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Rotherham: Council and police cover up abuse
There has been widespread revulsion and outrage at the findings of the report by Professor Alexis Jay into the horrendous abuse of children and young people in Rotherham, published on 26 August. It concludes that organised child sexual exploitation (CSE) is endemic in the South Yorkshire town.
Jay found evidence of at least 1,400 cases of brutal rape, assault and exploitation between 1997 and 2013. Some of the vulnerable young girls attacked were aged just eleven or 12. It is thought that the perpetrators in this instance were mainly men of British-Pakistani origin.
Jay's report highlights the shocking brutality that these vulnerable young girls were subjected to. "They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities ... [Some were] doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone."
Victims finally heard
Her report should be welcomed. These girls are finally being heard, and their stories are being accepted as true. Jay told journalists: "I understand ... how much it means to child victims to have their story told. And to be believed."
A recent separate report by the Police Inspectorate into the South Yorkshire force says that in relation to public protection including rape and sexual assaults they spend "a great deal of time trying to disprove" victims' allegations, failing to record possible crimes and incorrectly categorising many as 'no crime'.
Victims in Rotherham have complained that the police were not interested because they were seen as poor and working class.
Simplified and distorted
Jay's complex findings have been simplified and distorted by media and politicians eager for sensationalist stories and attention-grabbing headlines.
The crude and often lurid treatment of the Jay report focuses exclusively on a narrative of predatory Asian or Muslim men abusing vulnerable white girls, to the near exclusion of anything that doesn't fit the right-wing media picture of non-white men preying on white girls. Such slurs not only demonise all members of the given community, but distract from the real source of the problem and the cries of the victims.
As the recent Children's Commissioner Report into child sexual exploitation made clear, this horrific crime is a national phenomenon, and not in any way specific to one racial group. Jay endorses this, stating "across the UK the greatest numbers of perpetrators of CSE are white men."
There have been many trials of white men in other parts of the country convicted of similar offences which have not been so widely reported. It is also under-reported that a number of the abused girls were from the local Pakistani-heritage community.
Of course newspapers now indignantly champion these abused young girls, the same newspapers which usually demonise working class women and children as 'chavs' or 'benefit street' scroungers.
The story is made more toxic by the 'political correctness gone mad' allegation that police and social services failed to act due to fears of being called racist.
According to Jay's findings the reasons for the criminal inaction on behalf of both police and service managers, if contradictory in places, are more complex. "Concern about the resources CSE could consume; greater priority given to the protection of younger children; professional jealousies, and personal attitudes of some council staff and the Police towards the girls involved have all been cited as reasons for the failure to address the seriousness and scale of the problem."
She also finds that: "The prevailing culture at the most senior level of the council, until 2009 ... was bullying and 'macho', and not an appropriate climate in which to discuss the rape and sexual exploitation of young people."
This has been translated by lazy journalists and reactionary politicians into a simple tale of 'multiculturalism gone wrong'.
What the coverage of this story has singularly failed to do is contextualise the findings. Child sexual abuse and exploitation are widespread within British capitalist society. The undisputed fact is that the majority of abuse occurs within the home, and most perpetrators are relatives of their victims.
As socialists we support the victims and survivors of abuse. We fight for proper funding for all required services - and therapy for survivors.
One of the failings of the Rotherham authorities was to focus exclusively on building relationships with "community leaders". This layer is largely conservative, male and better-off. Such a strategy further undermines the voice and power of women, and working class people, women and young people in particular.
Socialists must insist upon a comprehensive analysis of child sexual exploitation and abuse which recognises they are widespread social problems affecting all communities. The interaction of race, gender and class - and the entrenched power relations of the council, police and alleged perpetrators - is complex.
The cuts in public services resulting from government policies are making it more difficult to protect vulnerable groups (see box below), so we have to link the issues to an alternative to austerity.
As numerous recent revelations have shown, rape, sexual assault and child sexual exploitation are prevalent in capitalist society; they are rooted in oppression and inequality. The cover-ups we have seen in a number of organisations, in this case the police and the council, reflect the way they are structured to represent the interests of the system.
This is why the immediate need to protect children and oppose sexual violence has also to be linked to the struggle for a socialist society free of that oppression and inequality.
Rotherham youth service cuts
- The Integrated Youth Support Service (IYSS) in Rotherham works with other agencies to engage with vulnerable young people.
- As part of the Labour council's £23 million cuts this year, its youth services budget was slashed by nearly £1 million.
- Out of 198 youth service staff, 86 lost their jobs.
- On top of that, ten out of 22 of the town's children centres will close (the council had wanted to shut 13 but three were saved after a Unison campaign) as part of £3 million cuts to Children's and Young Peoples Services.
- Rotherham borough has lost over a third of its budget funding since 2011.
- While the cuts aren't the cause of the sexual exploitation and cover-up in Rotherham, Jay's damning report (see main article) acknowledges their effects.
- She says dramatic funding cuts to Rotherham council have put the authority under extreme pressure at a time when it is faced with high demands to support vulnerable children and families.
- The report says Rotherham is faced with high demands for children's services because of significant levels of poverty.
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