Child sexual exploitation is a ‘real and ongoing problem’ that has become a new social norm in some neighbourhoods of Greater Manchester, the Coffey Report concludes today.
This will not be tackled unless there is a sea change in public attitudes away from a culture of blaming children and young people for bringing about their own sexual exploitation.
“Young people are still too often being blamed for being a victim. We need to get across the key message that whatever young people wear and however sexualised they appear, they are still children and need our protection.
“The age of consent in this country is 16 and adults who prey on children under that age are always wrong. Unless we get a change in public attitudes it will be difficult to protect children,” Ann Coffey MP will say at the launch
of her report ‘Real Voices’ – Child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.
Ms Coffey recommends a radical new approach to tackling CSE to be led by young people, which recognises that the police, justice system and children’s services alone cannot succeed in protecting children, especially at a time of deep spending cuts.
“Police, social workers, prosecutors and juries made up of ordinary people, all carry attitudes around with them. This could go some way to explain why in the past six years in Greater Manchester there have only been about 1,000 convictions out of 13,000 reported cases of serious sexual offences against under 16-year–olds,” she says in the report.
She expressed concern that the Crown Prosecution Service highlighted that one victim wore cropped tops and that another had been described as a ‘slag’ by her father in cases that were declared “No Further Action”.
“This may reflect the difficulties of prosecuting these cases in court when prevailing public attitudes often still blame children and young people for their own sexual exploitation,” she will say.
The independent Coffey Report was commissioned by Tony Lloyd, the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, to see what has changed since the Rochdale grooming case in 2012 and what more needs to be done.
Tony Lloyd said: “This is a challenging report, but it’s also one that’s full of hope. It is clear that agencies who are tasked with keeping our young people safe have made huge mistakes in the past. The report makes clear about how far we have come since the terrible events of the Rochdale grooming case, but its recommendations must be implemented if we are serious about righting past wrongs.
“What is striking about this report – which sets it apart from those that have gone before – is that the voices of young people come through loud and clear. For too long their voices were ignored or, worse, dismissed by the system. This report starts to redress that balance.
“This report isn’t one to sit on the shelf. I believe it can be a catalyst for real change that we cannot ignore. We all have a responsibility to act and the time to do that is now.
“I would also like to thank Ann for putting together such a thorough and well-researched report. I believe that its findings are important, not just for Greater Manchester, but for across our land.”
Figures obtained from Greater Manchester Police as part of the inquiry reveal that many children are still being preyed on. There are 260 ongoing police investigations into child sexual exploitation. This includes 174 recorded crimes, of which 18 involve multiple perpetrators.
Ms Coffey prioritised speaking to children and young people and victims during the inquiry and has put their unaltered voices at the front of her report. Some schoolgirls told her that they were regularly approached by older men in the street and urged to get into cars on their way home from school.
One girl yelled: “Leave me alone, can you not see I am a little girl. I am in my uniform.”
The girls felt powerless and that they had to accept these approaches as part of everyday life because it had become normalised.
The young people talked about the pressures they feel under, with the increased sexualisation of children and lack of respect for girls. They also spoke about their fears of speaking to ‘suits’ and ‘uniforms’ in the agencies that are supposed to protect them but which they feel look down on them.
Greater Manchester Police received 2,286 pieces of intelligence relating to child sexual exploitation in the nine months between March 2013 and January 2014 under a new recording system. Ms Coffey said this was evidence of higher level of awareness amongst the public and agencies since the Rochdale case, which should be built upon.
“The whole community needs to be involved and informed about trends and types of CSE in their local area,” she said.
Ms Coffey also called for CSE to be declared a public health priority like alcohol, drugs and obesity.
You can read the full report here.
Key points from the Coffey Report
The report’s central recommendation is that young people themselves must be part of the solution if we are to be successful in preventing child grooming becoming more prevalent.
Young people must be given the tools to lead the fight back against CSE in Greater Manchester because agencies cannot do it on their own.
To do this there will be a young people-led digital multimedia network centred around a high-profile weekly radio show produced and hosted by them on CSE-related issues.
This will be done in partnership with the youth radio station, Unity Radio, and will be linked to social media and online support. A “taster” of the show, which has been produced by young people will be played at the launch of the report and is available below.
The project will be supported by a newly formed consortium of charities, which Ms Coffey has brought together for the first time during the inquiry.
Big names already signed up to the new Greater Manchester Consortium Against Child Sexual Exploitation (GMCASE), include the Princes Trust, Barnardos, The Children’s Society and the NSPCC.
Others include St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Survivors Manchester, Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation, the Railway Children, Missing People and Brook.
The dedicated two-hour radio show would be produced and hosted by young people, including those who have been sexually exploited.
It would link children and young people of all classes, races and religions across the 10 Greater Manchester boundaries and be “shouted out” via podcasts and other social media such as Instagram and Twitter, YouTube and other video networks. It could go viral, reaching many thousands of young people across Greater Manchester, and beyond.
Ms Coffey said: “Although we can come up with more effective ways for agencies to work together, the most important thing we can do to protect children is to tackle the cultural attitudes that cocoon sex exploiters and enable them to get away with what they are doing under our noses.
“An important part of that protection is to enable young people to take the lead in the fight against sexual exploitation.
“Isolated children, listening in the dark, who tune in to the show, will know that they are not alone and that there is help out there.
“My observations will make painful reading for those who hoped that Rochdale was an isolated case. This is a real and ongoing problem.
