I have published this as a separate News Blog because I don't think it has a place amongst the usual banter of an RAE News Blog.
On Wednesday I went to a Conference in Rotherham about Child Sexual Exploitation. Not the nicest or fun subject. The Conference was organised before Jay reported to Rotherham Council back in August. It was suggested that Agencies were well aware of the problems facing many young people in South Yorkshire, and the Conference was a response to that and not Jay.
Jay has thrown the issue of CSE into focus in Rotherham so it was only natural to draw on the issues being debated across South Yorkshire.
The event was probably one of the most harrowing I’ve ever attended, topping even Rotherham CEO Martin Kimber’s bleak fortune telling as to the future of local delivery of services by Local Councils.
I was disappointed not to see many of the Voluntary organisations working with young people in the Arts unrepresented at the event, especially as the Arts and Communities lobby have played a leading role in facing up to the Right Wing backlash that has put so much pressure on the Town’s economy.
Before I go on let me say that I do get The Love Comes First movement in Rotherham and the need to celebrate the diverse cultures of the Town however I look at the active members and the artists involved, some for whom I have nothing but the highest respect, and wonder if we are not falling through the trap door of “tokenism”. The ethnic mix certainly does not represent the multicultural nature of the Town. Some of the victims have already said they have no wish to be used as political footballs and I think that has to apply to the side of the angels as it does to the evil EDL / Britain First / and BNP. Do 1400 coloured balloons really go anywhere near to demonstrate what we as the Community of Rotherham are doing to put matters right.
The Conference drove home the fact that “Grooming” can happen to anyone, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian, Atheist or Believer. No child is immune from the risk. I think a lot of us are guilty of making huge assumptions and in our feeble attempt to rationalise the unthinkable draw our own pictures of what CSE is about.
To illustrate this a Lady from one of the Muslim organisations for Muslim women told of the horrific number of young women coming to her for advise and help and the same applies across most of the Agencies in Rotherham.
We hear about politicians resigning, Police Commissioners chased out of Office, Council Officials given the order of the Golden Handshake, etc and nod our heads in agreement, yet none of us take our share of the responsibility, or see the role we played in ignoring the CSE.
We also run the risk of assuming that now that Jay has reported all is well in the garden, it isn’t – The Police and other statuary Agencies are still struggling to come to terms with a culture that truly protects the children of our Town from the Groomers and child sex exploiters. It has also to be said that they also have the problem of regaining the confidence of the young people and their families.
We all have a responsibility to protect the young people of the Borough and we all need to be alive to the indicators of CSE. I think that is why I’m disappointed about who was not at the Conference, without the essential information and training that was passed on how can we protect our young volunteers or those young people involved in our Events and productions.
I dare anyone to sit through the talk that was given by a young woman named as Emma at the Conference and not be outraged. She did not come from an economically challenged family, indeed broadly speaking one might say she had been Middle Class, a successful student and lively young 12 year old when she was groomed.
And she was frank about her motives. She found the experience exciting, she quickly fell into the trap of being sucked in by expensive gifts and the attention of older boyfriends who would take her for drives etc..
It took a year before the sexual exploitation began and when it did she rationalised it. I think delegates were shocked by what and where the sex acts took place, and the time of night / morning they occurred.
Perhaps delegates were shocked by the fact that at the time she did not want to be rescued.
Emma survived, thanks to her Parents who had the money to find the right help and send her abroad for over a year to take her out of the culture she had become a part of and accepted so readily.
As Emma said, she was a child, and even though she wanted and was excited by being treated as an adult, she was still a fourteen year old girl and yet Police and Agencies failed to protect her!
For me the most heart breaking line, yet made me so angry was the last Report she got from her Headmaster on being removed from School at the age of fourteen – and keep that in your mind as you read what comes next, the girl was only fourteen. “This girl is a trouble maker and a child prostitute”. Try to remember those words when going home after a late event and see a young girl / boy walking around Town, or during the daytime when we know they should be in School – and take on the responsibility of making sure that the relevant authorities are informed. You ARE NOT INTERFEREING it’s better that you be told that the child was simply going to the dentist or walking home from a party at a friend’s house than allow them to fall further into the clutches of the criminals who may be using them.
As a society we have to take ownership of our responsibility to our young people, and that means YOU – ME and everyone we know. Do not, do not, leave it all to the Agencies and Police.
The day certainly had an impact on me, as you might be able to tell, it informed my ignorance and preconceived ideas as well as bringing into sharp focus many of the thoughts I had been having yet up to now unable to put a heavy finger on. Jay has probably not helped by putting what is a calculated figure out into the public domain, there could be more victims, and almost certainly any figure is currently being added to, so let us not forget what the 1400 represents and we as citizens of Rotherham have a lot to do to make our Town safe for young people.
If you get the chance to attend a training course please take the time and trouble to go along and find out the facts and indicators for yourself.
That brings me to the end of my tirade or rant. I might revisit the issues as more Reports are published in the weeks ahead. You have been warned!