Yet here she is, displaying her detailed knowledge and understanding of the Child exploitation scandal?
Did she not win a libel case, on the grounds she did not know, until August 2014?
If readers have an explanation for this discrepancy, we would love to hear it?
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children. We cannot afford to have voluntary sector organisations become so frightened about what they can and cannot do and so unsure about how to raise suspicions that they pack it all in. A little bit of knowledge can made a difference to the life of a child. Rather than merely saying that each organisation should have a child protection officer in place, we should be making available the training to ensure that all those who work with children know the signs and the next steps to take.
I see my constituents who lovingly give up their time to work with children, and that little bit of attention can make all the difference to a shy child. It can help with their education and make them feel loved. We should ensure that the voluntary sector has all the help and support it needs to help and support children. This House shines better when we agree on issues. Today we all agree on this, and we will agree on a strategy. I urge everyone to put their shoulders to the plough and see that we get the work done for the safety and protection of child and adult alike.
Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): I start by echoing everything my colleagues on both sides of the House have said and hope that the Government will listen to our recommendations, because there is so much agreement on the themes that have been discussed and the changes that need to be made.
I am hugely proud to be the MP for Rotherham. The town has an esteemed industrial history, a strong sense of community and many reasons to proclaim its civic pride. We have a multitude of success stories in manufacturing and small business, as well as three leading further education colleges. However, for some time a shadow has been cast across the town in the form of persistent allegations of failures by key institutions to protect our children. The allegations have been coupled with prosecutions for child sexual exploitation in the town.
The term “child sexual exploitation” is used to cover a broad range of illegal activity, from seemingly consensual relationships or informal exchanges of sex for attention, gifts or cigarettes through to very serious organised crime. Young people can be subject to physical and sexual violence and can be put at risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Their families can suffer threats, violence and significant psychological distress, disruption and even fragmentation.
Peer-on-peer child sexual exploitation happens too and can take various forms. For example, young people are sometimes used to “recruit” others by inviting them to parties where they will then be introduced to adults or forced to perform sexual acts on adults. Technology can also play a significant role, with young people being cajoled into using mobile technology as a way of distributing images of abuse.
It is vital to understand that both perpetrators and victims can come from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Child sexual exploitation is not a crime restricted to British Pakistani males or white British girls, despite the media coverage of high-profile cases. Indeed, recent findings have highlighted the fact that girls of Asian origin are frequently the subjects of this heinous crime themselves.
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There is also a perception that child sexual exploitation only affects children in care. Looked-after children do account for a disproportionate number of the victims of sexual exploitation and can be particularly vulnerable. An estimated 20% to 25% of victims are looked-after children, with only 1% of the child population being in care. However, the majority of children who are exploited are still living at home when it happens.
Another false perception is that it only affects young women. In truth, boys and young men are also targeted. The full extent is not known as boys, in particular, are highly reluctant to come forward. Nevertheless, one in 10 of the young people receiving support from Barnardo’s for this crime are boys, and in some services the proportion is significantly higher.
It is also important to acknowledge that women can be perpetrators of this crime. For example, in a case currently being tried in Sheffield the alleged gang leader is a woman. Although such examples are rare, it is more common that female involvement is in facilitating the abuse. The inquiry led by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner found that when women and girls were identified as perpetrators, their role was primarily, although not exclusively, to procure victims. The sad and hidden truth behind such activity is that there is often a cycle of abuse at work, with many of those women and girls having been sexually exploited themselves.
There are no reliable figures for the total number of children experiencing sexual exploitation. The collection of data is a huge issue and there is no standardised system for data collection, something on which the Home Affairs Committee has made several recommendations. However, child sexual exploitation is being unearthed wherever it is being investigated. Further work by the Government is required to determine the full extent of the problem. In addition, the importance of all agencies sharing information in the interests of child safeguarding must be addressed. Currently, children are vulnerable because information is not always shared between them. We must move away from the excuse of confidentiality when it comes to protecting children. A child’s safety must be the priority.
Much has been written in the press about how Rotherham is not doing enough to protect its young people from this horrendous crime. I can assure the House that since being elected I have worked closely with South Yorkshire police and Rotherham metropolitan borough council to find out whether our young people are getting the protection they deserve. It is totally inaccurate to say that Rotherham is doing nothing to prevent this crime and prosecute abusers. Although more can always be done, and by the council’s own admission it has not handled historical cases well, I now believe that there is a commitment and drive by the services in Rotherham to protect every child, and I welcome the fact that the council has commissioned an independent inquiry.
Lisa Nandy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way despite the short time available. I just want to reflect on the fact that sometimes it is the areas that have experienced these horrific crimes that are getting to grips with the problem and becoming leaders in dealing with it. Perhaps a lesson for the House and for Ministers is that we need to look closely at those areas
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where such awful cases have not come to light and ensure that they are doing the same things that my hon. Friend talks about in relation to her constituency.
Sarah Champion: I appreciate my hon. Friend making that case. As I have mentioned, wherever we look we find such crimes, but a lot of people are not looking, and that is my worry.
It is important that services are open to external scrutiny and are accountable to the people they serve. From my research, it seems clear that the only way to tackle child sexual exploitation is by services working collaboratively. The key focus must be on preventing, protecting and pursuing: preventing young people from becoming a victim; protecting those who show signs of being at risk of becoming a victim; and pursuing those who commit such horrific crimes. Realistically, local authorities, the police, the voluntary sector and health and education services all need to share their experience, data and resources if they are effectively to tackle and prevent this crime.
Rotherham works collaboratively. Its child sexual exploitation service includes specialist child abuse police officers, social workers, specialist health workers, parents, youth workers and voluntary sector representatives. Its aim is to reduce sexual exploitation through deterrence and prosecution, and it significantly enhances the effectiveness of all agencies through joint information sharing, planning of assessments and investigations. I am pleased that Rotherham has adopted that working method but extremely concerned that it is not a requirement across the country. The current situation means that whether a local area has a good support team is genuinely a postcode lottery. That is not good enough, because it means that children are being put at risk unnecessarily. I urge the Government to make multi-agency safeguarding hubs a requirement in every area.
I have spoken about data collection, collaborative working and statutory requirements, but what this debate is really about is children and young people being abused. The effect of sexual exploitation on a child or young person can be long term and highly damaging. It can lead to difficulties in making and sustaining relationships with others, feelings of worthlessness and shame, loss of confidence and low self-esteem. It is essential that we always remember the victims of these crimes and do all that we can to support them. These are young people whose childhood has been stolen from them, and their future, if handled incorrectly, could be damaged too.
We need to ensure that the process of addressing the crime does not become another form of abuse. I was horrified to find out that a Rotherham victim had been on the stand for seven weeks during the court process. That is unimaginable to me, and it should never be allowed to happen. The victims should automatically be given counselling and as much support as they require. Indeed, I would extend that to ensure that the whole family received support, as the damage caused by this crime can spread widely.
On a personal level, I am interested in determining whether existing legislation is appropriate for tackling the crime, and I will be working with Barnardo’s on this topic in the coming months. I am also supporting the campaign led by Paula Barrow and assisted by the @Mandatenow coalition calling for a “Daniel’s law”, which would make it mandatory for professionals working
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with children to report signs of possible abuse. As my colleagues have mentioned, four-year-old Daniel Pelka was starved and beaten over a period of months before his death. Staff, teaching assistants and others at his school observed his desperate attempts to forage for food, his severe weight loss and the numerous bruises and injuries he suffered. There is currently no legal requirement for anyone working with children in the UK to report suspected or known abuse either to the appropriate local authority officer or to the police. Without such a law in place to support staff and protect children, effective safeguarding will never be achieved. However, this is not only the responsibility of professionals. Local communities play an essential part in identifying not only those at risk but those who have the potential to commit these crimes. We all have a duty of care to be diligent and to report suspicious behaviour to the police. Unless we do so, this vile crime will continue unchecked.