A Romanian couple have been jailed for trafficking a 14-year-old girl and other women into prostitution in the UK, in the first prosecution for child sex trafficking under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
Romelia Florentina Radu, 32, and Petre Niculescu, 39, were each sentenced to 14 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to trafficking the child and eight women.
A third Romanian national, George Maracineanu, 47, who persuaded a woman to come to the UK, promising her love and work before handing her over to the couple, was jailed for two years and eight months.
The criminal network run by Radu and Niculescu was dismantled by the Metropolitan police and Romanian police after an eight-month joint operation.
The trial at Kingston crown court in Surrey heard that the group preyed on women from impoverished backgrounds, telling some they would be given work in shops or restaurants.
“The defendants benefited criminally from the sexual exploitation of a number of women,” prosecution counsel Caroline Haughey told the court. “They beguiled and deceived their way into their lives and them put them to work on the streets.”
In the case of the pair’s youngest victim, they “deliberately and callously stole her childhood,” she said.
The pair had operated in the UK since 2013 and lured the 14-year-old, one of nine siblings from a poor family, in 2016 after promising her a job as a waitress.
But on the night she arrived in the UK, she was told to change into “sexy” clothes and put on heavy makeup, because “she had the face of a child”, said Haughey.
The court heard that the girl was forced to have sex with men every day for four months.
In a victim impact statement, the girl said: “I was forced to have sex continuously. Many times it was painful and I was disgusted.”
She said she lived in permanent fear and was told not to tell anyone her age or her real name. “They would swear at me and threaten me with violence. They would tell me that they are going to hurt my family and that they would set fire to the front of my door,” she said.
Met police became aware of the gang after one of the victims, a 41-year-old woman, went to a north London police station. She told officers she had been recruited by Maracineanu, who had promised they would earn money together to buy a house in Romania.
The court heard that other women had been controlled by the couple, recruited through friends and family with the promise of a better life. One had been offered work as a prostitute when she was 14. Four years later, she agreed to go with Radu for unspecified work in the UK, but when she arrived was told she would be working as a prostitute.
Others knew they would be working as prostitutes and were told they would share takings. But when they had arrived in the UK thye found themselves in debt bondage – told by the couple they owed money for their travel costs, as well as their “patch” of the street and rent in the flats they used in Paddington, west London. While the women could earn at least £250-300 a night, they were often given as little as £20-30 a day.
They described physical and mental abuse. In a victim impact statement, one of the women said: “Once [Niculescu] beat me really badly. He punched me and then hit me many times with the pole from the hoover… I was covered in blood. I still have a scar because of what happened that day.”
Another described being beaten by a man who refused to pay for sex. “The client was under the influence of drugs and beat me for an hour, both during and after sex,” she said. “He slapped me all over my body, including my face. I was praying to God to escape alive.”
DC Alison Hines said all the women had been subjected to various levels of abuse. “All of them were threatened that their families would be harmed, their houses would be burned down, or they would be beaten up,” she said. “The fact that they were willing to give evidence against their traffickers is incredibly brave.”
Damaris Lakin, a prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service London’s complex casework unit, said: “All three suspects initially denied controlling these women and girls for prostitution. The bravery of these women in providing evidence and supporting this prosecution has helped stop a dangerous criminal network taking advantage of vulnerable young girls.”
Teflon John: The Man Who Hid In Plain Sight
This is the story of suspected baby trafficker, pimp, kidnapper, and major charity fraudster John Davies.
It is also the story of a world renowned academic, missionary, gold-hearted philanthropist, and expert in combatting trafficking in women and children.
Which of these two descriptions is true?
After an investigation lasting almost 20 years, Julie Bindel knows the answer. But will you believe her? Or might you prefer the version peddled by Davies and his supporters since the rumours began to circle back in the 1980s?
The intensive 18-month stage of this long-term investigation has been self-funded by Julie. She now needs to secure production costs to make a ten-part series.
The estimated cost per episode is approximately £500. The remaining funds will go to promotion and distribution in order to disseminate the story of John Davies far and wide. Julie is confident that on hearing the evidence against Davies, more victims and witnesses will come forward.
Once the first two episodes are funded, the team will begin to produce them.
Once properly underway, with regular donations coming in, we aim to produce a 20 minute podcast on a regular basis, covering the ten major phases of the story.
