In 2012, Jayne Senior left a position in CSE (the child sexual exploitation unit) in Rotherham’s Children’s Social Care sector, U.K, to work elsewhere. In her book, she outlines how she didn’t leave by choice, but due to harassment at work, her health began to suffer and the position became untenable. After a lifetime of battling abusers and ‘banging on doors’ to make something happen about ‘industrial scale abuse’ in the town, it was finally time to give up and go. A few years later, Jayne would become the whistle-blower to reveal the widespread child sexual abuse expressly ignored by police and social services.
In the 1990s, while working with ‘Risky Business’, a Rotherham project for vulnerable girls, she realised that the town was host to a coordinated ring of Pakistani men who targeted girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Younger foot soldiers picked up girls in shopping centres, bus stations, and schools, gradually introducing them to older men. Taxi drivers ferried the girls to B+B’s and takeaways for abuse, many as young as twelve. Any resistance was confronted with violence, petrol dousing or guns. The accounts of trafficking, gang rape, and extortion make harrowing reading.
Jayne explains the difficulties between the project and statutory organisations from the outset. Risky Business told the police everything; names, nicknames, car registrations, taxi numbers, mobile phone numbers, takeaways. They were ever hopeful; they felt Inspector McKenzie, as a female, would have empathy for the girls being abused. However, year after year, information was treated as ‘heresay’. Though continuing to supply police and social services with information through a computer network ‘Box Five’, the perpetrators were still not brought to justice. Later, ‘Box Five’ was revealed as nothing but a digital wastepaper basket. On receipt of one report regarding the gang rape of a special needs victim, the police stated she had ‘consented’. Jayne’s alarm bells were ringing, and although she didn’t keep a record of everything, in her own words ‘she kept a lot.’
Around the year 2000 church scandals in Ireland were rife and CSE was in the news. A multi-agency including police and health and social services were to investigate CSE in the UK. Fourteen years later, Adele Weir, an agency researcher stated ‘I encountered a significant number of children who were believed to be involved in sexual exploitation’ and described ‘poor professional practise’ in the police and a lack of action against abusers. On compilation of a report outlining abusers, Adele was told it was ‘lies’ and was threatened with suspension as she had ‘overstepped the mark’ by writing to senior police officers. After months of pressure she went off sick, eventually leaving her post.
In Jayne’s book we learn that the scale of the abuse was so enormous that the information was already in the public arena by 2001. Still, in 2005, it was decided by the Rotherham police and young people’s service that CSE forums should be limited. Jayne challenged the decision, detailing abuse cases that had been ‘dropped’. Her challenges fell on deaf ears. Another shocking report followed in 2006. Jayne writes the leader of Rotherham Council, the council’s Chief Executive, the director of Children’s Services, and the South Yorkshire Police Crime Commissioner had been briefed, all later denying awareness of the scale of CSE in Rotherham.
The murder of ‘dropped’ caseload, Laura, was the catalyst for more reports. In 2011 when a panel met to review Laura’s murder, Jayne submitted a file with information dating back to 2004. Ironically, it was Risky Business who were criticised for its apparent lack of care. Jayne states categorically that she could no longer work for a council that not only denied child abuse but castigated people who worked to protect children. Out of sheer frustration, and risking prison, she eventually shared this information and other confidential documents with The Times to expose the scandal.
The resistance in Rotherham to raise issues of CSE was evidently to do with a fear of racial accusations. Police and social services hated the word ethnicity or Asian. This was coupled with elements of misogyny within the police force; they stated that the children – the girls – were flaky, unreliable, with open sexual mores; that the sex was consensual as they were getting drink and drugs in return.
An independent inquiry, The Jay Report, estimated that 1,400 children had been sexually abused in the town between 1997 and 2013, predominantly by gangs of British-Pakistani men. Abuses described included abduction, rape, torture and trafficking. The report made clear how some people knew it was happening and were in a position to do something about it and did not. For Ireland, the lessons to learn are obvious as the report observes and records several situations where children were left in risky situations by those who were employed to protect them. The police need to ‘raise the bar’ and embrace whistle-blowing in matters of public protection. Another measure to consider is that of fruitless time spent in ‘meetings’; in Jayne’s case fourteen years of such meetings met with abject failure. We need to strive towards a better system which ensures that children can grow up free from the horrors of child sexual exploitation.
(c) Carina McNally
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