By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor
As Pressure grows on South Yorkshire’s police commissioner Shaun Wright to resign in the wake of a damning report into child abuse in Rotherham, a leading academic claims denial too easily became part of the culture.
Many of the figures – including Wright , who was the Labour councillor in charge of children’s services at Rotherham Council from 2005 to 2010 – during the 16 years of abuse (involving at least 1,400 victims) ignored the warning signs, claims Dr Liz Yardley.
The Deputy Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University says: “There appeared to have been a culture of denial within local organisations, where abuse and exploitation was clearly going on but was not even meaningfully acknowledged, let alone tackled. Denial too easily becomes a part of an organisation’s culture and practices.
“We’ve seen far too many examples of denial in recent years and victims will live with the consequences for a lifetime. It’s easier to deny if we take a selfish attitude and denial can become part of an organisation’s culture and practices.
“The only way to prevent future generations of victims is to open our eyes – as citizens AND professionals – and become much more challenging of our own and other people’s behaviour around vulnerable young people. Only when we accept collective responsibility for the wellbeing of vulnerable young people will we stop denying and begin tackling abuse and exploitation.”
The inquiry found at least 1,400 children in the town were sexually exploited by mainly Pakistani heritage criminal gangs between 1997 and 2013.
Key findings of the report were:
- Children as young as 11 were raped by multiple attackers, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.
- The “collective failures” of political, police and social care leadership were “blatant” over the first 12 years covered by the inquiry.
- Police were said to have given child sex exploitation no priority, regarding many child victims “with contempt” and failing to act on their abuse as a crime.
- The majority of those behind the abuse were described as Asian, while the majority of the reported victims were young white girls. The inquiry team noted fears among council staff of being labelled “racist” if they focused on victims’ descriptions of the majority of abusers as “Asian” men.
The apparent ignorance to the plight of these vulnerable people can take three defined stages, according to Dr Yardley. These are:
- Literal – simply refusing to believe that such a thing could happen
- Interpretive – seeing evidence of abuse and exploitation but interpreting it in such a way as to justify not acting on it
- Implicatory – being fully aware of abuse and exploitation but taking an indifferent stance or playing down the consequences e.g. ‘It’s ok, they’ll get over it’ type of approach.
Senior politicians from all parties have called on Mr Wright to step down, and calls for further heads to roll can be heard from all sections of society.
The time for denials appear to be over.