As many as 373 children may have been targeted for sex by gangs of men in Oxfordshire in the last 16 years, a serious case review found.
The investigation came after a sadistic sex gang of seven men were jailed in 2013 for abusing six girls in Oxford, between 2004 and 2012.
Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council made “many errors” in that case and could have acted sooner.
A victim of the gang said the issue had been “swept under the carpet”.
Of the 373 cases, the council said about 50 victims were boys.
Speaking at a press conference, the chair of Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board (OSCB) Maggie Blyth said: “What happened to the victims is deeply disturbing.
“It is shocking that these children were subjected to such appalling sexual exploitation for so long.
“[There was] a culture across all organisations that failed to see that these children were being groomed in an organised way by groups of men.”
Speaking in the House of Commons, Oxford East MP Andrew Smith called on the government to set up an independent inquiry.
The report highlighted a “professional tolerance to knowing young teenagers were having sex with adults”.
The report revealed that a view had developed among staff that victims, who were often seen to be from difficult families, were bringing problems on themselves.
They were described as “precocious” and “very difficult girls making bad choices”, who had decided to adopt a certain lifestyle and were exaggerating their claims.
As a result, the girls were dismissive and hostile to staff because they felt like they were being criticised. Staff in turn allegedly treated victims without common courtesies and subjected them to “snide remarks”.
One girl said social services “washed their hands” of her, telling her her behaviour was “her choice”.
Another recounted how she arrived at a police station at in the early hours of the morning, “blood all over me, soaked through my trousers”.
She said: “They dismissed it as me being naughty, a nuisance. I was bruised and bloody.”
The language used by professionals indicated they saw the girls as the cause of their extreme behaviour instead of as victims and they received much less sympathy as a result, the report said.
“The child victims and their families feel very let down,” wrote Dr Bedford. “Their accounts of how they perceived professional work are disturbing and chastening.”
Despite the ages of the victims, a tolerance to young teenagers having sex with adults appears to have formed among professionals.
This was in part due to a lack of understanding around consent laws and an acceptance that nationally, children are being sexualised at a young age and can acquire contraception long before they are legally able to have sex.
This confusion, combined with judgements being made about the victims and their families, detracted from what was being done to the girls, the report said.
“The reluctance in many places, both political and professional, to have any firm statements about something being ‘wrong’, creates an environment where it is easier for children to be exploited,” Dr Bedford wrote.
“[But] this is an issue reaching way beyond Oxfordshire and requires a national debate.”
The girls being dismissed as having made a ‘lifestyle choice’ to be ‘child prostitutes’ (that’s not spelt out in these reports, but it has been elsewhere ), were aged between 11 and 15:
(the above from BBC Oxford’s news feed here)
The first report I link to does mention “arranging or facilitating prostitution” as part of what was going on, but also says:
“The girls, aged between 11 and 15, were plied with alcohol and drugs and led to believe their abusers were their boyfriends.
They were then each either abused by the men themselves, given to the men’s friends or offered at a price to others who were not on trial.”
These men were pimps, and the abuse of these 11- to 15-year-old girls was part of the sex industry, but nobody wants to talk about that (or track down and prosecute the men who paid to rape them), to acknowledge that there is no neat and clean divide between adult prostitution and the commercial sexual exploitation of children (I agree with the recent call to stop calling it ‘child prostitution’, but that change does serve to further distance the two and pretend that there is no overlap).
I first blogged about this back in 2011, and, still, no one in the mainstream wants to talk about the influence of mainstream pornography, or about male entitlement which is reinforced by the increasing expansion and normalisation of the sex industry.
It is acknowledged in coded terms, ie “children are being sexualised at a young age”. Let’s break down what that is actually saying:
Police and social workers, influenced by pornography and pop-culture (which itself is influenced by pornography) saw it as ‘normal’ (as in ‘commonplace’ and therefore ‘ok’) for girls as young as eleven to be sexually active.
These are the same forces that work on girls and young women to tell them that their only value comes through their sexuality (and, unlike in bygone ages, it has to be on display to be valued), and on boys and men to make them feel entitled to that sexuality.
So the ‘explanation’ here is that the ‘authorities’ who were supposed to be protecting these girls, were as porn-sick as the men abusing them, so didn’t see any abuse.
Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk (Labour) said agencies had actively ignored the abuse and that “social services believed these girls were making lifestyle choices”.
“The biggest issue to come out of this report is that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) were effectively discriminating against poor, white, working-class girls, so that’s not about a failure to spot abuse, that is about actively ignoring abuse that was going on when it was brought to their attention,” he said.
One father called Children’s Social Care (CSC) up to 50 times, reporting his daughter’s “uncontrollable drinking, running away and difficult behaviour”.
Social workers told him she was “a child prostitute”, and he accepted this “because he did not know that it was wrong”, the review said.