Please help fund this vital investigation, where there will be attempts to silence Bindel’s reporting and allow the podcast team to start producing.
You can listen to a taster of this story here: https://t.co/i4BmmJzM69
Julie Bindel is a British journalist, researcher and feminist campaigner. She has written hundreds of articles published by The Guardian, The Independent, The New Statesmen and other news agencies in Britain and around the world.
She has appeared in countless television interviews and debates in defence of feminist perspectives of male violence, and is a co-founder of the law reform group Justice for Women https://www.justiceforwomen.org.uk/
Bindel is sole author of the forthcoming book, ‘The pimping of prostitution – Abolishing the Sex Work Myth’ (Palgrave McMillan, 2017).
Bindel has devoted her working and non-working life to campaigning against male violence – going after the men who murder, stalk, abuse, terrorise and rape women and girls. Equally, she has exposed the structures, cultural, legal and political practises and ideas which lend themselves to the epidemic of male violence, particular the very idea that the bodies of women and girls are things to be bought, sold, acquired and taken in service of male power and privilege.
Read more at:https://www.byline.com/project/68
New measures to spare alleged rape victims from facing live cross-examination in court will be rolled out as part of changes being made by the justice secretary.
Liz Truss announced that from September victims in England and Wales would be able to provide evidence in prerecorded cross-examinations to be played to the jury once a trial begins.
The rule applying to all adult sexual offences is being introduced following the success of pilot schemes using prerecorded evidence in cases of child sexual abuse.
It was found that defendants, when confronted with the strength of the evidence against them before the trial, were more likely to enter an early guilty plea, reducing the trauma for victims, speeding up the justice process and saving money.
The move comes amid changes that include a crackdown on paedophiles grooming children on social media with a new offence of “sexual communication with a child” to be brought in. It will mean those convicted face a jail sentence of up to two years and an automatic listing on the sex offender register.
Truss said the changes to rape trials would prevent victims facing the trauma of confronting their attackers without reducing the right to a fair trial.
She told the Sunday Times: “There is more we can do to help alleged victims in these cases give the best possible evidence they can give in an environment that is much more suitable than open court. We’ve been trialling this for children in cases of sex abuses.”
She added: “What this has led to is a much higher level of early guilty pleas. That has a huge amount of benefit. It resolves the case much earlier for the victim. It reduces the level of trauma for the victim. I want to see that being the standard offer in those cases and that will give more victims the confidence to come forward.”
Rape prosecutions are at record levels and the court system is struggling to cope with the high caseloads.
Domestic abuse, rape, sexual offences and child sex abuse account for 19% of the Crown Prosecution Service’s total caseload – more than double the figure six years ago.
The volume of rape referrals to the CPS from the police rose to 6,855 in 2015-16 – up 11% on the previous year. Of those referred, 3,910 resulted in charges and 1,300 in convictions. However, campaigners claim only 6% of all reported cases result in a conviction for the perpetrator.
Lisa Avalos, a professor of law at the University of Arkansas who has carried out comparative work on rape prosecutions between Britain and the US, said false allegations of rape make up just 2-3% of all rape allegations according to a study commissioned by the Home Office.
Avalos, an expert on gender-based violence, said: “The overwhelming problem here is rape, it is not false allegations of rape. Studies have shown the majority of false allegations of rape involve unnamed perpetrators so the concerns some organisations have about reputational damage to identifiable individuals are substantially overstated.”
She added: “Concern with false allegation masks another problem, namely that disbelieved rape victims have been wrongly accused of false reporting. Approaching rape victims with scepticism enables rape and discourages victims from coming forward.”
Avalos said that if rape cases were properly investigated in the first place, false allegations would never come to court.
She said: “There are massive failures to properly investigate rapes with police officers only referring between 10% and 30% of all reported cases to prosecutors. There are some international organisations that are putting out excellent rape investigation guidelines but such guidance is yet to be embraced by the UK.”
Children will be taught about healthy adult relationships from the age of four, with sex education made compulsory in all secondary schools, though faith schools will still be allowed to teach “in accordance with the tenets of their faith”, the government has announced.
