Rotherham’s image has been scarred for the foreseeable future. A crisis first brought to national prominence through the reporting of Times journalist Andrew Norfolk is now the first thought that springs to mind whenever the name of the town is mentioned, cemented in the nation’s mind as the place where at least 1,400 children were subjected to sexual exploitation over the course of 16 years.
In 2013/14 alone there were 29,792 recorded sexual offences against under-18s in England alone, a 39% increase on the year before. At a rate of 2.6 sexual offences per 1,000 children, the worst part is realising this only represents those that were reported and recorded.
The social work agency, the police officer, the counsellor, all those dealing with these issues at a face-to-face level have enormous responsibility for their actions, and can have a huge impact on how well the issue is countered. Such responsibility doesn’t come easy, with even the Prime Minister previously attacking such workers for not showing enough “common sense” when dealing with potential victims. Yet while they must carry some of the weight on their shoulders, they are working within a framework laid upon them from above. It is only at the national level that truly effective change can happen.
So what can be done to help cut down on the numbers being abused and exploited? The 2015 Government report ‘Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation’ put forward ideas to force all authorities to treat the issue with a higher degree of seriousness, alongside greater resources to do so. It would see a whistleblowing portal set up for child abuse related reports; a new taskforce focused on finding solutions to the areas authorities are struggling to deal with; and upgrading the status of child sexual abuse to that of a national threat, ensuring police forces prioritise it alongside terrorism and other major dangers.
Whether these measures result in progress will take years to know for sure. However, with the crisis existing on such a large scale, it is inevitable that more ideas will have to be trialled before it is brought fully under control. This may take decades to achieve, and will only be reached if those at the top don’t allow their dedication to the cause to wane until it is done so.
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