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31.10.14

Child sexual exploitation a ‘social norm’ in parts of Greater Manchester

Child sexual exploitation has become the social norm in parts of Greater Manchester, according to an inquiry report ordered in the wake of the Rochdale grooming scandal.

Inquiry chairwoman Ann Coffey MP said systematic grooming of boys and girls remains a “real and ongoing problem”, a year after Greater Manchester Police was forced to admit it had failed abuse victims in Rochdale.

“My observations will make painful reading for those who hoped that Rochdale was an isolated case,” she wrote in the report.

She added the "prevailing public attitude" blamed children, with police, social workers, prosecutors and juries often inherently prejudiced against vulnerable teenagers. This has led to only 1,000 convictions from 13,000 child sexual exploitation cases over six years.

The independent inquiry, whose findings home secretary Theresa May has described as "alarming", was commissioned in response to the Rochdale child sex abuse scandal which involved the grooming of young girls with alcohol, drugs and gifts. Nine Asian men were jailed for forcing girls to have sex with them.

The report includes a number of case studies as examples of the problems in the area. In one a girl, known as F, was born addicted to heroin and was fostered aged eight. At 12 years old, she started smoking, drinking and taking drugs. She was getting bullied in school and so started to run away frequently, which was when she met an older man. “I lost my virginity to him, and when my foster parent found out, she said ‘Why are you being a slag?’ I was 12 and he was 19. Looking back on things, it should have been the 19-year-old’s behaviour that was being looked at and questioned, not the 12-year-old’s.”

Another young girl with a troubled background started going missing. She was introduced by a friend to a 44-year-old man who had a makeshift tuck shop in the back of his car and would hang around giving children cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. He sexually assaulted her and she eventually reported him, but the police and social workers were not helpful at first. Her father said he had to fight “tooth and nail” to get the police to take her complaints seriously and believes they only proceeded because his daughter had kept evidence of more than 100 texts sent by the offender.

The report also suggests there is a significant underestimation of child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester with Greater Manchester Police figures showing that only 111 cases out of 1,691 were flagged on the police computer as child exploitation.

During the inquiry Coffey spoke to young people in the area to hear their opinions and experiences. Many of the girls, some prepubescent, told her that being harassed by men was simply a part of everyday life, with the abuse happening both in real life and online.

“Big men will stop little girls in the road and the street. In person, it’s real. But you can block it online,” said one girl.

They also complain that men try to touch them and entice them into cars but on one of the rare occasions it was a reported a police officer said to a girl: “Do not be causing trouble.”

One girl told Coffey: “The police have a stereotype of what we are, and we know that, so we do not go to them for help. We think: what’s the point? Young people do not call the police because we know how they look down at us. We have to just focus on getting away from the guys.”

According to the report the Crown Prosecution Service have also displayed prejudice against the children. Coffey was shocked to find they threw out a child sexual exploitation case on the basis that a victim wore cropped tops. Another never went to trial after the girl’s father told a social worker his daughter was a “slag” and only had herself to blame. Initially prosecutors didn’t want to take the 2012 Rochdale grooming case to court because of concerns about the credibility of the witnesses.

Theresa May said: “This is yet another disturbing report which highlights unacceptable failings by authorities at a local level to ensure the protection of children.

“The report’s findings about the scale of child sexual exploitation and attitudes towards it are particularly alarming.”

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk was critical of the report, saying it was “dangerous”.

He told the Rochdale Observer : “Where I think the report is dangerous is that it seems to be moving the blame away from the perpetrators and failing of the police to act, more towards the public and the public’s attitude towards these sorts of crimes – which I find strange and unhelpful.”

He went on: “The reason there hasn’t been prosecutions is not because of the jurors, it’s because police failed to build a case against the perpetrators.”

Sir Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said tackling the sexual exploitation of children was an “absolute priority” and the force was making “giant strides every day” in its fight against it.

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