Briefing paper: Ongoing Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham
Rotherham Council Conservative Group - 3rd November 2021
Please direct comments or questions on this briefing paper to Councillor Emily Barley, leader of the Rotherham Council Conservative Group, at email@example.com.
If you have information or suspicions regarding CSE in Rotherham, please contact South Yorkshire Police. If you feel unable to do so, please contact Emily Barley as above and your identity will be protected.
This briefing note gives further information to support the Conservative motion ‘Ongoing Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham’ which is to be tabled at Rotherham Council’s meeting on 10th November 2021.
During the campaign leading up to the local elections in May 2021 Conservative candidates knocked on thousands of doors across Rotherham. One of the issues that came up repeatedly on the doorstep was Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).
Many local residents spoke of the CSE scandal from 2012 onwards and the damage it did to Rotherham’s reputation, and cited this as a reason for their lack of trust in Rotherham Council (RMBC), South Yorkshire Police (SYP), and others.
Some local residents also asserted their belief that CSE is an ongoing issue in Rotherham.
In May 2021, 20 Conservative Councillors were elected. Within a few weeks the leader of the group established a small working group of Councillors tasked with looking into CSE and ascertaining whether it is an ongoing problem in Rotherham. It was hoped that after thorough investigation, the working group could conclude that CSE was no longer a problem and that all possible steps were being taken by RMBC and SYP to tackle CSE.
Sadly, that was not what was found.
It very quickly became clear that CSE is a continuing problem in Rotherham, that police action is seriously lacking, and that the Council is committed to the idea that CSE is part of Rotherham’s past, not its present.
This briefing paper explains why the Conservative working group on CSE reachedthis conclusion.
2. Current instances of CSE
The working group found multiple examples of active grooming and CSE in multiple locations across Rotherham. Every piece of intelligence uncovered by the working group was passed to South Yorkshire Police, and most examples were also passed to Rotherham Council.
Set out below is information on where, what, and how these examples were discovered. In all cases, enough detail is given to illustrate the issue at hand, but most details are left out in the interests of ensuring future investigations are not jeopardised, and local people and whistleblowers who spoke to the working group are protected.
The proper authorities have already received all information held by the working group, including details omitted from this briefing paper, with intelligence passed to them as it was received.
Where CSE is taking place
The working group uncovered examples of grooming and CSE in:
Locations include several public parks, allotments, car parks, private homes, fast food shops, a car wash, and a petrol station.
Concerns were also raised with the group about possible activity in Dinnington, but no details of where or what within Dinnington could be obtained by the working group.
As these locations were uncovered by a small number of Councillors in a short amount of time, the working group believes that this is likely to be ‘the tip of the iceberg’.
What is happening
Examples of concerning and/or suspicious activity include:
• Teenage girls being given mobile phones by older Asian men, and being picked up from a specific location after 10pm. Descriptions of the cars and people involved, plus a number plate, were included in this intelligence.
• A person entertaining male and female children aged between 13 and 16 in her flat, along with adult males who regularly come and go, including late at night. Neighbours were concerned about CSE and drug dealing at this location, andhave recorded videos of girls discussing having sex with older men.
• Reports of ‘girls being sold for sex’ from a petrol station and takeaway shop.
• Girls being picked up by older Asian men in cars in the evening and late at night from various quiet locations including allotments and parks.
• Information about girls from Rotherham being taken by older Asian men to a fast-food restaurant, and then other men picking them up from there and taking them on to locations outside the Borough and across the north of England.
• Information about groups of older Asian men being seen with young girls in various other locations, including private homes, with members of the community expressing their concern about grooming and possible CSE.
All of the above information – plus details deliberately not included in this report – has been passed to the police, at Inspector level or above, and most information has been passed to the Council.
Advocates who work with children told the working group that they believe the model being used by perpetrators of CSE has changed. They told the working group:
• Following the tightening up of taxi licensing in Rotherham, perpetrators have moved to using private vehicles, though in some instances taxis are still used.
• Vans in car parks are sometimes used as locations for CSE.
• Perpetrators are targeting girls who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, including being in care, being autistic, and coming from chaotic homes. It has also been suggested that immigrant communities are being targeted by perpetrators.
• Organised criminal gangs are combining CSE with Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE), including drug dealing/county lines. Children are groomed and then pressured into doing things they do not want to do, including CSE and taking/dealing drugs.
• Perpetrators act across Rotherham and Sheffield.
• Some perpetrators are grooming children online, through social media, and then moving to in-person abuse and CSE.
The working group is unable to verify all of these claims, but is confident that they come from reliable sources who work ‘on the front line’ with vulnerable children, victims, and survivors on a daily basis.
How we found out
The information on ‘where’ and ‘what’ received by the working group came from a number of sources, including:
• Concerned members of the community, including residents and business owners, telling their Councillor what they have seen. In some cases this started as casework, e.g. following issues with anti-social behaviour.
• Council staff who have come across suspicious/concerning activity through their work. Council staff said their managers told them not to talk about CSE or make reports about CSE, and told the working group that they are afraid of losing their jobs if they speak out.
• Youth workers, community workers, and other advocates for children.
• Adult survivors of CSE who make it their business to look out for suspicious activity.
Many of the examples given above were shared with the working group by multiple independent members of the public, indicating that in some places grooming and CSE is an ‘open secret’ within the community.
Every person who spoke to the working group was asked to speak to the police directly. However, they were reluctant to do so stating two key reasons:
• Fear that their identity would not be protected, and that their jobs and physical safety would be at risk.
• Concern that nothing would be done as a result, meaning taking on personal risk would achieve nothing.
Some people also told the working group that they have previously reported suspicions to the Council and police and were dismissed or even treated as a nuisance. In some cases, they were intimidated and harassed by alleged perpetrators with no action taken by the Council or police.
Given these experiences, the working group is concerned that lack of confidence in the police is leading to under-reporting of suspicious activities, and that internal Council processes, including to protect whistleblowers, are inadequate.
3. The Council’s response
Rotherham Council’s response to reports from the working group has been practically non-existent, and at times the working group has felt that various elements within the Council are deliberately avoiding talking about CSE.
The working group is conscious that Rotherham’s Children and Young People’sServices have been rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted, but nevertheless children continue to be groomed and sexually exploited in the Borough. The group is clear that the Council’s purpose is to protect children, not just pass inspections.
To specific intelligence
The working group has been unable to identify any proper actions taken by the Council in response to reports of possible grooming and CSE-related activity. This is despite multiple reports and reminders, and escalating concerns in some locations.
In one case, a member of the community reported their concerns to a member of Council staff first. The member of staff refused to pass on concerns, and so the resident contacted their Councillor instead. The working group feels that this, along with the fears expressed by potential whistleblowers, indicates a cultural problem around CSE within the Council – the priority seems to be to not talk about it.
In another example, a Councillor repeatedly raised concerns on behalf of residents through RMBC’s e-casework system and was variously ignored and passed around different members of staff who each asserted it was not their job to deal with the issue.
The working group feels that this example shows two problems within the Council: first, CSE is not taken seriously. And second, there is no clear escalation procedure or person(s) responsible for responding to concerns.
Rotherham Council has several committees, made up of Councillors and independent persons, tasked with scrutinising the actions and performance of the Council and partners within the Borough. Agendas are set by the Chairs of these committees. CSE is striking in its absence from scrutiny committee agendas in Rotherham.
• In June 2021, a request was made to include CSE within the work programme for the Improving Lives Select Commission for 2021/22. The request included looking at the Council’s ongoing performance against the recommendations contained within the Jay Report and other reports on CSE in Rotherham, and to scrutinise the work being done by South Yorkshire Police on CSE, especially any work being done proactively.
o The Chair refused this request and said: “And as for slips, in relation to the Jay report, our Ofsted would indicate we are a different council with different out comes”.
• In July 2021 a virtual meeting was held to discuss the Improving Lives Select Commission work programme. Again, a request was made to include CSE on the agenda. Again, this request was refused following a heated discussion.
