Child sexual exploitation (CSE) has become a ‘social norm’ in parts of Greater Manchester and tackling it will require a “sea change” in public and professional attitudes, a report by Stockport MP Ann Coffey has warned.
In her Real Voices report, ordered by Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner following the Rochdale CSE scandal, Coffey warns that young girls face “a worrying amount of unwanted attention and touching from men in the street” and feel under pressure from social media to do things they are uncomfortable with.
“Sexting, selfies, Instagram and the like have given rise to new social norms in changed expectations of sexual entitlement, and with it a confused understanding of what constitutes consent,” the Labour MP concluded.
Young girls interviewed for the report told of getting “approached all the time” when in school uniform and men who “do not care how old you are”.
They also told Coffey that they saw little point in reporting incidents to the police. “You do not report it because who is going to do anything? It happens so much I do not see the point,” said one girl.
Another told of how she was exploited by a 19-year-old when she was 12: “I lost my virginity to him and when my foster parent found out she said, ‘Why are you being a slag?’”
One youth worker interview quoted in the report said: “I find it scary and it is becoming more and more common. You can see in the girls’ eyes that they are scared and are being controlled.”
The report said Greater Manchester Police recorded 12,879 sexual offences against under 16s between 2008 and 2013 but these led to proceedings against only 2,341 defendants and 1,078 convictions. One in 10 of CSE crimes currently under investigation in Greater Manchester involved multiple perpetrators.
The report concluded that the work of social workers, police and other professionals alone will not be enough to tackle the problem and called for the whole community, including young people, to be engaged in the effort to protect children from abusers.
However Coffey said local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) and schools are avoiding the issue for fear of bad publicity.
“There has been a reluctance to talk about child sexual exploitation by LSCBs and schools because they do not want to been seen to have a ‘Rochdale’ problem,” she said.
“The result is that the public is ill-informed about CSE and is therefore not able to play a full role in protecting children. I was disappointed that only 6 out of 10 LSCBs responded to my question about the incidence and trends of CSE in their area.”
The report also said that some independent children’s homes are flouting government guidance by failing to alert councils when children move in from other areas. It said that there should be spot checks on homes to ensure that they are following the guidance in addition to Ofsted inspections.
Other recommendations included:
- Care provision for 16 and 17 year olds to be registered and inspected by Ofsted
- The appointment of a ‘CSE Champion’ to develop joint working across local authorities, police divisions and clinical commissioning groups in Greater Manchester
- Scrapping laws that mean children can face criminal charges for loitering or soliciting for prostitution