My mobile started ringing last Monday morning. All the media outlets were looking for comments and views on the shocking report that was about to be published.
When the Rotherham abuse scandal broke last week there was a frenzy of activity, with the press asking who is to blame, will heads roll and what is the ethnicity of the perpetrators, just as we saw with Rochdale and Oxford.
In my experience, this frenzy usually lasts for about a week and then child sexual exploitation will be forgotten by most people until the next shocking report, because the news agenda moves on. The nature of news is that it skims the surface.
The inquiry began with the words “No one knows the true scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over the years” We know what has happened in Rotherham is not unique but what will the public remember of this?
My guess is that the lasting memory for most people will be something along the lines of “Pakistani men abuse young, white girls because they think they are easy and no one is doing anything about it because the world has gone mad and we are all too politically correct”.
This is what the popular press latches onto. There have been some thoughtful and thought-provoking articles written by many journalists over the last week, about racism, about the culture within organisations, about whether sacking people really makes a difference but the headline news has been about race. It fits in neatly with the immigration debate.
As professionals we know that there is no simple link between race and child sexual exploitation and the majority of sex offenders in this country are white, British. We know that what we need to focus on is the crime itself and how we can work more effectively to protect our vulnerable young people from these terrible crimes.
The trouble is that even as professionals most of what we read about will be race, not practice. We constantly need to remind ourselves that if we are going to help these children who are victims of heinous crimes, not young people making lifestyle choices, we need to focus on the patterns of abuse and not get hung up on the ethnicity of the offender, or of the child.
Children from the Black and Minority Ethnic Community (BME) are under-represented on child protection plans but over-represented when we look at children who have been the subject of a serious case review.
In crude terms, what that tells us is that we turn a blind eye to the abuse of children from the BME community, and when I say “we” I mean white, British workers – the majority of people living and working in this country.
Every child in this country should be entitled to the same level of protection, regardless of race, religion, or any other factor. Every perpetrator should be dealt with in the same way, but there is undoubtedly a fear of what has been described as a cultural minefield, whether with frontline professionals or senior managers.
That leads us to this paralysis and impacts on the protection of children. We see it in serious case reviews and we have seen it in Rotherham.
We need to get to a place where we have stripped away the skin colour, the religion, the ethnicity, the socio-economic group and simply see the child as a child and the perpetrator as a perpetrator. That should be the legacy of Rotherham.