• A report on post-CSE support for survivors was originally scheduled to be scrutinised by the Improving Lives Select Commission in July 2021. This was repeatedly postponed, and is now scheduled for December 2021.
At best, it is a dangerous omission that there are no visible processes to assure the Council and Councillors that issues around grooming, safeguarding, and CSE are being properly managed by the Council. At worst, the issue of CSE is being deliberately avoided in scrutiny committees.
It is the working group’s view that an ongoing process of scrutiny of the Council’s policies and procedures on grooming and CSE must be established, with regular, detailed updates and as much transparency as is legally possible.
4. The Police response
The police response to reports of CSE has likewise been lacking.
• In the majority of cases of intelligence being passed to the police, the working group has been unable to identify any action taken by the police. In most cases reports did not receive any acknowledgement. The working group has been told by campaigners and advocates that this is normal.
• In one example, after assurances from the relevant Inspector that concerns would be investigated, a PCSO stated at a meeting between Councillors, police, and others, that ‘some Councillor’ had raised concerns but that she’d looked and ‘nothing was going on’. When pressed, the PCSO stated that she had attended briefly in a patrol car at 6pm, when the intelligence had stated that suspicious activities were taking place after 10pm. Despite pressing the matter, no further action has been taken.
• In another case, the information given was acknowledged and promises were made that action would be taken, but no further information has been receivedby the relevant Councillor. Local residents who initially raised the issue report that nothing has been done by police.
The working group is concerned that some police officers simply do not want to hear about CSE, and certainly do not want to take proper action to investigate and protect children. At times, Councillors have felt that they have been treated as an inconvenience or a nuisance. The working group is also concerned that internal processes, accountability, and chain of command are not adequate to ensure reports are properly responded to.
Given what survivors have said to the working group (see below), the group is also concerned that frontline police officers do not understand CSE and therefore cannot recognise suspicious activities when they see them. Frontline police officers who want to do the right thing appear to not be supported and not have a clear process for escalating concerns.
Before intelligence related to CSE was gathered and passed to the police, the leader of the Conservative Group met with Rotherham’s Chief Superintendent and was assured of SYP’s processes for handling intelligence that may indicate CSE and investigating cases. Though the processes look good on paper, the working group’s experience is that they do not work in practice.
At the same meeting, the Chief Superintendent was asked what the police is doing proactively to identify possible perpetrators and victims of CSE. He was unable to give an answer and indicated that the police rely on intelligence reports and respond reactively. Given the reluctance of members of the public to report concerns to the police, the lack of proactive policing on CSE is especially concerning.
It should be noted that the leader of the Conservative Group felt the Chief Superintendent does care about CSE and victims, but that nevertheless the processes within SYP are not effective or adequate.
The working group also spoke to adult survivors of CSE. Survivors shared their experiences and expertise with the group, giving the group a better understanding of how CSE starts and develops, and what it becomes, as well as a better understanding of what adult survivors of CSE need in terms of support.
RMBC and SYP
Adult survivors told the working group that as children they felt ignored by the Council and police, that their families were ignored, and that they were treated as though they were ‘criminals’ and ‘bad people’ rather than being recognised as victims.
Adult survivors told the working group that engaging with South Yorkshire Police continues to be very difficult. They said:
• They feel the police still do not understand how to protect survivors from ongoing intimidation and harassment in advance of prosecutions.
• When survivors ask for updates on their cases they are often ignored and have to repeatedly request information before they get any.
• After waiting a long time to obtain a meeting with police, survivors often have todeal with PCs who are not trained in CSE, and therefore do not understand the complexity of their cases and are not sensitive to the ongoing trauma and mental health issues many survivors carry with them.
Survivors also told the working group that they believe CSE is continuing within Rotherham in part because the response from RMBC and SYP continues to be poor. One survivor said: “They ignored our abuse but fed us to the lions while perpetrators ran free, and this is still happening.”
