Tuesday saw the official launch event of my book, CSE After Rotherham, co-authored with Dr Angie Heal.
We were extremely fortunate to have the support of our publishers Jessica Kingsley; and St George’s and Kingston University, which enabled us to run the launch as a practice conference. The speakers included us as authors, the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, and Professor Alexis Jay. The survivor who wrote the foreword to the book, T, was also present and gave an incredible speech (her first).
In the spirit of the book, while some aspects of the presentations revisited key failures and findings from Rotherham, the main content considered what could be learned from Rotherham and areas, and what good practice should look like.
Key learning from the conference was:
- That working with CSE is traumatic for professional involved, particularly when not supported well by multi agency partnerships; and when they raise concerns about practice but are not supported or encouraged when doing so
- That services peripheral to Children’s Social Care are nationally under threat as resources and funding cuts take effect, even though these often provide an essential service to child victims of sexual abuse
- That services for young men and boys remain disproportionately small in comparison to services for young woman, and there is a still a gender bias in responding to CSE. It was shocking to hear one young boy’s worker describe how his already stretched role was being cut further, and how recently one professional failed to see a male victim of CSE as such, describing him as a ‘rent boy’. The child concerned was 12 years old.
- Updates on research from various sources including the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, which shows that child victims of abuse are waiting twice as long for investigations to conclude and for cases to get to court
- The Barnahus model (an alternative to the criminal justice system for child sex abuse victims) is being piloted in North and South London, and Durham this year with other Police and Crime Commissioners being urged to pilot the model in their areas
T’s presentation was without doubt the one that impacted on professionals the most and the one that was the hardest to listen to. It was the first time that she had spoken publicly about her abuse, which started when she was 12 and ended after years of emotional, physical and sexual torture. No matter how familiar we as authors were with her story, it was heart-breaking to hear; and many of the participants were in tears. The horror of her abuse was exacerbated by professionals’ responses (or lack of), community responses, the reporting by the national press, and the way she was made to feel contaminated throughout her entire adolescent life. She raised an issue that many historical victims have faced- when to tell their children that they are the product of rape and that their mother gave evidence at court, securing their biological father’s imprisonment. We make no apologies for the hard hitting nature of her presentation, or some of the other brutal facts discussed during the conference. This abuse is happening to thousands of children across the UK now and if we find it hard to bear as professionals, imagine what it is like to be those victims. How can we fully understand trauma, assess risk, and design meaningful interventions if we do not understand the true horror for the child?
Overall, the conclusion of the seminar was that while practice responses to CSE are improving, as a country we are a long way off ‘good enough’. I ended the day talking about issues that I frequently encounter in practice audits, case reviews and inspections. These include:
- Historical assumptions and language (such as ‘lifestyle choices’) shaping current safeguarding and criminal justice responses to child victims of CSE
- Risk assessment tools – how ‘low risk’ is often defined as ‘no risk’ and how medium risk indicators include indicators of rape, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse
- Lack of early intervention with both potential victims and potential offenders
- Lack of support for family members
- Continuing poor experiences in the criminal justice system
- The quality of plans to address CSE
- Many of these issues, and others, are explored in our book, along with examples of good practice.
We we’re so grateful to Professor Jay who took time off from chairing the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and Anne Longfield, for supporting the event.
It was also amazing to see how many people attended, and how far they travelled to get there. Their energy, contributions to group discussions at the end, and positive feedback contributed largely to making the day such a success. This is the second event I have run where nearly everyone has stayed to the end, that speaks for itself in describing the value of the learning at this event
The publishers have asked if we will run a similar event in the North later this year and I would be delighted to do so. Watch this space!
Adele offers consultancy and training services across the UK on all safeguarding issues as well as CSE. Contact her on 01226 388540 or 07966 386584 for further details.