Children with a parent who suffers from domestic violence are increasingly likely to be at risk of being taken into care, a charity claims.
The Family Rights Group says that cuts to local domestic abuse and family support services, compounded by welfare reforms, mean families are more likely to be split up because they can no longer get specialist help. Data suggests that domestic violence has outstripped parental mental illness or drug and alcohol misuse as the most common underlying factor behind child protection intervention.
“Our data tells us … that the state’s way of dealing with domestic violence is often to end up with a child being made subject to child protection plans,” said Cathy Ashley, the chief executive of Family Rights Group.
Cathy Ashley said abused women had reported that they were told by social workers to leave the family home with their children immediately or risk them being taken into care, often forcing them to move away from family and community support networks into insecure housing.
In one case, a woman reported she was told by social workers that if there was another incident of domestic abuse the children would be removed. “What that tells the woman is you cannot report abuse to the police or you risk losing your children,” said Ashley.
An 18-year old is facing a possible term of life imprisonment after he was convicted of multiple rape and child prostitution offences against girls aged 12 and 13 in a case prosecutors said was one of one of the worst examples of child sexual abuse they have seen.
Zdeno Mirga, known as “Skinny”, was the boss of a Peterborough gang accused of crimes against five girls, one of whom told how she was sexually abused by boys at parties and raped in the children’s play area at the Central Park in the city.
A 13-year-old victim was forced to perform sex acts on up to 10 attackers in the park, as one of them urged: “Rape her,” the jury at the Old Bailey heard. She was sold for £20 a time by Mirga so he could spend the money on “weed and vodka”.
The girl who blew the whistle on the abuse when she was taken into care suffered from learning difficulties. She was forced to perform sex with strangers, including oral sex on a 50-year-old man, the court heard.
She told how Mirga took her to a party and gave her vodka and cannabis before taking her to a bedroom. “I was shocked. There was 10 guys, no girls,” she said and described lying on the bed “like dead” while being touched by Mirga and his friend before performing oral sex.
Two teenage members of the gang, who cannot be named, were also convicted of rape, child sex and sexual assault charges, another was found guilty of sexual activity with a child, but cleared of rape.
A 33-year old man, Hassan Abdulla, was convicted on four charges of rape and three of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.
Members of the gang laughed and wept in the dock as the jury announced its decisions. One shouted: “Am I guilty or what? I didn’t rape them.”
Thanking the jury for their diligence after almost 34 hours of deliberation, Judge John Bevan QC said the case was “high up the scale of depravity”.
Two of the victims of the abuse, which took place between April and December 2012, were sisters of Slovakian origin and the other three were English. The gang were of Czech, Slovak and Kurdish background.
Prosecutor Angela Rafferty said the “charismatic and controlling” Mirga encouraged his victim with learning difficulties “often very forcefully indeed, to give other boys and men oral and vaginal sex. He did this using the power he had over her at the time, or threatened her and sometimes he used violence against her.”
She went on: “Skinny took her to parties where she was shared around sexually” and said he had “forceful vaginal sex” with her in the toilets in a park.
Another girl was sexually assaulted in her garden by a teenage boy while her parents were inside watching TV. The 13-year-old victim said her attacker forced her to give him oral sex three or four times a week.
One victim described being pinned down and raped by a 14-year-old gang member at a party as she tried to sleep. She said they had threatened to kill her and she was too scared to go to the police.
The oldest member of the gang, Abdulla, allegedly had a fetish for “gypsy” girls and was accused of raping a schoolgirl in his Peterborough home.
Mirga’s brother Dusan, 20, and David Ziga, 19, and a teenage boy, were found not guilty of charges against them.
Speaking afterwards Grace Ononiwu, chief crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in the east of England, said: “The fact that eight individuals faced a total of 46 charges of sexual abuse, including some which carry maximum penalties of life imprisonment, demonstrates the extent and seriousness of the offending which was alleged against them. This case is one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse we have seen. This is child sexual abuse at its worst, preying on the vulnerable for sexual gratification.”
Detective superintendent Gary Ridgway of Cambridgeshire Police said the convictions were part of an ongoing joint inquiry by Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Peterborough City Council’s Children’s social care department to safeguard young people.
“These girls were targeted simply because they were vulnerable,” he said. ” They were seen as easy targets and exploited by this group of teenage boys and young men who abused them for their own sexual gratification.
“The victims, who were as young as 12 years old, were subjected to horrific ordeals. But they have shown incredible strength throughout this process: in particular by giving evidence at court in order to bring these people to justice. We are committed to helping those girls pick up the pieces and move on with their lives.”
The judge adjourned sentencing until 20 February.