Mandatory education for young people around child sexual exploitation could be key to tackling abuse, experts have said, calling for greater efforts in the sharing of information.
Nazir Afzal OBE, former chief crown prosecutor of the CPS for the North West, said all partners nationwide, no matter their remit or geography, have a responsibility to tackle exploitation head-on.
“The important thing is that we have to stand up - we’ve got to speak up,” he said. “It takes great courage but only when we do so can these behaviours be stopped.
“What will save us is listening, and sharing information. But we operate as silos. If we don’t share, we are putting people at tremendous risk of harm. We have to be relentless about this.”
Mr Afzal, commenting on the national debate at a CSE conference hosted by Makin Dixon Solicitors in Bradford yesterday, spoke in depth about his experiences in bringing the now infamous Rochdale gang to justice. The issues he saw here, he said, were echoed across the country.
“Nobody here can tell me that children in Yorkshire are safe - that tells me that we must carry on with rigour,” he said. “We need to tackle this with ambition. We should be working to eliminate every case of child abuse. The answer to prevention is in education. I believe very much in mandatory education on this subject. And we’ve got to start early - 12 is too late. Wrapping children in cotton wool won’t protect them.”
Mr Afzal’s concerns were echoed by agencies and individuals who spoke at the conference, including Rotherham abuse survivor Sammy Woodhouse and Lindsay Dalton, of Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE) who spoke of a persistent culture of “victim blaming”.
And campaigning parents, who have long fought for an investigation into handling of cases in the Bradford district dating back decades, used the event to repeat calls for a full inquiry, questioning a rise in recently released figures for the area.
The CSE hub has seen a spike in the number of referrals for suspected cases, council documents show, from 713 in the year to April 2016 to 1,153 in 2017, a rise of 62 per cent.
Authorities say they believe this is down to increased awareness and confidence in coming forward, and have stressed the efforts made in recent years to tackle CSE. But one mother, taking the floor at the event, said: “Thousands of parents will have gone through what we have.
“I’m asking for an Alexis Jay-style enquiry into what happened in Bradford and Keighley. There are thousands of children, like mine, that were let down in the same way.”
Bradford Council, when approached by The Yorkshire Post after the conference, said it had met with campaigners and offered meetings with police and children’s services professionals, as well as referring itself to the Alexis Jay Inquiry.
“Our view regarding the need for a public inquiry in Bradford is that our resources are better spent on tackling CSE so we can protect young people and bring perpetrators to justice,” said Coun Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council. “We and the police spend an increasing amount every year on tackling this terrible crime.”
Michael Jameson, strategic director of children’s services, added: “We have been very open and clear in reporting our progress on CSE and how we are working as a partnership. Protecting our children and young people is top priority.”
See tomorrow’s edition of The Yorkshire Post for more on this report.