Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Children’s Services & Child Sexual Exploitation

Following on from the Jeremy Forrest case, I've decided to write about a case I worked on, when working for children's services.

The child in need was 12 years old, and was described by her teachers as dressing 'provocatively' and behaving 'inappropriately' with male teachers.

Some background - the child was resident with dad, and didn't have any contact with mum. Dad worked long hours, and the child would regularly go missing for hours in the evening. No adults knew where she was, and dad didn't believe that he could enforce boundaries while he was at work.

The child went missing one evening, and she was found on a local housing estate with a group of older teenage girls and older men. One of these men (age 28 years) had a conviction for sexual activity with a child, and possession of indecent images of children, and had recently been placed on the sex offenders register.

I recorded my concerns with children's services, who said the responsibility for safeguarding her lay with dad, so I was to continue to try and engage him. Apparently, my concerns (which are wider than this post but removed for confidentiality purposes) did not reach 'threshold'.

Dad wouldn't allow our service to engage with his daughter. We offered group work, individual family support and many other types of support. I continued to try and work with dad whilst managing the concerns of the school around her behaviour.

Dad eventually consented to her attending one of our group sessions, with other children who were struggling with behaviour expectations in school, and she disclosed that she had a boyfriend. This man was in his early 20's, and a close associate of the man described above.

He had a car, and bought her alcohol. At this point, I was in discussions with other professionals and the police regarding child sexual exploitation and the risks posed to this child. We believed that this child was either being sexually exploited, abused or prepared for sexual abuse (groomed).

Dad then abruptly withdrew his consent for us to work with his daughter. My professional alarm bells were ringing, I did research on gang activity and sexual exploitation and tried repeatedly to get this girl some statutory support.

No deal. Children's services told me:
'We don't have a gang problem in this county'
'We're not like Oxford, or Rochdale, or Rotherham'
'She's just a teenager (she was 12) experimenting and rebelling'
'If she's having sex, what are we meant to do to stop her'
'Young people have agency, you know'
This is victim blaming. This is making young people responsible for (possible) abuses perpetrated against them.

I referred her to the NHS sexual health team, who offer access to contraception, alongside education about consent, safety & healthy relationships - the two go hand in hand.

Dad wouldn't let her attend the appointment. He wouldn't let non-statutory agencies work with him & his daughter. He couldn't, or wouldn't safeguard his daughter.

Children's services have a duty to protect and safeguard. I've left the organisation now, but this young girl pops into my head quite often. Usually when I'm reading about sexual exploitation and child abuse. Who safeguards her? She's not expected to safeguard herself, at 12 years old.

I've read today that the man she described as her boyfriend has been charged with sexual offences in relation to an adult woman.

I'm wondering how long it will take before there's a Serious Case Review because of an incident with this young girl. I hope I'm wrong, and I hope she was protected. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.

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