A report by the Oxford Safeguarding Children Board has said over 300 children and young people in the city may have been sexually exploited between 1999 and 2014.
The report, a serious case review, condemns police and social services for not doing enough to stop abuse and even deliberate and systemic lack of belief of girls who reported abuse.
Similar to police and social services in Rotherham, Thames Valley police repeatedly treated girls as if they had chosen to adopt a “lifestyle”.
The report says in 2006 alone the police received four complaints from some of the victims about some of the men involved. One girl made two reports of abuse in 2006, neither was taken seriously. She told officers: “They are doing it to other girls, little girls with their school uniforms on.”
Rotherham and Oxford are surely not isolated cases, yet the senior investigating officer in Oxford’s Operation Bullfinch says councils are falling over themselves to insist that they do not have a problem with child sexual exploitation. He said, “If you think you haven’t got a problem in your city or town, you are just not looking for it.”
As with Rotherham, social worker posts in many cities sit empty while councils use agency staff to plug gaps — leaving services and workers overstretched. Social workers report unmanageable levels of bureaucracy and bullying managers.
Many working on the ground with victims of abuse, such as Risky Business in Rotherham, feel ignored and their concerns pushed aside.
The culture of blaming children for abuse, labeling them as “out of control”, and the pervasive sexism within authorities has to stop.
With the continuing investigation into historic sexual abuse by establishment figures in Westminster, focusing on the apartment complex at Dolphin Square, the government is casting around for quick answers.
As the report into abuse in Oxford was released, Cameron announced that professionals who work with children and councillors could face jail sentences if they are found to turn a blind eye to abuse. Legal measures will not change a culture of sexism and lack of care for vulnerable working-class children. Nor will they change chronic understaffing and underfunding of services.
While it is right that those with power who willfully ignore reports of abuse be held to account, many fear such people will not be challenged while people on the front line will be scapegoated.
This week Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced plans to extend sex education in school to a younger age and to include issues around consent and rape. This should be welcomed.
Too often sex education in schools is limited, badly taught, sexist, and prone to victim blaming when discussing rape.