Vulnerable children in Bradford “remain unprotected” from sexual exploitation years after a major grooming scandal first rocked the city, a damning new report says.
Perpetrators are still going “unchallenged” by authorities there, the independent review into safeguarding practices found.
“While there has been considerable work in the district in relation to child sexual exploitation there are still lessons that need to be learned and the responses to victims of this complex crime is not yet good enough,” the 60-page report states.
It criticises bodies including the city council and West Yorkshire Police for still not always recognising signs of exploitation.
And it adds that the language officials used about children did not always reflect their vulnerability. “They were, on occasion, deemed to be making choices,” it says at one point.
The stark assessment comes two years after the review was first commissioned following the sentencing of nine men to a total of 132 years and 8 months in prison for the sustained sexual abuse of two teenagers who had been in council care.
Releasing the findings on Tuesday, author Clare Hyde, founder of the Foundation for Families community company, said it would make “difficult and, at times, distressing reading”, adding: “The children [interviewed] suffered abuse no child should have to experience, and in most cases had suffered other traumas and abuse long before they were sexually exploited.”
In one especially harrowing case study, the report describes how a child, named as Anna, was placed in the foster care of the parents of the very man who was abusing her.
While living there, she became pregnant at the age of 15 and went on to marry him in an Islamic wedding.
“While in the ‘care’ of these adults, she was subjected to further sexual abuse and exploitation, domestic abuse, including assaults and coercion and what we would now recognise as domestic slavery,” the review states.
In a series of wide-ranging recommendations, Hyde states that a more robust approach is needed to identifying initial risk, while staff should undergo improved training programmes.
“Abuse does not occur because of a child’s vulnerability,” she writes. “It occurs because there is someone who is willing to take advantage of this vulnerability and because there are inadequate protective structures around the child and their family in place to prevent this.”
Responding to the findings, Bradford Partnership – which is made up of Bradford Council, West Yorkshire Police and Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group – apologised to all those who had suffered from child sexual exploitation.
In a statement, it added: “The Bradford Partnership have made significant changes to their response and handling of child sexual exploitation over the past decade putting in place specialist teams and additional resource to this area.
“As a result of the work in this area there have been a number of successful outcomes at court where a large number of defendants were found guilty and sentenced to substantial prison sentences. This work will continue for as long as it is necessary and we will support anyone who comes forward with information or who has been the victim of abuse.”