 teenagers was: “Challenge the abuse of children and young people by starting a campaign to empower people to speak up.”

None of the recent stories about sexual exploitation are news to the young people who live in these communities. They’ve been aware and talking about these issues for years. We just haven’t listened.