Politicians and charities welcomed the radical overhaul of sex and relationship education but some secular campaigners expressed concern about the opt-outs that could be available for faith schools, saying the government needed to ensure some pupils were not left vulnerable.
MPs across all parties had lobbied for the change, calling the previous guidance published in 2000 hopelessly inadequate for a modern world in which children can be exposed to pornography, online grooming and abuse at the touch of a button and at an increasingly young age.
In a written statement on Wednesday, the education secretary, Justine Greening, said existing statutory guidance made no mention of modern issues.
“The statutory guidance for sex and relationships education was introduced in 2000 and is becoming increasingly outdated,” she said. “It fails to address risks to children that have grown in prevalence over the last 17 years, including cyberbullying, ‘sexting’ and staying safe online.”
Sex education is compulsory only for secondary school pupils in local authority-run schools. Now all secondary schools, including academies, private schools and religious free schools, must make the age-appropriate sex and relationship education mandatory.
Parents will continue to have a right to withdraw their children from the lessons. Schools will have flexibility in how they deliver the subjects and they can develop an approach that is “sensitive to the needs of the local community” and religious beliefs.
The government will now make the change by tabling its own amendment to the children and social work bill, having previously been under pressure when more than two dozen Tory MPs signed their own backbench amendment to the bill, spearheaded by former women and equalities secretary Maria Miller.
Legislation which criminalises the purchaser of sexual services rather than the seller has been passed in the Dáil by 94 votes to six.
There were three abstentions.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill also strengthens laws to combat child pornography and prevent the sexual grooming of children. And it amends provisions on incest and indecent exposure.
[…] Provisions in the Bill also include prohibition of the wearing of wigs and gowns in proceedings involving children and the prohibition on the cross-examination of victims of sexual offences by an accused, which will apply once the Bill is commenced.
Today a historic precedent was set when the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which includes laws to criminalise the purchase of sex and ensure vulnerable women, children and men in prostitution can access support, passed its final hurdle in Seanad Éireann and will now be part of the Irish Statute Book.
The 70+ partners of Turn Off the Red Light, which have been tirelessly campaigning in support of this crucial legislation are united in their welcome for
the new legislation, which will better protect vulnerable women, children and men who are being sexually exploited.
Denise Charlton, Chair of Turn Off the Red Light,said: “From the very beginning this Bill has been about protecting and supporting those most vulnerable to sexual exploitation, violence and abuse. It focuses on the perpetrators of sexual crime
– the pimps and traffickers who enable abuse and exploitation to continue, and who benefit from it financially.
“We commend the Tánaiste, Minister Frances Fitzgerald, for championing this Bill as it progressed through the Oireachtas. By supporting it, the Irish Government is making a clear statement that it will stand up for the most vulnerable in our society.
“The inclusion of a review period in this legislation affirms the Government’s commitment to making sure the legislation has a real impact for those it seeks to support. We look forward to working with the Government in the coming months to ensure this happens.”
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD this evening welcomed the passage of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 through both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Speaking this evening the Tánaiste said –
‘This is one of the most comprehensive and wide ranging piece of sexual offences legislation ever to be introduced and has been a priority for me as Minister for Justice and Equality. It is an essential piece of legislation that brings additional protections to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. It contains the right laws for these times, laws that will protect victims of the most vicious and depraved crimes.
The provisions of this Bill enhance and update laws to combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children. It widens the range of offences associated with child pornography to ensure that no one who participates in any way in the creation, distribution, viewing or sharing of such abhorrent material can escape the law.
Also, the Bill provides greater clarity in relation to the definition of sexual consent for the first time.’
The Bill contains:
· New criminal offences to protect children against grooming;
· New measures to protect children from online predators;
· New and strengthened offences to tackle child pornography;
· New provisions to be introduced regarding evidence by victims, particularly children;
· New offences addressing public indecency;
· A provision in relation to harassment Orders to protect victims of convicted sex offenders;
· Provisions maintaining the age of consent to sexual activity at 17 years of age and for a new “proximity of age” defence;
· A provision to criminalise the purchase of sexual services.
· A statutory statement of the law as regards consent to sexual acts
Concluding, the Tánaiste said, ‘I would like to acknowledge the support and invaluable contributions from my parliamentary colleagues and from civic society, in particular from those people and organisations who made submissions and representations to me and my Department.’
