Editorial: There must never be another Rochdale

State systems repeatedly failed young teenagers suffering appalling sexual abuse

Related Topics

If there is one thing more shocking than the conviction of a gang of men for the systematic sexual abuse of under-age girls, it is the negligence of public authorities in failing to prevent the crimes. There was plenty of opportunity. An inquiry into the grooming of young teenagers for sex in Rochdale has revealed systemic failures in the institutions of the state: social workers, police and officials from the Crown Prosecution Service all fell unforgivably short, over more than a decade. And there can only be fears of similar oversights in scores of other cases all across the country.

With most of the abusers in the Rochdale case of Pakistani heritage, and most of the victims white, the suggestion of a racial component has lurked behind much of the subsequent – justifiably appalled – commentary. The judge at the abusers' trial said that a factor in the men's treatment of their victims as "worthless and beyond any respect" was that the girls were not part of their community or religion. Local MPs in Rochdale and Rotherham have called for an inquiry into the cultural roots of the problem.

It would be as well to be cautious before drawing too general lessons. Analysis of more than 1,200 cases, across the country, by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre found that just 28 per cent of abusers were Asian. Although they may predominate in offences committed in the North and Midlands, in Devon the majority of abusers are white, in Bristol Afro-Caribbean and in London of many ethnicities.

In Rochdale, however, the racial dimension is difficult to avoid. Yet the issue was lamentably omitted from the report published yesterday by the council's Safeguarding Children Board. Thankfully, a number of Muslim community leaders have begun the task: cultural factors in these crimes must be confronted, not buried.

Where the report is unambiguous, though, is in the evidence that state services failed to intervene when they had information about exploitation. Indeed, yesterday's report highlights deficiencies in the training of frontline staff, alarming snobberies among police and prosecutors, and a heart-breaking missed opportunity to end the abuse four years ago.

The law is clear: sex with a girl who is under 16 is rape. Yet some social workers claimed that 13- to-15-year-olds were "making their own choices", and police and prosecutors decided that these young victims would not be found "credible" by a jury because of their "chaotic", "council estate" backgrounds. Such blaming of victims for their own abuse is truly sickening and can never be allowed to be repeated.

Significant change is now needed. Social workers must accept that children under 16 – whatever they say – cannot in law consent to sex; false consciousness is part of what grooming induces. But local authorities and police forces also need to adopt the system in place in Blackburn, which brings together a range of services – police, social workers, nurses, sexual health and drugs workers, as well as parents – to prevent, protect and prosecute.

Blackburn's Engage project carries out surveillance operations against adult suspects; it issues legal warning notices; it tours secondary schools. In four years, the scheme has rescued 80 children and has a 90 per cent conviction rate on child abduction, rape and sexual activity with minors.

Above all, the authorities need to listen more to victims and their parents. Great efforts have gone in to tackling paedophilia in recent years. The same level of focus must be applied in order to halt the grooming of young teenagers.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam