VICTIMS of sexual exploitation in the UK continue to be let down by professional bodies that fail to recognise vulnerable children and adults at risk, the Children’s Society has said.
The charity was responding to the findings of an independent review, published at the end of February, looking into the grooming of vulnerable adults and children by a sex ring in Newcastle between 2011 and 2014, and the continued prevalence of sexual exploitation in the area. Seventeen men and one woman were convicted last year of sexually assaulting 22 women and girls aged 13-25 after plying the victims with drink and drugs.
The report, written by a retired barrister, David Spicer, who is a trustee and former chairman of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, states that, before early 2014, the police and agencies had failed to respond with “consistent action to investigate, prosecute, or disrupt perpetrators”. After that date, when the Northumbria Police investigation Operation Shelter had been launched, the response of these agents had been “swift, determined, and committed”.
The earlier hesitation had encouraged an “arrogant persistence” by perpetrators, who did not believe that they would be punished, the report says. “It also had a significant impact on victims, who learnt that nothing would be done against perpetrators.”
The report recommends an urgent review of sex-exploitation laws, and guidance on the safeguarding of vulnerable adults in the UK: how, when, and why such exploitation continues to flourish in certain areas
Further research into the “profiles, motivations, and cultural and background influences” of perpetrators is also required, to reduce offending (most of the perpetrators in this case were from a “predominantly Asian or British Minority Ethnic culture or background”). Male victims were likely to be under-represented, it says.
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said on Monday of last week: “Many young victims across the UK are still being let down because the professionals who are supposed to keep them safe fail to recognise that they are vulnerable and at risk, rather than fundamentally troublesome, or capable of consenting to what is happening.”.”
One victim told the review: “No one understood what was happening. I had voices in my head. The perpetrators were continually in my head. I was sectioned and detained.”
The Government must increase investment in support services for victims, including therapy, Mr Reed said. “There can be no let-up in the fight against this horrific crime, and we must all remain one step ahead of would-be perpetrators in tackling exploitation in all its forms.”