Skip to main content

What's behind sex abuse of 1,400 children

By Timothy Stanley
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tim Stanley: Report about sex abuse of 1,400 children shocked Britain. How could it happen?
  • He says some blame authorities' PC reluctance to intervene; offenders were Pakistani
  • But he says blame, too, an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians
  • Stanley: Britain must face hidden sex abuse, unpunished negligence. Inquiry must bring justice

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He is the author of the new book "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The publication of a report into child abuse in the northern town of Rotherham, England has shocked Britain to the core.

The report, by Professor Alexis Jay, gives a "conservative estimate" of 1,400 children being sexually assaulted over a 16-year period. They were beaten, kidnapped, raped and trafficked. Some victims were as young as 11.

How could it happen here, in a modern country that professes to care for the vulnerable? The horrors in Rotherham first came to light in 2010, when five men were jailed for sexual offenses against underage girls. A journalist's investigation into the wider scale of abuse prompted the local council to conduct its own report -- and it's the staggering numbers revealed in Jay's findings that have caught the public's attention.

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

Many of the headlines have focused on the racial makeup of the culprits, who were overwhelmingly Asian males. The report concludes that elected council officials were reluctant to talk directly to the Pakistani community about the problem and that some staff were frightened of being labeled "racist" for doing so.

All of which confirms the assertion from the British right wing that a climate of "political correctness" permitted the abuse to go on. It's impossible not to infer that children could have been rescued had quaint notions of "racial sensitivity" been put aside. The inquiry heard that influential elected Pakistani councilors acted as "barriers of communication."

But a focus on political correctness should not distract from the wider, institutional betrayal of children by police, social services and local politicians. The scale of which was staggering and the neglect sometimes willful. Professor Jay states that "nobody could say 'we didn't know' "

The crimes were committed in the open. The report explained how the grooming of victims (from all racial backgrounds) occurred: "Schools raised the alert over the years about children as young as 11, 12 and 13 being picked up outside schools by cars and taxis, given presents and mobile phones and taken to meet large numbers of unknown males in Rotherham, other local towns and cities, and further afield." The girls often believed their rapists were boyfriends, men of relative wealth and sophistication, who gave them gifts and introduced them to others.

These crimes were often reported. Some police officers, according to Jay, treated the accusers with "contempt." This was likely because they were children being held in care by the local authority, meaning that they were separated from their parents and typically living in homes provided by the taxpayers. Their claims were either disbelieved or the encounters possibly dismissed as typical behavior for someone of their social status.

On one occasion, a police officer said that a 12-year-old having sex with five adults shouldn't be categorized as sexual abuse because it was "100% consensual in every incident" (this advice was overruled). I don't need to spell out that British law sees things very differently.

When crimes were reported, cases were gathered and reports filed to the council's staff and elected officials. The scale was such that they were often greeted with disbelief. Three summaries were written in total by justice officials. All three were largely ignored by the police and the council.

When the scandal first went public in 2010, the leader of Rotherham's children's services resigned. Just two years later, the opposition Labour Party endorsed him for its candidate to be elected Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. The leader of the party, Ed Miliband, posed with him in an election photo. He won the election and there are now demands -- including from Labour -- for him to resign. Thus far, he has refused.

Sex exploitation revealed in UK report
Pope begs for forgiveness

It's impossible to make sense of this story.

The barbarity is so enormous, so terrible. There is also the frightening possibility that those responsible for failing to defend the children will not see justice. The report does not name names and it's likely that the social workers and council staff who were so obviously negligent have moved on to jobs in other areas, spreading their incompetence across the country.

While some observers wish to pin the problem on political correctness and others on under-funding, a more simple truth emerges. Individuals did not do their jobs. In some cases they looked the other way. And it's just possible that they will get away with it. They are shielded by political self-delusion.

Rotherham council announced the report's findings with the following assertion: "Services to protect young people at risk from child sexual exploitation in Rotherham are stronger and better co-ordinated across agencies today than ever before, an independent review has found."

This is a stretch, to say the least. Professor Jay did indicate that services have improved at the council but added that it remains understaffed and the long-term victim support inadequate. Importantly, criminal convictions are still woefully low -- a continuing failure by the police.

Britain has a number of problems to face up to. One is a hidden history of child abuse, most dramatically brought to light by the revelations that the late children's entertainer and radio host Jimmy Savile (a friend to the rich and powerful) used his position to exploit the vulnerable.

Another problem is that our public services can operate poorly and by their own standards. Our welfare state is generous and -- including in Rotherham -- boasts excellent staffs doing fantastic work. But it also employs, even provides cover for, individuals who are negligent.

A full public inquiry must be held into what happened in Rotherham, a scandal that repeats much of what has also happened in Rochdale, Derby and Oxford and which is almost certainly taking place today. That is the only effective way to expose those responsible, and to shed light on the Dickensian nightmare playing out in modern Britain.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:08 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
updated 12:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
updated 7:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
updated 7:46 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
updated 1:33 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT