Rotherham child abuse: Watchdog says Police must do more to listen to survivors

23 Kevin
Gareth Milner

By Gareth Milner

Published: 23/11/2021

- 12:16

Updated: 23/11/2021

- 17:53

The watchdog said it is 'deeply concerned' that problems still exist and said it was a 'tragedy' that many survivors now have criminal records as a result of their actions while being exploited.

A police watchdog has said that police must listen to the survivors of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal if they are to learn from the past.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said police must do more to support survivors of child sexual abuse and listen to their experiences after it carried out a series of investigations into South Yorkshire Police’s actions in the town.

The watchdog said it is “deeply concerned” that problems still exist and said it was a “tragedy” that many survivors now have criminal records as a result of their actions while being exploited.

It has now made 12 national and local recommendations to tackle systemic issues identified and help improve the treatment of those who come forward to report abuse.

The report released on Tuesday said it recognised that understanding and awareness of child sexual exploitation (CSE) has developed and improved over time, but found a number of areas that needed improvement.

It said inspectors “remain worried” that, despite multiple reports and recommendations, there are still areas of concern at South Yorkshire Police and said there had been a “deterioration” since improvements made in 2015/16.

The IOPC said its investigations found that officers and staff without the right skills or training were often expected to lead on CSE investigations and recommended that South Yorkshire Police ensured training was up-to-date.

It said the voices and experiences of survivors should be included in training sessions and recommended the College of Policing incorporated the voices of survivors in training.

It said: “Listening to and understanding survivor experiences can be a powerful way to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation-related issues in training sessions and develop empathy.”

The report also said the IOPC found many instances where crimes were not recorded when they should have been, including reports of sexual assault or sexual activity with a child.

Inspectors found “significant” under-recording of crimes committed against vulnerable children reported to South Yorkshire Police’s public protection department and said the force should take steps to ensure it is complying with Home Office rules around crime recording.

Investigations also highlighted many issues with how police officers and staff dealt with child sexual exploitation victims and survivors, including victims regularly complaining they had not been kept updated.

The IOPC said many survivors have criminal records because of their actions while being exploited, with their futures being adversely impacted as a result.

It recommended that the Law Commission looks to identify whether any changes to legislation would be appropriate in order to reduce the impact of the abuse of their future life prospects, including defences to crimes carried out during exploitation and the potential to filter convictions in such circumstances.

The report added that one of the key findings of its investigations was that the issues around CSE were not recognised quickly enough and officers were not equipped with the skills or experience they needed to deal with the problems they were faced with, and recommended a national multi-agency approach to identify the major issues for policing and priorities for learning.

Steve Noonan, IOPC director of major investigations, said: “Survivors of abuse will no doubt be deeply concerned, as are we, that some of these problems still exist today and we urge the police to act on these recommendations urgently to provide much-needed reassurance to the public.

“It is a tragedy that so many of the survivors we spoke to now have criminal records as a result of their actions while being exploited and there must be action across the judicial system to protect vulnerable young people and safeguard their futures.”

He added: “There is still work to do and we have issued these recommendations to make sure lessons are learned and mistakes of the past are not repeated.”

The learning and recommendations have been published as part of Operation Linden, the IOPC investigation into the police response to non-recent child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the Rotherham area.

Linden, which began in 2014 after the Jay Report concluded that more than 1,400 children were targeted in the town, has involved 91 separate investigations and is the second largest operation carried out by the IOPC after Hillsborough, investigating complaints by 51 people into 256 separate allegations between 1997 and 2013.

The last investigation concluded in 2020 and the full report is expected to be published next year, after the conclusion of the final police misconduct hearing.

Five officers out of 47 investigated during Operation Linden have faced sanctions over their conduct – from management action to a final written warning.

Deputy Chief Constable Tim Forber, of South Yorkshire Police, said: “Since the Alexis Jay Report in 2014, South Yorkshire Police has developed a far deeper and more meaningful understanding of child sexual exploitation. Those who bravely spoke out about the harm they suffered shone a light on our failings and became a catalyst for change, change which continues today.

“This is a journey of continuous improvement. There will always be more to do and we have a determined focus on this complex area of crime. We continue to work closely with our partners within Rotherham and specialists in this area of work to support this development.

“CSE remains an issue both in Rotherham and across the country. There will always be people who want to cause harm to children but our commitment remains firm. We are improving all of the time in spotting the early signs, preventing and detecting crimes, and, most importantly, safeguarding those at risk.”

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