Survivors said that RMBC and SYP have never apologised to them for their failings, and the working group believes that this should be urgently remedied. Survivors also explained that the process to receive compensation is lengthy and difficult, with the Council creating delays, losing files, and trying to negotiate compensation down.
Council commissioned support services
The survivors the working group spoke to took a dim view of the support services commissioned by the Council for survivors.
Among the criticisms survivors raised, they said that support is limited in scope, often time limited, and that pre-trial and post-trial support is not offered.
Survivors explained that while Rotherham Rise has a dedicated team for CSE,counselling is only offered for eight weeks, with the possibility to extend for a further eight weeks. This is not enough for survivors who often struggle with life-long problems as a result of their abuse.
One survivor explained that they do not feel comfortable accessing Rotherham Rise services due to a member of staff having a personal connection to their perpetrator.
Of the survivors the working group spoke to, none were able to identify any services available to them from Barnardo’s.
Survivors also said that they felt the challenges they face as adults are not fully appreciated by the Council and the commissioned services. They explained that due to the abuse they experienced, they missed big parts of education and normal growing up. They feel opportunities to support them as children were missed, and that nothing has been done since to help mend that.
Survivors also mentioned the mental health struggles faced by their parents and families as a result of CSE, and that they do not receive any recognition or support from the Council or commissioned services. Survivors feel this is an oversight as their families suffered too, and continue to suffer.
The survivors the working group spoke to said that they all have life-long mental health problems, and that many survivors have died by suicide, including recently. In the absence of proper commissioned services, many survivors have banded together to support each other which means when someone is in crisis or dies by suicide, it affects all of them.
The survivors the working group spoke to pointed to Swinton Lock Activity Centre and Rotherham Abuse Counselling Services as valuable support services within the Borough.
Survivors explained that these services are helpful to them because they give courses of counselling as well as on-going support, are available in the evening as well as daytime, survivors are able to choose a male or female counsellor, and survivors are able to refer themselves. They also pointed to the more informal, more personalised support that is available from these services, which includes pre- and post-trial support.
Experiences with social services
The survivors the working group spoke to were scathing about Rotherham’s social services. In addition to feeling that social services let them down as children, many survivors feel that they are not supported as adults.
Some survivors explained that they have had children removed from their care or feel that this may happen in the future. They feel that interventions are not early enough, and do not offer the support survivors need to be able to parent well and cope with their children. They said that they feel they have been repeatedly let down and punished, rather than being helped to recover.
Some survivors have also been told that they cannot parent teenagers – and have had teenagers removed from their care – because when they were teenagers themselves they were unable to identify risk (including of grooming and CSE). They feel that they continue to be blamed for being victims, whilst not being offered any support.
Survivors and the working group agreed that protecting children must be the first priority for social services, but that this would be much better achieved by working with, rather than against, adult survivors of CSE.
What should be done
Survivors told the working group what they feel RMBC and SYP should do to address current CSE and support survivors. Their thoughts included:
• That the Council and police need to have robust procedures for tackling CSE, and that those procedures should be made as transparent as possible.
• That the Council and police need to make more of an effort to properly understand CSE, as without proper understanding they will continue to fail. It is not enough for only specialist teams to understand CSE – staff in other departments and on the front line need to understand too.
• That proper, individualised, timely support and therapy should be provided to give survivors the best chance of recovery.
• That the Council and police should work more closely with the NCA to ensure that survivors are properly supported before, during, and after trials.
• That the police and Council should be proactive, scouring parks and places that young people gather to ensure that children are safe, and to make them aware of grooming and other dangers. They should also work to disrupt perpetrators.
• That the Council and police need to intervene earlier to prevent CSE, or grooming that may develop into CSE, and therefore prevent victims being created in the first place.
Finally, survivors told the working group that given Rotherham’s history, they believe Rotherham should be leading the country in terms of work to tackle and prevent CSE and provide support for survivors. They feel that rather than actually wanting to get it right, some people in positions of authority are ‘only sorry because they got caught’, and now want to brush CSE under the carpet.
6. The motion to Full Council
As a result of the information gathered and contained in this briefing paper, the Conservative Group is tabling the following motion at the Rotherham Council meeting on 10th November 2021.
