The eye-catching statements made by the Prime Minister to the Downing Street summit on preventing child sexual exploitation on 3 March 2015 included:
- Sexual abuse of young girls is occurring on an “industrial scale”
- “Too many organisations and too many people” are “walking on by”.
The analysis is correct. However, the language and the ideas used to talk about what is going on, and therefore the public understanding of it, are relatively new. Although the crimes described in the recent reports about Rotherham and Oxfordshire have been crimes for a century or more, the term “Child Sexual Exploitation” (CSE) arrived on the statute book on 3 March 2015 with the enactment of the Serious Crime Act 2015. As the LGiU briefing (LGiU/CSN subscribers only) Rotherham Council – DCLG intervention – next steps points out:
“It is the failure to understand the nature of CSE that lies behind the failure of public authorities to grasp the issues. It remains poorly understood: Child Sexual Exploitation is child abuse in which perpetrators develop total control over their victims. The ways in which this can occur are complex”.
The difficulties of tackling child sexual exploitation must not be underestimated. What local government needs to understand is that if a local authority thinks it does not have a problem with the sexual exploitation of children, it has not looked for it.
Perhaps one of the unfortunate aspects of the Rotherham and Oxfordshire reports is the impression that only Asian young men are the perpetrators. The Oxfordshire Serious Case Review makes the following ‘national’ recommendation:
“With a significant proportion of those found guilty nationally of group CSE being from a Pakistani and/or Muslim heritage, relevant government departments should research why this is the case, in order to guide prevention strategies.”
Although this recommendation needs unpicking, especially the concept of “group CSE”, it should not be inferred that only men of a Pakistani and/or Muslim heritage are involved in CSE. There is no evidence for this assertion. The Prime Minister in his speech did not link the ethnic heritage or faith of the perpetrators to the abuse. If a local authority uses the fact that there are no communities in its area of Asian extraction or of the Muslim faith to conclude there is no child sexual exploitation, then it is “walking on by”.