Rotherham street exploitation and the lack of community vigilance

By David Greenwood, Director & Solicitor, Child Abuse Compensation

Since Professor Alexis Jay reported on the extent of child sexual exploitation by Asian gangs in Rotherham, thankfully there have been several positive landmarks to note.

  • Louise Casey’s team reported on the dysfunctional state of the council and replaced its governance with commissioners.
  • The National Crime Agency (Operation Stovewood) has set up a base in the area and has begun an in depth investigation into not only the offences against girls in Rotherham between 1997 and 2012 but are investigating corrupt activities by police officers.
  • The IPCC have invested significant resources in their investigation of failings of South Yorkshire Police (Rotherham sub-division) and it is hoped that disciplinary and criminal charges will emerge.
  • South Yorkshire Police Operation Clover team has successfully investigated, and with the help of the CPS, prosecuted two main rings of offenders.
  • We are told that social workers in Rotherham have been trained on recognising and dealing with the signs of street exploitation.

Despite all of these positive initiatives, exploitation is still taking place in Rotherham. Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Dewsbury have also been reported to me by clients as being centres of exploitation. I have been contacted by parents in Rotherham who complain that neither the council nor the police are doing enough to protect their daughters from gangs that are operating today in Rotherham. Street exploitation has been pinpointed as a current phenomenon and Rotherham has been shocking to us all, but Asian gangs only account for a tiny minority of child sexual abuse overall.

Of course, we all have a responsibility to protect our children, children of our families, our friends’, neighbours’ and communities’ children. Where we are suspicious of activity we should report it and keep reporting until action is taken.

I preface what I say here by making clear that the majority of sexual abuse of children takes place within families and by people within the family or known to the victim. Whilst most street exploitation of young girls, at least in the North of England, is perpetrated by gangs of young Asian men, huge numbers of white children have been groomed and sexually abused by “respectable” Clergy.

All communities have a responsibility to control their men. What I have learned in my years of dealing with gangs of sex criminals is that they operate within a network of extended family or professional ties, and have knowledge of each other’s position within their community. This applies to white internet-paedophile rings, Catholic gangs, Anglican gangs and young Asian gangs. Each of these communities have families, colleagues, neighbours and friends who have failed to report suspicious activity. None of these communities, Catholic, Asian, Anglican, or internet can exempt themselves from responsibility for reporting to the police and social services.

This lack of action by communities which effectively harbour criminals deserves more attention from academics. Why is it that communities fail to intervene? What can we do to encourage more reporting? I am hopeful that IICSA (the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) will analyse these issues and come up with radical ways to protect future generations of children.

In my view, a good start would be a Parliamentary Bill which required statutory organisations to interpret existing law in a way that provides children with the maximum protection against sexual activity.

David Greenwood is the head of the Child Abuse Compensation team at Switalskis Solicitors and an Executive Member of ACAL. To contact David, click here.