October 30th 2014
Child sexual exploitation the new “social norm” in some areas
Child sexual exploitation is a ‘real and ongoing problem’ that has become a new social norm in some neighbourhoods of Greater Manchester, the Coffey Report concludes today.
This will not be tackled unless there is a sea change in public attitudes away from a culture of blaming children and young people for bringing about their own sexual exploitation.
“Young people are still too often being blamed for being a victim. We need to get across the key message that whatever young people wear and however sexualised they appear, they are still children and need our protection.
“The age of consent in this country is 16 and adults who prey on children under that age are always wrong. Unless we get a change in public attitudes it will be difficult to protect children,” Ann Coffey MP will say at the launch of her report ‘Real Voices’ – Child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.
Ms Coffey recommends a radical new approach to tackling CSE to be led by young people, which recognises that the police, justice system and children’s services alone cannot succeed in protecting children, especially at a time of deep spending cuts.
“Police, social workers, prosecutors and juries made up of ordinary people, all carry attitudes around with them. This could go some way to explain why in the past six years in Greater Manchester there have only been about 1,000 convictions out of 13,000 reported cases of serious sexual offences against under 16-year–olds,” she says in the report.
She expressed concern that the Crown Prosecution Service highlighted that one victim wore cropped tops and that another had been described as a ‘slag’ by her father in cases that were declared “No Further Action”.
“This may reflect the difficulties of prosecuting these cases in court when prevailing public attitudes often still blame children and young people for their own sexual exploitation,” she will say.
The independent Coffey Report was commissioned by Tony Lloyd, the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, to see what has changed since the Rochdale grooming case in 2012 and what more needs to be done.
Tony Lloyd said: “This is a challenging report, but it’s also one that’s full of hope. It is clear that agencies who are tasked with keeping our young people safe have made huge mistakes in the past. The report makes clear about how far we have come since the terrible events of the Rochdale grooming case, but its recommendations must be implemented if we are serious about righting past wrongs.
“What is striking about this report – which sets it apart from those that have gone before – is that the voices of young people come through loud and clear. For too long their voices were ignored or, worse, dismissed by the system. This report starts to redress that balance.
“This report isn’t one to sit on the shelf. I believe it can be a catalyst for real change that we cannot ignore. We all have a responsibility to act and the time to do that is now.
“I would also like to thank Ann for putting together such a thorough and well-researched report. I believe that its findings are important, not just for Greater Manchester, but for across our land.”
Figures obtained from Greater Manchester Police as part of the inquiry reveal that many children are still being preyed on. There are 260 ongoing police investigations into child sexual exploitation. This includes 174 recorded crimes, of which 18 involve multiple perpetrators.
Ms Coffey prioritised speaking to children and young people and victims during the inquiry and has put their unaltered voices at the front of her report. Some schoolgirls told her that they were regularly approached by older men in the street and urged to get into cars on their way home from school.
One girl yelled: “Leave me alone, can you not see I am a little girl. I am in my uniform.”
The girls felt powerless and that they had to accept these approaches as part of everyday life because it had become normalised.
The young people talked about the pressures they feel under, with the increased sexualisation of children and lack of respect for girls. They also spoke about their fears of speaking to ‘suits’ and ‘uniforms’ in the agencies that are supposed to protect them but which they feel look down on them.
Greater Manchester Police received 2,286 pieces of intelligence relating to child sexual exploitation in the nine months between March 2013 and January 2014 under a new recording system. Ms Coffey said this was evidence of higher level of awareness amongst the public and agencies since the Rochdale case, which should be built upon.
“The whole community needs to be involved and informed about trends and types of CSE in their local area,” she said.
Ms Coffey also called for CSE to be declared a public health priority like alcohol, drugs and obesity.
The full report can be downloaded here: Real Voices Full Report