Rotherham abuse scandal: “The nature of news is that it skims the surface”

We know the sexual abuse and social care failings in Rotherham are not unique, but what will the public remember, asks Joanna Nicolas

Photo: Rex Features (posed by model)

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.

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14 Responses to Rotherham abuse scandal: “The nature of news is that it skims the surface”

  1. sunny monday September 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    So, if it is about the culture of organisations, and even the profession of social work, what is changing from within to make sure that such catastrophic mistakes do not happen again? What exactly is is that enabled those who had a duty of care to fail to protect so many victims of sexual exploitation? How was it that the woefully inadequate response of individual workers was considered perfectly acceptable and normalised? As far as I am aware, we have yet to hear exatly what went so horribly wrong to enable this to happen, so what have we really learnt?

  2. Ken September 3, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    If you imply that white workers turn a blind eye perhaps this should be addressed in Rotherham the names of workers who were involved should be available given that files are saved for 10 yrs. They should then all be suspended until investigations have been completed as turning a bling eye is derelection of duty. I would include all social workers, team managers, directors and various police officers.

  3. chesters September 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    the article states: ‘in crude terms, what this 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’

    I do not recognise the ‘we’ the author is referrring to.

    Is she arguing that because I am white, by definition I ignore victims of abuse who are not white?? what a crass, objectionable, and racist statement

    • Joanna Nicolas September 4, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

      This is the evidence that comes from serious case reviews. It may be hard to hear but it is a fact. It is not an opinion

      • chesters September 8, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

        your reply is irrelevant to the Rotherham situation

  4. Cynthia Godfrey September 3, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    What is so scandalous that this situation has been allowed to drift for so many years, in the UK, but over here in Australia, Julia Guillard set up a Royal Commission prompted by a very dogged journalist reporting and investigating. Now members of religious organisations at the very top, are being challenged why, knowing, what was going on within their orbit did nothing.
    Instead of yet another Report, maybe the UK government should do the same thing and get this appalling tragedy out into the open. Isolated arrests of well known personalities is not enough, the full light of day needs to be shone on this type of abuse highlighting those especially who had the information and did nothing. The race issue should have no bearing on what is a tragedy for some many children and how they carry the abuse into their adult lives.
    Those decent Social Workers who have been hamstrung by their superiors have a duty of care to speak out. The question of political correctness should not even come into the equation, innocent children have been abused and they have no voice, now is the time for that voice to be heard and the guilty, whoever they are should be severely punished.

    • chesters September 10, 2014 at 7:28 am #

      in the Rochdale case, there were (a very few) brave social workers who did, repeatedly, try to bring the industrial-scale CSE to the attention of their managers, to the Police, and to the elected members of the Council. These courageous individuals were vilified, verbally abused, threatened with their jobs, and ignored. I think it has been the same in Rotherham. ‘Whistleblowers’ are never liked by management, in the public sector, and will be punished for telling the truth.

  5. Ken September 4, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    I agree Cynthia Whats more Political Correctness = Political Hypocracy

  6. Rob September 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Absolute nonsense. It’s not the news media who’ve made this into a race issue – it’s the actions and statements of those involved in the cover up. They have specifically stated that they either chose, or were told, not to investigate theses cases because of the Asian ethnicity of the perpetrators. Even former Labour MPs from Rotherham have come forward and stated that their colleagues had an obsession with multiculturalism and that it was part of the reason they were not willing to pursue the matter. But the person posting the article stupidly claims it’s the other way around – with BME as victims and white people being let off the hook. Drop the anti-white politically correct nonsense and look at the facts of the Rotherham cover up.

