Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is an abhorrent crime. There is no excuse for child sexual exploitation and we as a society should do everything we can to eradicate Child sexual exploitation. The findings in the Rotherham Inquiry are a national disgrace. For anyone who has read the full report will find it sickening the scale of the abuse and the complete failure of the system. There are no excuses for this failure.
I have been asked as Lead Member for Children Service in Cornwall assurances that our children in Cornwall are safe, and no such problems are occurring here, and that there are safeguards regularly checked and monitored to make sure that they remain safe. My answer to this question is:
I can give assurances that we are doing everything we can within our powers, in partnership with Devon and Cornwall Constabulary to detect possible child sexual exploitation and to take robust action where there is evidence of it.
Whilst I cannot give total assurances that child sexual exploitation does not exist in Cornwall, I can give total assurances that if sich abuse came to light, we would take immediate and robust action in conjunction with out police partners. We would not seek to deny or minimise it, as appears was the case in Rotherham. We would not stand by and do nothing as appears to have been the case in Rotherham.
For those who might not fully understand what child sexual exploitation is, I will explain. Child sexual exploitation is a horrendous crime which destroys lives. It may involve young people receiving ‘something’ (for example, food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities. Those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources.
CSE is a complex crime and the media focus on particular cases can help to perpetuate some of the stereotypes that exist. The danger of a narrow focus on one particular form of CSE is that attention can be diverted from crimes which do not appear to match that model, with the risk of victims not receiving the help they need. Contrary to popular misconception, CSE is not limited to any particular geography, ethnicity, gender or social background. The evidence increasingly shows that it is a widespread problem and no one should assume that it does not happen in their area.
There are many “models” of CSE; the grooming and sexual exploitation of young people can take many different forms. It can be carried out by individuals (“lone perpetrators”), by street gangs or by groups. It can be motivated by money (“commercial exploitation”) or by factors not related to financial gain, such as sexual gratification. No child can legally consent to their own abuse, even if they are 16 or 17. Sometimes young people do not realise or accept they are a victim, or at risk, of CSE.
The majority of young people who experience CSE are not living in care. However, looked after children account for a disproportionate number of victims and can be particularly vulnerable. There is also a significant link between missing children and child sexual exploitation.
The a further question should be what are we doing. Here are just of the few things we in Cornwall with our partners are doing to eradicate this crime.
A South West Peninsula Protocol & Strategy has been developed to support a consistent approach to child sexual exploitation across Devon and Cornwall. Identifying child sexual exploitation requires a proactive approach to information and intelligence gathering and sharing, so that patterns of abuse and the form that it takes, can be identified locally and on a larger scale.
It is vital that information is shared between agencies and to ensure this happens multi-agency Missing Children & CSE Forums are convened every month across the three areas, East, Mid and West, of the County. These are well established and share information about CSE and Missing Children. The Forums are overseen by the Missing Children & CSE Strategic Group which is now a sub-group of the Safeguarding Children Board.
There is a significant correlation between children who are sexually exploited and those who go missing or run away. To ensure their safety, a Return Home Interview is undertaken with the child, on their return home or to care placement. The interview can identify if they are at risk of sexual exploitation.
To identify themes and trends, prevent, disrupt and reduce the vulnerability of children to being sexually exploited, data is collated on gender, age, ethnicity, locality, etc. If a child has been identified as being at risk of, or is being sexually exploited, a risk assessment is undertaken and a multi-agency meeting convened, where a safety plan is agreed. This enables agencies to work together with the child and their family.
Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Raising and Update Sessions have been delivered to professionals working in universal, targeted and specialist services. CSE Advanced Training multi-agency sessions are being delivered at four venues across Cornwall in October 2014. CSE Awareness Sessions have also been delivered to Local Authority foster carers, and further sessions are planned. Awareness training will be extended to others who come into contact with young people at risk of CSE, such as the tourist industry, taxi drivers, housing workers, maintenance workers, etc.
More recently, a third sector organisation has secured funding from the Ministry of Justice to scope a project to support children who are being, or at risk of being sexually exploited. It is envisaged that further collaborative work will be developed with the voluntary and community sector so that they can play a key role in identifying, addressing and seeking help with suspected child sexual exploitation.
The message is clear, doing nothing to stop CSE is not acceptable on any level.