This Bill brings Irish law into line with a number of international legal instruments and implements the recommendations of a number of Oireachtas committees.
SPACE International is delighted to join its voice with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Ruhama, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Children’s Rights Alliance, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Men’s Development Network, Irish Nurses and Midwives Association and all of the other organisations that make up the seventy-two members of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, in welcoming the passing of the Sexual Offences Bill in the Republic of Ireland.
SPACE International’s Irish members, both publicly known and anonymous, have worked extraordinarily hard alongside many others to campaign for the passing of this Bill since 2011, and it is with great joy that we can finally welcome the criminalisation of the demand for paid sexual access to human beings.
We are relieved and gladdened that the Irish government has finally fully recognised the abusive reality of prostitution and committed to criminalise those who exploit others for their own sexual gratification. This is an important and historical moment for Ireland. We have, for the first time since the foundation of the state, recognised the legal rights of prostituted persons to live free of sexual exploitation.
SPACE recognises the highly gendered nature of the sex trade and welcomes the societal change that this legislation will bring about, in particular its positive effect on the goal of gender equality, and is committed to continuing the conversation with regard to social supports for prostituted persons so that they may exit prostitution if they so wish with the full support of the State.
No one knows exactly how many children have been sexually exploited in America’s gyms over the past 20 years. But an IndyStar-USA TODAY Network review of hundreds of police files and court cases across the country provides for the first time a measure of just how pervasive the problem is.
At least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. And it’s likely an undercount.
IndyStar previously reported that top officials at USA Gymnastics, one of the nation’s most prominent Olympic organizations, failed to alert police to many allegations of sexual abuse that occurred on their watch and stashed complaints in files that have been kept secret. But the problem is far worse. A nine-month investigation found that predatory coaches were allowed to move from gym to gym, undetected by a lax system of oversight, or dangerously passed on by USA Gymnastics-certified gyms.
USA Gymnastics calls itself a leader in child safety. In a statement responding to IndyStar’s questions, it said: “Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics, the Board of Directors and CEO Steve Penny than protecting athletes, which requires sustained vigilance by everyone — coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials. We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career.”
The organization noted several initiatives aimed at creating a safer environment, including the use of criminal background checks for coaches, the practice of publishing the names of coaches banned from its competitions, and programs that provide educational materials to member gyms.
But IndyStar’s investigation found:
• USA Gymnastics focuses its efforts to stop sexual abuse on educating members instead of setting strict ground rules and enforcing them. It says it can’t take aggressive action because member gyms are independent businesses and because of restrictions in federal law pertaining to Olympic organizations. Both are contentions others dispute.
• Gym owners have a conflict of interest when it comes to reporting abuse. Some fear harm to their business. When confronted with evidence of abuse, many quietly have fired the suspected abusers and failed to warn future employers. Some of those dangerous coaches continued to work with children.
• Some coaches are fired at gym after gym without being tracked or flagged by USA Gymnastics, or losing their membership with the organization. USA Gymnastics often has no idea when a coach is fired by a gym and no systematic way to keep track. Ray Adams was fired or forced to resign from six gyms in four states. Yet some gym owners hired Adams, believing his record was clean.
• Though the vast majority of officials put children’s well-being ahead of business and competition, some officials at every level have not. Coaches suspected of abuse kept their jobs as long as they accepted special monitoring. Others were allowed to finish their season before being fired. In 2009, Doug Boger was named a USA Gymnastics Coach of the Year and was sent to international competition while under investigation for alleged sexual abuse.
• Victims’ stories have been treated with skepticism by USA Gymnastics officials, gym owners, coaches and parents. Former gymnasts Charmaine Carnes and Jennifer Sey said they felt pressured by Penny not to pursue allegations of abuse by prominent coaches Don Peters and Boger. Carnes said she thought Penny tried to keep the claims about Boger quiet for as long as possible to protect the sport’s image and win championships, a characterization that USA Gymnastics disputes.
In its statement to IndyStar, USA Gymnastics said it is constantly striving to improve.
In the wake of IndyStar’s August investigation, USA Gymnastics hired a former prosecutor to evaluate its bylaws and offer advice on how to strengthen its policies. It also established a policy review panel on its board of directors.