    • chesters September 10, 2014 at 7:28 am #

      great comment – agree totally

  7. Anonymous September 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    When the Rotherham case broke in the news last week, my first thought was – this is not ‘new news’. As a social worker and someone who worked for Barnardo’s many years ago campaigning to raise awareness of the nature, and extent of child sexual exploitation – trying to wake the Government up to the very real concerns of the depth and breadth of these crimes being committed against our children and young people – did the Government listen – No. Why, because it would mean spending more money to tackle the situation. Instead it has been allowed to continue right across the Country. This is not just about Rotherham, if we researched every LA, we would most certainly find similar, perhaps something around ‘same difference’, in every LA with those at the top covering up. A senior manager said to me a few months ago when planning to deliver some training to councillors on CSE, when I said I have a very good film, a bit hard hitting but would certainly raise awareness on CSE, he responded and said, aw we don’t want to scare the councillors because they’ll have us spending money on CSE, I said, that’s exactly what I want to do….
    This I believe is the problem, the Government is taking LA’s to the edge of financial breaking-point, it is so very hard I believe, for those who hold the purse strings to make tough decisions on how to spend money that caters for all, in some respects I have empathy for this people who have to make these hard decisions, but on the other hand, does anyone actually have any real insight into the extent of the abuse CSE has on a person. CSE is not just something that happens to a person, then goes away. It has a lifelong impact on that person/child/young person. The physical and emotional impact is felt like no other. It impacts on relationships, ability to trust, self worth, self image, identity, sexual identity, to be healthy, can turn a person to drugs and alcohol and in some case where they cannot cope anymore, they turn to self harm and worse suicide. The impact is enormous and I believe very few become ‘real survivors of CSE’. I was once a victim of sexual abuse and CSE for over ten years of my childhood. It was culturally the norm, upon reflection, with headmasters, and school teachers regularly abusing boys. Those boys going on to exploit young girls within the community and this was ingrained into our community. My brother was my abuser, most likely abused by our headmaster who had spent his entire teaching career abusing boys. The impact was huge; eventually towards his retirement he was exposed and served a 4 years prison sentence for his crimes against boys. But no one looked at the devastating consequences of that person’s actions, the impact on the boys he abused, and where these boys are today. Well I can tell of some, some turned to a life of drugs, alcohol abuse and violence, some are dead, some ran away to find an escape, some went onto become survivors of their abuse. As a victim of sexual abuse and CSE myself, I went onto become a social worker, and fight for justice, my own and others – to help prevent children being abused, to find good quality care for children and young people who can’t live with their families because of issues of abuse and neglect. In summary, no one in authority paid attention when I was a child growing up in a community where CSE was rife, and nothing has changed today – very few in positions of trust and authority actually do anything meaningful to help prevent, tackle and bring about justice for those affected by CSE. 1400 young girls victims of CSE – so who will do an impact study of the devastating consequences this will have on these young girls, today and for the rest of their lives, on their families, their friends, their community, their future children, their ability to hold onto jobs, sustain relationships, trust others, and those in authority, – who will help heal these girls from their unimaginable, unthinkable, experiences of abuse? I wonder?

  8. Geoff Fox. September 5, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    I’m afraid you’re banging your head against a pretty ignorant brick wall, Rob. The anti-white, politically correct raucous caucus are so infected by their own sense of moral superiority that they will turn a dead blind eye to anything that fails to fit in with their worldview and prejudices.

    • chesters September 10, 2014 at 7:32 am #

      yes you are right, Geoff. The circumstances of Rotherham, Rochdale, etc did not fit ‘the narrative’, in fact it was a complete reverse of the politically correct world view which argues that only white people can be motivated by racism (and this article would seem to be written from this point of view)

  9. NCA September 8, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    “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.

    I feel this statement shows a lack of understanding around the importance of sociologically constructs/categories to navigate and understand the world. Of course, as social workers we aim to work anti oppressively and anti discriminatory but people have differences, they belong to groups, groups have behaviours, people have behaviours. Sociologically/ psychosocial constructs have been developed to gain a better understanding of each other. Stripping away sociologically understanding will be a back step and will be exploited. I don’t deny that Joanna Nicolas’ sentiment is not a positive concept but it is a false utopia, no where in the history of time has this been achieved, nor will it be achieved, simply by definition of the complexities of being a human on planet earth and all that comes with that.

    In addition the news has been highly critical of the LA, more so than race, that will be what most people will remember.