Rotherham: Shouting into the void
- 01 Sep 2014 12:00
- Written by Michèle Bartlett
Why was no one listening? The report released this week into the widespread abuse and sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham makes for shocking reading.
What is so astonishing is not simply the number of children involved, nor the timescale over which the abuse continued, but the apparent willingness of so many of those in authority to just “turn a blind eye”.
Children as young as 11 were reporting sexual exploitation, yet this was dismissed as “consensual sex” – the age of consent is 16 for a reason.
The hackneyed refrain is that “lessons must be learned”, yet this is one of a number of local authorities where sexual exploitation of young people has been exposed – remember Rochdale, Oxford?
It seems that very far from any lessons being learned, the response is at best inertia, at worst censure towards the victims. In Rochdale, vulnerable girls who tried to report abuse were described by council workers as “making a lifestyle choice”. That was in 2012.
In November 2013, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, released a report on sexual exploitation in gangs and groups entitled “If only someone had listened”. In the foreward to that report, Sue Berelowitz states “Never again should a traumatised child have to say: ‘If only someone had listened to me perhaps I would have been OK’.” And yet here we are again – another child abuse scandal involving abuse by a group of men who acted with apparent impunity, while professionals failed to act according the most basic of safeguarding protocols.
A quick trawl of social media and the news channels reveals a general outpouring of disbelief that this could be allowed to happen on such a scale, and frustration that this keeps happening and no one is held accountable.
My question is, what makes it so hard for those charged with child protection – for example, the Police and Social Care – to listen and believe when children and young people are crying out for help?