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
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”.