How to stop CSE grooming gangs in Rotherham – Sarah Champion
I HAVE spent eight years trying to get justice for survivors of child sexual exploitation and to prevent grooming gangs.
I have been vilified, smeared and threatened, by the far right and the far left, who use this crime for their own political agenda.
The only impact it has had on me is that I get a taste of the intimidation that survivors have to endure.
So their threats just make me more determined to make sure we permanently get rid of any form of child sexual exploitation.
But their actions embolden the abusers.
They make it more difficult for those in child protection to do their jobs, and they deter victims from coming forward.
I fail to understand why this topic is so emotive, when there is a clear picture of gangs with a similar profile being involved in sexual abuse and exploitation.
This should be investigated without fear or favour, as any other gang-related crime would be. We live in a democracy, and the law should be able to be applied in an even-handed way.
We are very fortunate in Rotherham, because the National Crime Agency’s Operation Stovewood is looking at cases of CSE by grooming gangs between 1997 and 2013, a 16-year period.
It has already identified 1,569 survivors and 261 designated suspects.
To date we have had 20 convictions in court, and four awaiting trial.
That is in 16 years. I know survivors who are 70 years old.
Think about the scale and length of time of this abuse.
Now some specific suggestions to prevent CSE by grooming gangs and to secure convictions.
Each potential victim should have a named person they are comfortable with, and that person should be shared across all stakeholders.
The treatment of witnesses and survivors must be constantly reviewed to make sure they are able to give evidence in a safe format and receive the support they deserve.
Mandatory relationship education for all primary school children should have been in place in September 2020, but we have still not been given an implementation date.
The law desperately needs updating on positions of trust and online harms.
There should be stricter sentencing. The use of pre-charge bail, particularly where there is a flight risk, must be swiftly cut back.
Serious consideration needs to be given to offender release.
Sexual predators do not change their patterns of behaviour, and they return to the same communities where they carried out the abuse.
Prevention must be our focus, which means health professionals should be trained to spot and support potential perpetrators.
Trading standards officers should be able to investigate premises where they believe grooming gangs operate. A multi-agency approach is key, but it has to be full and equal across all partners and that should include government departments.
I am glad the Government is looking to make funding for support services more stable. To succeed, it has to be long-term funding.
Unregulated care homes must be banned for all children under the age of 18.
We need to promote closer interaction between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
We need to use disruption tactics as much as possible which avoid victims having to give evidence.
Our adversarial court proceedings further brutalise victims and survivors, and this is unacceptable. We have to change it.
We need to establish a national set of triggers that allow local authorities to provide support for children showing signs of harm, rather than the current postcode lottery.
We need to make sure that every toolkit dealing with CSE understands that children have a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as currently there is an assumption that victims of CSE are non-disabled white girls, and that is not true.
We need to require every local authority to take urgent steps to improve the accessibility of CSE services.
Fundamentally, the Government need to work in a cross-departmental way to end this crime once and for all.
Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham. She spoke in a Commons debate on grooming gangs – this is an edited version.
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