‘Child-sex abuse victims in Rotherham still not getting enough support’

VICTIMS OF child sexual exploitation are still not getting the help they need to cope with their trauma because of a lack of resources to provide counselling and therapy, according to the former senior social worker whose report exposed the true scale of the Rotherham abuse scandal.

Professor Alexis Jay: Many victims self harm or suffer mental health problems

Professor Alexis Jay says many of the children abused as teenagers in the South Yorkshire district between 1997 and 2013 have been known to self-harm or suffer mental health problems after being discarded by their attackers.

But she says therapeutic services needed to help victims with their mental scars are not widely enough available and those that are offered are too difficult to access.

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Charity Victim Support has called for abuse victims to be given help straight away, but says some are being wrongly told that having therapy could affect the testimony they give to police.

And a children’s mental health charity says a lack of funding has left local services in crisis and means “only the children with the most severe illness receive care”.

NHS officials in the district say they have recently given extra training to GP practices to spot the signs of child sex abuse and have increased capacity for “talking therapy services” for victims.

Professor Jay’s report, published in August, gave 1,400 as a conservative estimate of the number of victims in Rotherham over 16 years.

She told The Yorkshire Post that some of the victims’ ordeals started when they are as young as 11, and that they are likely to be discarded by the age of 15 or 16.

She added: “Many are filled with guilt and self-loathing and some self-harm or even attempt suicide. Others may be addicted to drink or drugs, as a result of how they were groomed into exploitation and abuse.

“There are simply not enough resources across the country to give these young victims the type of support and therapeutic help which many if them will need. A further issue is that some will need this kind of support for long periods, either continuously or from time to time. This is not just a problem in Rotherham but across the country.

“Whilst there are some very good projects led by both the council and the NHS the services are not customised and haven’t made themselves accessible enough to the young victims.

“We heard of occasions where parents paid for private consultations for their daughters as it was a six month waiting list or a year.”

Professor Jay’s report concluded in August that children as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities in England, beaten and intimidated. It said there had been “blatant” collective failures by council and police leaders.

During her research, she spoke to Rotherham’s Director of Public Health, who said awareness of sexual exploitation in the health service only came at the end of the 2000s but that there had been marked improvements recently.

Her report added: “Both the Director of Public Health and two NHS Rotherham staff thought that local agencies should provide more consistent and longer term counselling and other supports to victims of sexual exploitation.”

One victim, 29, known as ‘Jessica’, who was raped and abused for two years, this year launched an online petition to try to increase pressure on the Government to release funding to help child sexual exploitation victims.

Since only recently started receiving therapy through the Rotherham Women’s Counselling Service, but says dozens of local abuse victims are still waiting to be seen.

She said: “It is early days but the woman I speak to is really good and I feel really comfortable talking to her. I was on a few waiting lists. One I spoke to said they had appointments available and would send a letter through in the post but I never received it.”

Sarah Brennan of charity YoungMinds, said mental health services for children and young people have been “chronically underfunded” for decades.

She said: “Whilst the Government has prioritised children and young people’s mental health, spending in local areas, where lives are directly affected, does not reflect this - so now we are seeing services in crisis.

“Every day we hear from parents...desperate for help for their child. They either cannot access services or they are stuck for months on a waiting list. Clinicians tell us that their services are at breaking point.”

Christine Empson, South Yorkshire manager of the charity Victim Support, said: “Anyone who is a victim of abuse in childhood should, as a matter of routine, be offered appropriate therapy as soon as they come forward. Yet we still hear some victims are told this could affect their testimony, which is not true. Abuse victims have the right to get help straight away, not least as it could be as long as two years before the court case is over and because some cases never go to trial.”

A spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, which represents the UK’s psychologists, said: “Difficulties in accessing psychological therapies don’t just impact on victims of child sexual exploitation, and psychological therapies are not the only element of support that would be needed by victims.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said it funded Female Rape Support Centres with more than £4m a year and had just announced that a further £2.15m will be given to all 84 existing centres.

Sue Cassin, Chief Nurse of NHS Rotherham clinical commissioning group, said: “Early in 2014, [we] recognised a need to enhance health support services for victims and have invested in improving access throughout the year.

“In addition, since the Alexis Jay report was published our focus has been on increasing awareness of CSE, identifying potential victims of abuse and ensuring the appropriate support services they need are available when they need them.

“People’s first contact with health in Rotherham is normally their local GP, therefore we have made it a priority to train over 650 GP practice staff in recognising signs of sexual exploitation.

“We have also increased the capacity of our talking therapy services for children and adults, concentrating on supporting new and existing CSE victims.”