It’s the crime no one wants to take responsibility for. The same statements are trotted out time after time. “Missed opportunities” and “lessons have been learned” are the stock phrases we’ve grown tired of hearing from council officers and police chiefs. But the horror stories keep coming. Children being trafficked from one town to the next, raped in dingy flats then beaten, held at gun point, doused in petrol and threatened to be set alight if they so much as breathe a word. This is not happening in some war-torn Eastern Bloc country. It’s happening here in Britain and all we’re seeing is a lot of hand wringing from unsackable, unaccountable and unapologetic public servants.
This week the focus centered on Rotherham, as we learned that gangs of Asian men raped some 1,400 children while the council blatantly played down the problem and the police looked the other way. A report said that police “regarded many child victims with contempt” and social workers were afraid to act for fear of being seen as racist. It’s the most shameful example of public services letting down vulnerable children I’ve ever seen.
But don’t believe this is just happening in South Yorkshire. The same horrible scenes are being played out elsewhere with the same pathetic response from protective services allowing evil rapists to not only continue ruining lives but also feel emboldened in the process.
In my constituency of Rochdale I didn’t have to read reports to know children were being subject to sickening abuse. I heard directly from victims and their families. Their horrifying stories left me deeply troubled and I shared their anger at how they’d been treated by police and social services. Their pain was made worse by senior officers who told me that children who’d been routinely raped by gangs of men were making “lifestyle choices”.
Other conversations I had with whistleblowers showed what Professor Alexis Jay discovered in Rotherham was commonplace. A group of senior managers held a dominant view that couldn’t be challenged by anyone. In their minds political correctness and cultural sensitivity was more important than shocking criminal behavior. They were more interested in ticking boxes in diversity training than protecting children.
These people have no place working in child protection and I campaigned hard to ensure they weren’t allowed to continue working in Rochdale. Thankfully, the worst offenders have now gone, but many weren’t disciplined and to my enormous frustration were allowed to sneak out the backdoor with payoffs. Some are still working in child protection and I’ve subsequently received complaints from parents whose children have been let down by them in their new place of work.
This is just not good enough, it’s as though a top tier of public sector managers are untouchable. What kind of message does it send out when highly paid officials, whose deliberate neglect caused countless children to be raped and abused for years on end, escape punishment? In some cases not only do they escape disciplinary action but they end up being handsomely rewarded too.
The message it screams is that these children do not matter. The suffering and misery they endured is but a minor inconvenience to them. A bump in the road. The fact that a generation of lost children has been created as a result doesn’t matter to them. As I’ve seen in Rochdale, these kids often end up homeless, on drugs or in crime. Some commit suicide because the pain is too much to bear. But this won’t trouble highly paid public servants while they’re on the golf course in Spain.
And yet it troubles the public a great deal because they can see that in too many instances child protection services are not fit for purpose. The system badly needs fixing. In some cases it almost looks as though public protection agencies are colluding with rapists.
That’s why we desperately need a British ‘mandatory reporting’ law like they have in Australia, Canada and the U.S. This would mean that professionals in large organisations would face prosecution if they did not report child abuse. Attempts to cover up child rape, like we’ve seen in Rochdale, Rotherham and elsewhere, would be an imprisonable offence.
There is now the political will to deliver this. But in the short term we need to see officials in Rotherham who so clearly let down these children do the right thing and step down. Over 1,400 children were victims of this shocking reign of abuse and yet only five men have gone to jail as a result. That means there are still plenty of rapists walking the streets in South Yorkshire.
It’s just not acceptable that every time these scandals explode, in Rochdale, Oxford or Rotherham, no one in a senior position is disciplined. No one faces up to their responsibilities and the worst they experience is a difficult interview where they sheepishly mumble about lessons being learned.
Clearly lessons haven’t been learned. That’s why it keeps happening. And it’ll continue to do so until people start losing their jobs and face up to their failings. Only then will we know that these children truly matter and are given the respect they deserve.
Simon Danczuk is the Member of Parliament for Rochdale