While Boris Johnson jokes about Jimmy Savile, he ignores the rising number of child sex abuse cases

In 2020, more children than ever were identified as potential victims of trafficking. In 2021, the data showed again that there had been a 10 per cent increase in the number of children who came forward to report exploitation

<p>Prime Minister Boris Johnson </p>

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

This week, like most weeks, I have been handling cases of sexual violence. I have spent hours of my time listening to women telling me that the legal processes associated with seeking justice have traumatised them more than the assault itself.

I have heard tale after tale about cases never taken seriously, delayed and closed. I am working on a case at the moment of serious child and adult grooming, trafficking and exploitation. It has all the hallmarks of all of those famous cases we all know about, and the victims are simply not being kept safe – the vile organised crime is continuing under everyone’s noses.

I was in no way surprised to read this week’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, which stated that there are extensive failures in how authorities are handling cases of child grooming and that people have wrongly assumed that child grooming has gone away.

I know it hasn’t gone away. It sits in my office literally bleeding on to the floor in front of me. Blood from a miscarriage after a beating, from a pregnancy borne of rape. Grooming victims from across the country tell me that they are withdrawing their cases and will just live with the abuse because the police cannot guarantee their safety. You see, life is not like the movies, people don’t get whisked away into witness protection.

Grooming gangs who are operating everywhere are not just one man you can arrest and it will all be OK, they are networks of people passing women around, locking them in dirty flats and forcing them to have sex with man after man, while beating them.

Delays in investigation are caused by fewer officers and certainly fewer officers with specialist training, which then lead to delays waiting for court cases thanks to the government’s degradation of our justice system, which now sees as the norm a three-year wait for a case to get to court.

So do you think you would willingly take a case to the police if the outcome of that interview is that you will be waiting years for anything to happen? All the while, of course, these many men know where you live, have created footage of you that will criminalise you, and ultimately will kill you. And when you walk out of that police station, if you are lucky enough still to have one since the Tories shut them all, you know that the very men who sell you will not even be arrested that week, let alone that day. Even if they arrest one, what about the 20 others? I’ll say it again, life is not like the movies.

Far from having gone away, I have watched child grooming and both adult and child exploitation get worse and worse in the last decade. I drive past establishments all over the country where I know that girls I have met have been raped and sold in them. My evidence is not anecdotal, the data backs it up.

In 2020 more children than ever were identified as potential victims of trafficking. In 2021 the data showed again that there had been a 10 per cent increase in the number of children who came forward to report exploitation. Every year the number of cases of child exploitation rises. Conviction and charging of sexual crime is falling, however. People come forward, yes, but nothing happens.

We have report after report telling us this is the case and making recommendations for change but none of them have any teeth and the government systematically fails to enforce them. Priti Patel is currently resisting the Labour Party’s calls to put a specialist sexual violence unit in every police force, for example.

These victims are only useful for the government when they help them with their culture war, or if, as has happened this week, they can help get them out of a tight spot about their own criminality. Johnson is not a man I respect; he is now a man I despise. This week he reached for far-right, fascist memes from Facebook to try and throw around false accusations about Keir Starmer’s involvement in the Jimmy Savile scandal.

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It is completely untrue what he said and he knows it. Some of Savile’s victims have been forced to come out and request that the prime minister undo his dreadful behaviour because it is painful for them to be used in a lie as a political tool.

If Johnson or Patel had spent even one day in my office with the victims of grooming gangs as they walk in with their black eyes and despair about the lack of support they are getting, they would spend every waking minute getting on with the job of ensuring that, next year, there is at least a 10 per cent fall in the number of exploited children in their country.

Instead, they will inevitably oversee another rise in the number. They will only talk about them if they provide a political opportunity. They will continue to do nothing to enforce the library of recommendations from report after report, inspection after inspection that tells them what they need to do.

Johnson will this week have spent more time ringing his backbenchers to shore up his job rather than caring about the child abuse that happens in this country. I can say without a moment’s doubt that he won’t have even read this week’s report. Perhaps I might offer to wallpaper his flat with it.

Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

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