Tag Archives: cse

A problem police cannot solve alone

The report by Ann Coffey into Child Sexual Exploitation is a very good piece of work and worth reading. She is clear that this issue is one not only for all agencies but for wider society. She is clear that GMP has improved its response but that the problem is far more complex than the police can solve on their own. Of course this did not stop some sections of the media merely focussing on the police contribution.

Runaway children are not just a Greater Manchester issue but one that affects every part of the country and indeed every part of the world. The report highlights however that children who are in care make up a huge proportion of the reports the police receive. This is not surprising in that the reason many children are in care is because they have had troubled upbringings and have had to suffer the trauma of being taken away from their parents or being abandoned by them. Many people seem surprised by the sheer number of reports of missing children that the police deal with, but this is the reality of the situation we face.

There are more than 200 children’s homes across Greater Manchester, with quite a number who take in children from other parts of the country. The fact that young people run away is not because the care is not good, but because running away is often a symptom of deeply rooted problems in their lives and the isolation of being in care.

All parents at some point face the challenge of a child or young person who does not want to do what they are told, and, in seeking more freedom or peer approval, put themselves at risk. This may exhibit itself in wanting to be out late at night, to congregate with mates in parks or on street corners , or to meet up with people that the parent or carer does not view as suitable.

Parents will try reasoning and negotiation, may get to a point where they have to exert greater control and in some cases they may be driven to physically stopping their child going out. The care worker in a children’s home is in no different a position apart from the fact that the child they are dealing with may have particular problems of low self-esteem and risky behaviour which brought them into care in the first place, and are only allowed to use physical restraint in the most extreme of circumstances. The amount of care homes and the frequency of reports of missing children are just an indicator of a much broader issue of the number of vulnerable children in the country who are not thriving and who have had bad starts in life.

Running away puts young people in a particularly dangerous position as the report points out. An area like Greater Manchester has many late night venues and takeaways, with easy transport links and a vast concentration of people – some who are only intent on harm. Combined with an increasingly sexualised society – where extreme images are readily available online, and where young girls in particular are conditioned to see themselves as sexual objects – and this increases the danger even further.

The report has some powerful testimonies of how some young women view themselves and their relationships with men, and how some young lads seem to think they need to be controlling or abusive to get respect. There are then older men who have blurred the divide between young girls and young women, and don’t understand the nature of consent and respect. These people are abusers and exploiters who need to be challenged and wherever possible – convicted.

Some of the publicity has pointed out the gap between the number of sexual offences we record and the number of convictions. Well the first thing to say is that we know that sexual offences are very significantly under-reported, so in effect the gap is even greater. Ann Coffey’s report points out the real complexity of investigating these offences and some of the attitudes prevalent in the criminal justice system; some of which the police have been guilty of in the past. She is careful again to say that sadly these are attitudes prevalent in wider society which then feeds into the jury system and then makes prosecutors cautious of taking cases forward for fear of how the victim will be viewed. She points out some of the awful experiences that victims have had in court when as she describes how they are confronted by bullying behaviour by defence barristers. She calls for consideration of a different way of presenting this sort of evidence in the court process, which is more of a search for the truth, rather than a battle between two different sides, with the victim caught in the middle.

There will always be aspects that GMP needs to continue to improve upon and a key starting point is looking at basic attitudes and ensuring that we recognise the vulnerability in many of the young people we come across on the street, and in particular those who constantly run away. As with domestic violence it so important we recognise the power of an abusive relationship and the way it destroys the self-esteem and self-control of the victim and how so many victims do not identify themselves as such. We need to be proactive in seeking out places where young people are particularly vulnerable to being targeted by abusers such as late night food places, transport hubs and those quieter places young people like to gather, We need to do all we can to challenge harassment such as what is experienced by some girls leaving schools. However, this is a huge task given the ground we have to cover and that is why Ann Coffey makes it clear that it is not just the job of the police alone.