“I have been concerned about the number of people who have told me that in some neighbourhoods child sexual exploitation had become the new social norm.
“This social norm has perhaps been fuelled by the increased sexualisation of children and young people and an explosion of explicit music videos and the normalisation of quasi-pornographic images. Sexting, selfies, Instagram and the like have given rise to new social norms and changed expectations of sexual entitlement and with it a confused understanding of what constitutes consent.”
Positive changes post Rochdale
The report recognises that positive changes have been made by GMP and other agencies since the shocking Rochdale trial in 2012 in which nine men were jailed for grooming girls with alcohol, drugs and gifts before forcing them to have sex with multiple men.
It welcomes the fact that GMP now has a specialist CSE team in all 11 police divisions, an improvement from two pre-Rochdale, and has increased the number of dedicated specialist CSE officers from 12 in June 2013 to 39.
Project Phoenix, set up with the aim of developing a cross boundary multiagency response to CSE, has made good progress. But more needs to be done to develop sharing of resources across police and local authority boundaries if children at risk of CSE are not to be subjected to a post code lottery.
Ms Coffey will say at the launch of the report:
“Progress has been made and changes are taking place that will lead to the better identification of children at risk of CSE across Greater Manchester but the biggest changes needed are in culture and attitudes of us all.”
Areas of concern
- There have only been 1,078 convictions out of 12,879 reported cases of nine major sexual offences against children under 16 years old in Greater Manchester in the last six years
- Alarmed to see that the Crown Prosecution Service highlighted that a victim wore cropped tops and that another had been described as a “slag” in cases that were declared “No Further Action”. This may reflect the difficulties of prosecuting these cases in court when prevailing attitudes often still blame children and young people for bringing on their own sexual exploitation
- Very high numbers of children and young people going missing and absent from home and care with 14,712 episodes recorded in Greater Manchester from January to September 17 this year
- Concerns about the under-reporting of CSE. GMP figures on recorded sexual offences for under 18 year olds between June 1 2013 and May 3 2014 show that only 111 cases out of 1,691 were “flagged” on the police computer as CSE
- More needs to be done to improve the flagging system but it is good that this system is in place because it means that the prevalence and trends of CSE can be identified over a period of time
- Children’s homes ignoring government guidance to report when a child at risk of CSE moves into their home from another area
- Concern that high-profile court cases, such as Rochdale, have left the impression that CSE is only about vulnerable white girls being exploited by groups of Asian men. This isn’t the case as CSE takes many forms and the majority of offences involve single perpetrators. It is important that the public understands the many different forms of CSE so that they are better able to protect children and not miss signs
- There are also concerns about underreporting amongst boys and children and young people from ethnic minorities
- Investigate why in the last six years the total recorded crime for nine serious sexual offences against children under 16 in Greater Manchester was 12,879, and yet only 2,341 defendants were preceded against and of those only 1,078 were found guilty
- Review of all No Further Action cases the Crown Prosecution Service has authorised across Greater Manchester over the past year to pick out areas for learning and training. This would examine reasons for not pursuing cases after concerns the CPS highlighted the fact that the victim wore cropped tops or a relative called another a “slag” on case files
- The appointment of a CSE Champion with a specific remit of developing new models of working across police and local authority boundaries and more pooling of individual budgets and innovative use of existing budgets, such as employed detached youth workers to act as a bridge between the police, children’s services and young people
- CSE to be declared a priority public health issue like smoking, obesity, alcohol and drug use, so that a more strategic approach can be developed to tackle it
- All police response officers should receive CSE training, lifting it from 21 per cent now to 100 per cent. This could improve the level of “flagging” of CSE cases on the police computer
- All Police Community Support Officers should be trained. It is a “glaring omission” that they are not at the moment
- There should be one set of data giving information about children and young people assessed as being at risk of CSE agreed by both the police and the Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards
- Train the “eyes and ears” of the community in how to spot CSE, including pharmacists, park attendants, school crossing patrol staff, school nurses, refuse collectors, bus drivers, housing officers, takeaway and shop keepers as well as taxi drivers and hoteliers
- GMP and Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards need to find more effective ways of engaging with schools and different communities, including social advantaged, disadvantaged and disengaged white and ethnic minority communities
- Schemes like Neighbourhood and Home Watch could be used to inform the wider community about CSE, along with the KIN initiative – the Key Individual Network – which is made up of people who have an interest in their local area and want to help make it safer
- Police should go into schools in civilian clothing to talk to small groups as well as more formal talks in uniform. This must be a two way process, not just the police ‘talking at’ children
- Develop a digital cloud resource for material made by children and young people which could be accessed directly by all young people and schools across Greater Manchester as part of their safeguarding. This could be developed alongside the young people’s digital network
- Continue to campaign for the government to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education compulsory in all schools
- Pupil Premium money could be used by schools singly or jointly to fund peer mentoring schemes for those identified at risk of CSE
- Project Phoenix to do further research into risks faced by children in part-time or excluded from education
- Further research into the new police system of recording missing and absent episodes from home and care
- Spot checks on children’s homes because of concerns some are not reporting to police and local authorities when a child at risk of CSE moves into their home
- The removal of all references to child prostitution in legislation
- The Crown Prosecution Service should be part of multi-agency specialist CSE teams
- A review into questioning and tone of cross examinations by defence barristers in child abuse cases and all court transcripts to be made freely available online
- Incorporate information about the behaviour of people who sexually offend into training and awareness about CSE