“Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.” Definition of Child Sexual Exploitation, HM Government
On the 24 September 2012, Times Reporter Andrew Norfolk published his years of research in an article entitled ‘Police Files reveal the vast child protection scandal’. The article brought to everyone’s attention the horrifying truth that young people in Rotherham were being sexual abused on an unprecedented scale by predominantly British Pakistani grooming gangs.
In the aftermath of the publication, independent enquiries were conducted to find out on what scale the abuse was happening.
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council commissioned Professor Alexis Jay OBE to conduct an inquiry in to the abuse of children in Rotherham.
On the 26 August, 2014, in front of a live press conference, Professor Alexis Jay OBE detailed her findings in her report. She concluded that 1,400 young people in Rotherham were estimated to have been abused between 1997 and 2013. These young girls were let down by the system, by Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police.
As a result of the report, the leader of Rotherham Council resigned. Other top officials in turn resigned including the former police and crime commissioner who had been responsible for Rotherham children’s services from 2005 to 2010.
Rotherham Council was later placed in special measures with all of its powers being transferred to commissioners who were drafted in by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Civil claims were later submitted by victims and survivors to Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police.
It was in the wake of the resignation of the former police and crime commissioner that Dr Alan Billings came into office as commissioner after a by-election in October 2014.
Dr Billings immediately set up a victims and survivors panel, so that he and the police could fully understand the experiences of the young girls and how services needed to change.
Dr Billings also commissioned the Drew Review. Professor John Drew sought to establish whether South Yorkshire Police had properly understood and acted upon the findings of various reports and inspections into matters of child sexual exploitation. It also looked at whether the Force’s response to safeguarding children and young people had been adequate across all districts – Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
Operation Stovewood is the National Crime Agency investigation into non-familial child sexual exploitation and abuse in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, between 1997 and 2013. The operation is being funded by the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (with most funds being reimbursed by the Home Office). You can find out more information on the NCA’s website here.
Criminal investigations leading to successful prosecutions have since taken place, with some prolific offenders receiving up to 35 years’ imprisonment.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) continues to investigate a number of referrals from South Yorkshire Police in relation to its handling of child sexual exploitation. You can read more about this here.
The South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner holds the Chief Constable to account for policing services, receiving specific reports on improvements made by South Yorkshire Police in its response to the victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation.
Going forwards, in terms of preventative activity, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner currently funds the ‘You’re Only Young Once’ (YOYO) initiative that visits year nine pupils in South Yorkshire schools to help them understand the dangers of child sexual exploitation and how to spot the signs. Pupils research topics and then produce videos and podcasts to share with friends and families. You can listen to some of their work and find out more about YOYO here.