Saturday, 10 October 2015

Stolen childhoods

It’s been over a year since the town of Rotherham made headlines across the world. A damning report that was ignored by the police in 2006 finally emerged last year. Some of the 1400 children who were abused have bravely spoken out about their experiences. The sad outcome to this is the fact that these children were not listened to.

Many girls reported the perpetrators to the police but apparently many of those reports were unrecorded. Greater Manchester Police say that they were driven by targets and that child sexual exploitation wasn’t one of them, instead their priorities were burglaries and vehicle crime. One can hardly make a comparison between exploiting a child and stealing a car. It’s such a shame that police are blinded by targets and fail to prioritise in a sensible manner. Never mind the stolen cars, what about the thousands of stolen childhoods?

It’s not easy for survivors to come forward and speak about traumatic experiences. Survivors deserve to be listened to, supported and, most importantly, not judged. However, I was disgusted by some of the accounts I read by child survivors from Rotherham. One survivor said that the police accused her of lying when she spoke about the abuse. Another was told that she was asking for it and shouldn’t be hanging around with these men. The words of those policemen will have a long-lasting effect on those survivors and may prevent them from speaking out further.

The most important thing is that these children are supported and offered counselling so that they can rebuild their lives. It is also important for them to sense belief straight away if they are to have confidence in the police. The NSPCC have a therapeutic recovery programme for young people and helped 2,400 young survivors last year. But according to their reports 50,000 children in the country are in need of help and support but are not receiving it. It is the duty of the UK Government to step up and provide more funding for support services, this should be a priority.

Recent figures show an increase of more than a third in reports of child abuse and exploitation. These figures are very disturbing and clearly illustrate the fact that child sexual abuse is a continuing and widespread problem. I believe the problem stems from lack of understanding about the effects of child sexual abuse. In the UK, investigations are only made if a child makes an allegation or complaint. In reality it is very rare for a child to simply tell an adult what is happening to them. It can take years for a child to feel ready to speak out or realise what has been happening. To give my own story as an example, I finally spoke out about my past nine years after the abuse stopped.

In order to understand the effects of child abuse and notice a child who is potentially being abused, one has to look for signs. These could include physical injuries, misusing drugs and alcohol, self-harm and going missing repeatedly. Investigation is the responsibility of many individuals and teams including parents, teachers, social workers, doctors and the police. Commitment from a range of people is imperative for preventing child sexual exploitation in the long term. Listening to what children say through their behaviour and words, and taking it seriously through action is the only way to prevent the abuse of children.