‘By 2005 few members or senior officers could say “we didn’t know”.’ It was ‘extraordinary’ that no-one on the lead Labour group on the council could remember discussing these matters. ‘The scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers’. ‘The police gave no priority to child sexual exploitation, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime’. In Rotherham, no-one seemed to care. And when they did care, it was more about what others would think of them than about children as young as 11 being raped.
Professor Alexis Jay’s report says ‘several staff’ at Rotherham Council ‘described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so’. It said:
‘Within the Council, we found no evidence of children’s social care staff being influenced by concerns about the ethnic origins of suspected perpetrators when dealing with individual child protection cases, including CSE. In the broader organisation context, however, there was a widespread perception that messages conveyed by some senior people in the Council and also the Police, were to ‘downplay’ the ethnic dimensions of CSE. Unsurprisingly, frontline staff appeared to be confused as to what they were supposed to say and do and what would be interpreted as ‘racist’. From a political perspective, the approach of avoiding public discussion of the issues was ill-judged.’
There seemed to be a fear of man rather than of wrongdoing, perhaps even a true definition of political correctness gone mad, that led the council to ‘tiptoe’ around the issue of child sexual exploitation in the Pakistani-heritage community. The report found that there were just two meetings in 15 years about CSE – and they took place in 2011 when the abuse stretched back into the late nineties.
How did this go on for so long? The Jay report is worth reading in full, if only to get a measure of the way apparently well-organised organisations apparently working in a joined-up way managed to fail 1,400 children (at least). But something removed the urgency and made fear of breaking a taboo and being labelled politically incorrect the bigger thing. It was a fear of consequences, of anyone more important and powerful finding out that repeated allegations and internal reports were being ignored and someone being held responsible. ‘An issue or responsibility that belongs to everybody effectively belongs to nobody, and in the case of sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham, accountability was key,’ said the report.
If we are to prevent another Rotherham, public servants must never feel as though they will not be held accountable for doing nothing.