Motion: Ongoing Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham
This Council notes:-
• For many years Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham was serious and widespread, but largely ignored by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) and South Yorkshire Police (SYP).
• Since 2014, progress has been made on many issues related to CSE, including improvements in taxi licensing.
• However, children continue to be sexually exploited in Rotherham, and girls and boys continue to be raped and trafficked by organised gangs. The model used by organised criminals has changed, with CSE linking into Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE), and private vehicles being used.
• In the six months since the local elections, Councillors have passed community gathered intelligence to RMBC and SYP regarding possible grooming and CSE in numerous locations in the Borough, including Wath, Rawmarsh, Greasbrough, Clifton, and Eastwood.
• The response to this intelligence has been poor, with slow or no action taken, obstructive and confrontational attitudes from the authorities, and a continual refusal to acknowledge that due to reactive, not proactive, Council and Police approaches to CSE, the true scale of the problem in Rotherham cannot be known at present.
• Lack of community confidence in the Council and the Police continue to be significant barriers to the reporting of CSE, as individuals fear reprisals from alleged perpetrators and that no action will be taken in response to their reports. Potential whistleblowers who work for the Council similarly fear for their jobs should they speak out, as they say they have been instructed by managers not to talk about CSE.
• While RMBC has performed well in Ofsted and other inspections, what matters is not that inspections are passed, but that children are protected from some of the most horrific crimes imaginable.
• In addition to these issues with current, active CSE, many survivors feel unsupported in their recoveries and targeted by social services in relation to their own children.
Therefore, we demand that the Council:-
• Acknowledges that the true scale of CSE in Rotherham is not and cannot be known at present due to reactive policies and under-reporting, and that CSE may be occurring on the same scale as in the past.
• Deliver, as a matter of urgency, proper, detailed, in-person training to Council staff and Council contractors who are in regular contact with members of the public or who work out in our communities, so that they can recognise grooming, and suspicious activities that may indicate CSE.
• Launch a comprehensive public information campaign to likewise help members of the public recognise behaviours, activities, and other signs which may indicate CSE.
• Review and improve internal procedures for handling reports and intelligence that may indicate CSE, with clear actions to be taken, deadlines for those actions, designated people responsible for taking them, and a clear escalation procedure.
• Gather and record intelligence that may or does indicate CSE in a joined-up way, including cross referencing reports to build a fuller picture, working with expert partners in the third sector to gather intelligence, and sharing all intelligence with the police.
• Takes a proactive approach to CSE, identifying and supporting children at risk and identifying people who may be perpetrators, whilst recognising that the criminal model used by perpetrators is likely to continue changing as the authorities act.
• Proactively target known and potential CSE hot spots, including but not limited to hotels, the night-time economy, parks, and gangs engaged in Child Criminal Exploitation and county lines drug dealing.
• Develop an ‘exit strategy’ to support children to leave CSE, and continually review the strategy to ensure that it is effective.
• Review the Council's whistleblowing policy and give consideration to improving protections for people who believe they are whistleblowing, protecting their jobs and pensions, and providing a specialist independent person to whistleblow to.
• Ensure that RMBC’s and SYP’s work on CSE is properly scrutinised through the appropriate committees of elected members, including regular, detailed updates and regular reviews of scrutiny arrangements to ensure that they are robust.
• Give a full and unreserved apology to survivors for Council failings that extended their abuse and continue to make their recoveries difficult.
• Look at ways to improve support for survivors of CSE, with the understanding that distrust and animosity towards the Council means that for many survivors, services that are as distant and as independent as possible from the Council would be most helpful, and that due to the life-long challenges many survivors face, support needs to be individualised and long-term.
• Put pressure on South Yorkshire Police to likewise recognise that CSE is a major and continuing problem in Rotherham and elsewhere in South Yorkshire, and likewise improve their response to reports and begin to proactively target known and potential perpetrators, locations, and victims.
Proposer: Councillor Emily Barley
Seconder: Councillor Jill Thompson