GMP is also playing its part in trying to deal with the underlying issues of why there are so many vulnerable young people who don’t get the right start in life. The Troubled Families initiative is working with hundreds, if not thousands of families across Greater Manchester that have histories of poor school attendance, chronic health issues, domestic violence and drug and alcohol use.  We know that these aspects can often create the conveyor belt which takes a child from a lack of love, care and affection in early years to disruptive behaviour,  doing poorly at school, exclusion and involvement with social services, leading to risky behaviour and vulnerability. On every borough we will have a multi-agency team working on all vulnerability issues, sharing information day to day and deciding who is the best professional or service to deal with a particular case.

There has been much discussion about the need for officers to recognise vulnerability and to be able to engage and generate confidence with victims and potential victims. Many of our officers are very good at this but we have to recognise that this is extremely complex – that is why social workers receive three years’ university training to give them the skills to recognise the factors at play and the underlying psychological causes.

We have to give children and young people the right help at the right time. We have to question at what point the police officer ends and the social worker begins.

Sir Peter Fahy
Chief Constable

A complex problem

A huge amount has been written and spoken about in reaction to the report about child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. I am not going to comment on the specifics of what happened there but would say that this is obviously not a new problem. The issue of young people out late at night on the street being targeted by men has been highlighted some years ago by other police forces and was the subject of news reports and documentaries. In Oldham there has been Operation Messenger for many years and in Manchester the Protect team both involving police and social workers focussing on this issue. In Rochdale successful prosecutions have been achieved and other cases are still being investigated.

It is inevitable and understandable that we seek simple answers to what are complex and emotive issues surrounding those in abusive relationships, the abusers themselves and the way the police and the wider criminal justice systems deals with sexual offences.
Those not involved with these issues find it hard to understand why the police and social services cannot protect vulnerable young people and arrest and convict abusers.

The first thing to say is that there have been advances in child protection across the country and many successful prosecutions and other cases where families and children are helped to put their lives back together. On the other hand there are a number of important policy issues for which there are no easy answers.

The cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere involve young people who often have a number of different problems in their lives and get drawn into inappropriate relationships with men which then lead to serious sexual abuse. It is in the nature of an abusive relationship that the victim does not recognise the danger they are in and don’t want to leave the abuser.

When parents, teachers, social workers or police officers try to get them to end the relationship and stop meeting the abuser they often refuse and of course the abuser will still try and get to them. The answer seems obvious that if a child is in danger and refuses to protect themselves and other strategies fail then they should be placed in secure accommodation for their own protection. The problem is that this is obviously a drastic step which requires specialist facilities. More importantly we know that such a step can have a very damaging impact on that young person and often for the rest of their lives because they are removed from their family, their school and their friends. Of course the better course would be to try and remove the abuser but that takes a lot more time and is linked to the second major policy issue, how the court system deals with sexual offences.

Our experience of dealing with girls who are victims of child sexual exploitation is that it takes on average around nine months for us to build a relationship with that young person to the point where they are willing to complain about their abuser and support a prosecution. The problem is that in many cases without that prosecution it is often very difficult to control the activities of the abuser. The challenges don’t end there. As I have said many of those who are abused have serious problems in their lives, may have had drug or alcohol issues, may have told lies to protect their abusers and will have been involved in what some would call promiscuous behaviour. The problem is that these “weaknesses” will be ruthlessly exploited in the court process to try and damage the credibility of the victim.

It is the harrowing nature of this process for the victim with the chance that the abuser will be found not guilty which causes police officers, social workers and prosecutors to agonise as to whether a prosecution will be in the victim’s best interests or indeed whether a prosecution can succeed given the way the court system works. Included in this consideration will be the fact that cases take many, many months to get to court.

There have been some changes made to the court process to make it a bit easier for victims giving evidence. There are proposals to enable victims to give pre-recorded evidence and to be cross examined by only one defence barrister. This will help but will not prevent many questions being asked about the lifestyle of the victim some of which others would consider have nothing to do with the facts of the case but just seek to destroy the character of that witness. Sadly, as we know some victims have committed suicide after such an experience. There are many cases that do not get near the court process because they just cannot get to the threshold of “beyond all reasonable doubt.”

