One year on

A year ago this month Professor Alexis Jay published her findings into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham. The report fell like a thunderbolt. For the first time, those in authority sat up and took notice. In fact we all took notice. Eventually the whole country realised that CSE was not just a South Yorkshire problem. It was a national problem.

Even now, one year on, the revelation that so many girls had been abused over such a long period and that so many in positions of authority had failed to do anything about it seems scarcely believable.

Although the Jay report was about the local council, there was also criticism of South Yorkshire Police, both directly and by implication.

After all, if anyone should have realised that what was happening was criminal, the police should.

I was elected to my job as Police and Crime Commissioner as a result of the Jay report. My predecessor was forced to resign in the face of mounting public anger, not for anything he did as Commissioner, but for what he and others allegedly did not do as Rotherham Borough councillors. Inevitably, therefore, the whole matter of CSE has had to be a major priority for me.

I knew that this would involve both ensuring that everything that could be known about the past was uncovered, that prosecutions that should have been brought years ago were brought – however difficult that might be – and that everything that could be done to get things right for the future was being done.

I also knew that this was not going to happen overnight. Investigations take time, though some seem to me to be inordinately long when we remember that the victims are now in their thirties and the crimes were committed against them as teenagers.

But building cases to bring perpetrators to trial successfully, when so much time has gone by and there is likely to be little if any forensic evidence, takes patient and careful work. In addition, not all the women want their past raked up.

When I meet the members of a Victims, Survivors and Families Panel that I set up earlier this year, we all understand the need for this painstaking work while getting more and more impatient that cannot be done more quickly. I have said I will give whatever resources are needed, but this is not the sort of work that anyone can do, and we do need to ensure that when cases are brought to court there is every chance that a conviction will follow. We must not let these young women down again. And cases are being put together for trials later this year.

In the meantime I work with the survivors. They are currently helping with police training. This, I firmly believe, has to be the way forward.

We didn’t listen to these young women all those years ago when they were being abused. We must listen to them now as they help us get things right for the future.