On Tuesday 14th May, after a three and a half month trial, seven men from Oxford were convicted at the Old Bailey for a total of 43 charges relating to at least six victims aged 11-12.
Whilst this is one of the largest child grooming exploitation rings to have been exposed in recent years, it is not the only one. Exploitative gangs exposed in Derby, Rochdale and Oxford, the increasing amount of victims coming forward from the Jimmy Savile scandals, and Stuart Hall’s imprisonment for similar allegations all represent the consequences of society’s failure to acknowledge and tackle these issues sooner.
This devastating and sickening issue affects thousands of victims across many communities and cultures. With growing numbers of allegations of abuse and exploitation rings emerging it is difficult to understand why and how such saddening practices have been allowed to continue damaging lives for so long, without being suspected, reported and tackled. Girls were groomed, trafficked, raped, forced into prostitution and subjected to physical violence, as well as enduring other horrific forms of abuse – a girl of 12, for example, was made to undergo an illegal abortion.
The recent cases of child exploitation and abuse rings in Oxford, Derby and Rochdale have many factors in common, the most notorious of which being that the perpetrators were identified as South Asian. This became a controversial issue as many people were quick to label it a racial, religious or immigration issue. While it is vital to note that some of the perpetrators of these gangs do come from south Asian backgrounds, it is of greater importance to acknowledge and attempt to understand the underlying factors for why this might be the case.
However, labelling it a ‘race issue’ by choosing to overlook or ignore the fact that men from many other communities also practice such evil acts may potentially lead to the cries of help from thousands of victims whose abusers do not fit into this category being overlooked.
The crimes committed, encompassing all forms of abuse, are vile and horrendous acts which cannot and should not be ascribed to any race or religion as they are not inherent behaviour or beliefs in either. They are horrendous acts individuals have chosen to commit which cannot be justified in any way.
It is therefore important to understand and treat these issues with the utmost sensitivity along with being ready to respond and react to warning signs effectively. A worrying occurrence throughout these cases was the lack of support and response to warning signs. Many questions have been raised since the allegations and convictions wondering why links had not been drawn sooner between the numerous factors and variables which could have been used to identify, expose and prosecute these criminals. It emerged that many agencies had each encountered warning signs and suspicious behaviour at some point. In one case a girl had been reported missing by her parents 80 times, in another, a care home had refused to pay the taxi fare for the victim to return to them safely and she was consequently taken back into the hands of her perpetrators where the abuse continued. All of these cases involved worrying circumstances and occurrences, and the fact that nobody thought to draw these together, ask the right questions and follow up resulted in irrevocable damage.
The vulnerability of the young victims who resided in care homes, suggested a profound failure on the part of their care homes, case workers and the social services, which should have been responsible for their well-being and safety.
Authorities in positions of trust and care should live up to and raise their standards of protection and safeguarding individuals placed in their care. These distressing cases stress the importance of inter-agency work and the vital communication needed between guardians, support staff, teachers and police. By working together, they can ensure the safety of these children.
Practical methods to ensure that this behaviour is identified immediately stems from working across all communities and agencies to tackle these issues. Identifying and discussing the issue, and its broader themes, within wider society forms one part of tackling child grooming. Another key component is ensuring social services take a proactive role in upholding the safety of the vulnerable individuals placed in their care. It is not something that should be hidden and ignored but rather confronted, challenged and dealt with.