The conviction rate for rape overall is about 10 per cent of all reported cases and so the question should be not what are we doing for this 10 per cent but what are we doing for the 90 per cent of other victims.

This can sometimes be interpreted as police officers not believing victims of rape and abuse but the issue is often not whether an officer believes the victim but whether they think a jury will believe the victim against this standard of “beyond all reasonable doubt.”

In my view there has been too much focus in success being seen as getting cases to court. This creates a mind-set that if a case has little prospect of getting to court and certainly where a victim does not support a prosecution then interest is lost in the case overall. Many victims are put off from seeking support because they fear they will be “persuaded” to go to court when they feel that the court process will not solve the problem in their lives. There needs to be a far greater balance in favour of protection of the victim rather than prosecution of the offender.
Protection in these cases can only be provided if all the agencies involved work in a fundamentally different way. In Greater Manchester, all the public services recognise that most of the people who need our protection and care have a complex set of needs and are part of wider families who themselves have complex needs. Many of these families have many years of chronic dependency, constant interactions with the public services and the same patterns of behaviour repeating themselves. They take up a large proportion of the public spend but often this spend is not solving their problems. We are developing new ways of working which put teams of staff from the different agencies working in the same office sharing information on a daily basis to make sure there is a joined up strategy to protect vulnerable people and look at the issues for the whole family. This is the best way to try and ensure children have the best upbringing that problems are identified early and it is less likely we will young people vulnerable to abusers in the future.

The past week has been difficult for police officers and social workers and I am sure many have shouted at the radio or television as they feel that much of the coverage just does not recognise the complexities of the job they do and the real difficulties they face working in deprived communities often with families and individuals with chaotic lifestyles and long term histories of need. I can understand why many journalists and commentators do not appreciate this as often these communities are hidden and I myself only have an understanding of this because of the job I do and the opportunities I get to go out on the front line.

The problem with this atmosphere is that it will get more and more difficult to attract the best people into social work or to get police officers who want to get involved in child protection work. It also means that social workers and police officers “play safe” and don’t show the degree of innovation and imagination needed to succeed in this work and in particular what is needed to capture determined abusers. A siege mentality develops where public servants strive to do their best but feel unappreciated and undervalued by the society around them. It is not that social workers and police officers do not appreciate what life is like in deprived communities rather that they understand it too well.

And what about the race issue? Some have said that the reason this issue has not been confronted was because of fear of being labelled racist as many of the abusers in these cases are Asian men. I have never been convinced of this argument but rather feel it is easier to talk about the race issue than the more complex issues of the care system and the court system. I do think that there are some fundamental issues about the rights of women in our society that some minority cultures need to confront but on the other hand the levels of domestic violence in this country suggest that we all need to confront this issue. I also think there are some issues about the licensing of taxi drivers and take away premises which need to be reviewed as these have featured in a number of CSE cases. At the end of the day abuse is about criminality and we need to focus on the criminals and seek them out rather than label whole communities.
There is much more that I could say. The risk is that the current hiatus about Rotherham will fizzle out quickly to be replaced by another news story and while outrage will have been vented the fundamental policy issues involved will not have been confronted.

For me these fundamental issues are:

  • Clearer guidance and research on the whole issue of children in care and the criteria when secure accommodation is to be used
  • The creation of a network of “safe houses ” which young people at risk of abuse or who keep running away could use knowing their own welfare would be the primary concern
  • The creation of a legal process which police officers and other professionals could access which would provide immediate protection for a vulnerable child or immediate control of a suspected abuser without the need for a conviction or charge beforehand.
  • A clear statement that the prime duty of a police force is the protection of vulnerable people and long term measures to reduce the level of abuse and that this should take precedence over property crime.
  • A radical realignment of public services in line with the troubled families initiative to create local teams of professionals from the key caring agencies with a focus on reducing complex dependency and providing joined up strategies to protect vulnerable people.
  • The promotion of the concept of British values to generate a wider debate about the rights of women and children in our society and its relation to cultural norms in minority communities and the impact of the increasing sexualisation of young people

Sir Peter Fahy,
Chief Constable