Rotherham warning over child sex exploitation in Scotland

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Lessons must be learned in Scotland from the Rotherham child abuse scandal, according to a children's charity.

A report published last month found at least 1,400 children were abused in the South Yorkshire town from 1997 to 2013.

Barnardo's Scotland said child sexual exploitation was a "severe problem". It has urged government and child protection agencies not to be complacent.

The charity said Rotherham should be "a wake-up call for Scotland".

The Scottish government said it was committed to protecting children and young people's wellbeing.

Revelations of child abuse on a massive scale in the English town were revealed in the Jay Report.

Now Barnardo's Scotland has published 15 lessons it said must be learned by those involved in protecting children and young people in Scotland.

The charity said child sex exploitation (CSE) "is happening across Scotland", with two large-scale police operations to identify victims and target perpetrators, one of which, Operation Dash, was ongoing.

Barnardo's called for recognition, at every level, that sex between an adult and a child under 16 was always wrong and that it was not the child's responsibility to say 'No'.

Barnardo's Scotland - 15 lessons from Rotherham

  • Scale and seriousness of CSE in Rotherham was underplayed, despite hard evidence from frontline workers.
  • Failures to secure convictions may stem from vulnerable young people not being judged to be credible witnesses in court. Low numbers of prosecutions does not mean CSE is not happening.
  • Perpetrators target residential units, and the most troubled and isolated children.
  • Where there is an ethnic dimension to CSE, such as a large number of the abusers coming from a particular ethnic, cultural or social background, whatever that background may be, issues around CSE must be directly addressed with, and by, that group.
  • Girls from white British backgrounds in Rotherham were not the only victims of sexual exploitation.
  • Common thread running through CSE cases in England is that there are 'hot spots' where young people may be particularly vulnerable.
  • In Rotherham, there was little or no specialist counselling or appropriate mental health support for victims, despite their acute distress.
  • Online grooming can move from online contact to personalised contact very quickly.
  • Sex education was often out of touch.
  • A child going missing should always be considered to be a risk indicator of CSE.
  • Specialist services, which understand both CSE and child protection, have an important role to play.
  • Thresholds for intervention by agencies need to be clearly defined and set at an appropriate level.
  • The Jay Report states: "An issue or responsibility that belongs to everybody effectively belongs to nobody".
  • Strategies, action plans, protocols and procedures do nothing at all for children if they are not implemented.
  • Finally, "this abuse is not confined to the past but continues to this day."

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo's Scotland, said: "We know child sexual exploitation is happening across Scotland.

"We know how devastating it can be. We know charities and support agencies are aware of the problem and are working to put the necessary infrastructure in place to tackle child sexual exploitation.

"But as part of this process, we all need to heed the warning and learn the lessons from Rotherham if we are to be certain that we are all doing our best to protect children from this horrific form of abuse in Scotland."

He added: "If there is one fundamental lesson from Rotherham it is that we cannot be complacent about child sexual exploitation in Scotland."

Police Scotland said keeping children safe, particularly those who are vulnerable, was top of its list of priorities.

As part of Operation Dash, 22 people have been reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in relation to a range of crimes.

Det Ch Supt Lesley Boal said: "CSE is a complex challenging and sensitive area of policing.

"Police Scotland works nationally to support the Scottish government's action plan on CSE and we have developed an action plan to compliment this.

"In addition at a local level we have created 14 divisional public protection units that work in partnership with local authorities and health through child protection committees to tackle all forms of child abuse including CSE.

"Within Police Scotland we have a number of specialist units including the National Rape Task Force, the National Human Trafficking Unit and the National Domestic Abuse Task Force that focus on serious sexual crimes."

'Abhorrent crime'

The Scottish government published updated child protection guidance in May this year.

A spokeswoman said: "Child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent crime and can have devastating impact on victims and their families.

"We established an expert working group to specifically examine child sexual exploitation and this work contributed to our updated guidance. We also work closely with the experts at the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children (CELCIS) to shape policies and practices to ensure that protection is as rigorous as possible.

"We share a duty- in families, communities, government, social care and the justice system - to protect young people from harm.

"Clearly all of us working to keep children safe in Scotland are considering the lessons to be learned from the Jay report to maintain a robust and responsive system of child protection in Scotland. The public would expect no less."

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