A report released today has revealed that thousands of children are sexually abused by gangs and groups in England each year. The interim report by The Office of Children’s Commissioner , which comes fourteen months into a two year investigation, has identified that there were some 2,409 victims of sexual abuse rings during this period. The study has also claimed that between 20120 and 2011, some 16,500 children were identified as being at “high risk of sexual exploitation”.
As a solicitor representing a number of the victims of the paedophile ring in Rochdale, I was approached by Sky News to comment on the report.
Whilst the figures revealed in the report are shocking and difficult to take it, it is ultimately not a great surprise to me. Through the conversations I have had with clients who have been the victims of these rings, it has become apparent that the Rochdale ring was not an isolated case.
Although it is even more appalling to believe, the figures in the Children’s Commissioner report may only be the tip of the iceberg. As we have seen in the recent abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile, it can take several years, even decades, before the victims of abuse feel that they are able to come forward. This is certainly the case in many of the compensation claims for abuse that we pursue; it is only later in life that victims are able to face up to what happened to them.
The very nature of abuse has a damaging effect on the victims’ confidence and mental state. This is certainly apparent in cases where young children are groomed and repeatedly sexually assaulted; many of them come to regard such activities as ‘normal’, even developing what they believe to be friendships or relationships with their abusers. It will only be later in life that they will recognise the magnitude of the crimes against them.
One of the questions that I am repeatedly asked in relation to the Rochdale paedophile ring is how it was able to go of such a long time without any action being taken against the perpetrators. Whilst it is difficult for you or I to believe, there is evidence that suggests the authorities were aware of this problem going on in Rochdale, but simply chose not to act. Despite the fact that some of the girls involved were as young as 12 or 13 at the time, they were often viewed as willing participants and not treated as victims. It also remains a country-wide issue that the communication between the various channels, particularly the police and social services, is ineffective, and therefore taking action to try and prevent, or stop abuse rings continuing, is simply too difficult.
Hopefully, as the shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has commented, the report will be a “wake-up call”; not only to the government but also to the police forces and local authorities throughout the country. Child abuse rings are a very real and serious problem in our towns and tackling them must be a priority.
To the victims of abuse, my message is that there is help out there in the form of charities and other support services. Certainly we are also here to help if and when feel able to talk about your experiences.
By Jonathan Bridge, Child Abuse Lawyer