“USA Gymnastics is proud of the work it has done to address and guard against child sexual abuse,” the organization said in materials provided to IndyStar.
USA Gymnastics also said it’s playing a central role in developing a U.S. Center for SafeSport to oversee education programs and investigate and adjudicate claims of sexual misconduct for all U.S. Olympic Committee governing bodies.
USA Gymnastics has touted its many successes, including years of expansion and recent domination by Team USA at the Olympics. But administrators in the Indianapolis-based organization have declined numerous interview requests from IndyStar.
Penny, who has been president since 2005, declined to be interviewed for this and other stories. Neither the chairman of USA Gymnastics’ board, Paul Parilla, nor board members responded to interview requests.
During IndyStar’s investigation, USA Gymnastics agreed to one interview with its lawyer and public relations chief. Otherwise, officials have accepted only written questions and responded with often incomplete written replies. Many questions have gone unanswered.
USA Gymnastics and Penny have taken other steps to keep details of abuse cases secret. The organization as well as individual member gyms have entered confidentiality agreements as part of settlements in negligence cases with gymnasts claiming abuse.
And in court, USA Gymnastics has fought the release of documents that would show how Penny and other top officials have dealt with molestation allegations.
IndyStar went to court in Georgia and won a case in August to unseal depositions and sexual misconduct complaint files on 54 coaches. The Georgia Supreme Court confirmed that ruling in October and ordered the documents to be made public. But USA Gymnastics is continuing to fight, delaying the release.
Many who want reforms in Olympic sports said they are frustrated by the lack of meaningful action.
A number of former footballers have shown such courage over the past weeks by talking about how they were sexually abused as children by their coaches. But the most courageous of all has to be Andy Woodward. His willingness to waive his right to anonymity gave others in football the strength to go public.
It is seeing those big, tough men gasping for breath, in floods of tears, struggling to make sense of their shame that is most shocking. Paul Stewart, David White, Chris Unsworth, Jason Dunford … and on it goes. It turns out that we’re not just talking about one isolated case, one perpetrator. Far from it. Now we know about the Newcastle coach George Ormond, and what he inflicted on Derek Bell and others. And there will be more to come.
Police have said they are now investigating reported attacks on 350 individuals. The Met alone has received 106 allegations. Soon this number will be in its thousands. This is the way with child sex abuse. Once one person is brave enough to come forward, others do too.
It’s a horrific story, brilliantly reported by the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor and others. But it’s also a story that poses many uncomfortable questions about football, masculinity, sexuality, cultural norms, and abuse in the larger sense.
For the world of sport in general, and football in particular, is one that has long been divorced from regular standards of sexual behaviour. Attitudes within football to sex, and sexuality, have been abusive, and primeval, for as long as I can remember – if not in the devastating way we are hearing about now. And the wealthier football has become, the more toxic its attitudes.
Sex has long been a currency in football, and when sex becomes a currency, abuse is never far behind. Many footballers don’t feel they have to play by the same rules as regular civilians because they are loaded and famous, and money and celebrity buys access. So it became the norm to read about rape allegations when football teams were away holidaying together, or even when it was consensual, to hear about players “spit-roasting” – two players or more having sex with one woman.
Last year Leicester City sacked three players who were filmed taking part in an orgy where racist language was used. While Ched Evans was found not guilty of rape in his retrial this October, even he would admit his behaviour was unsavoury (having sex with a woman he had never spoken to). In March this year, former England player Adam Johnson was jailed for six years for sexual activity with a schoolgirl.
The same distorted values that led Johnson to think his behaviour was acceptable (a fair exchange; my celebrity, posh car and money for her underage body) seems to be shared by the coaches who abused child footballers (another fair exchange; the possibility of sporting success for their underage bodies). And like all abusers they have preyed on the most vulnerable – youngsters who admired them, who had everything to lose by reporting it, and who might well not be believed anyway.
Now it has been revealed that Chelsea tried to hush up the fact that their chief scout Eddie Heath was a paedophile who preyed on Gary Johnson by offering their former player £50,000 hush money. Shocking, undoubtedly. But is their conspiracy of silence that much more morally bankrupt than Sunderland allowing Johnson to continue to play for the club – even though he had, in private, admitted to them that he had kissed the child?
Sexual abuse and sexism is rife throughout football – from players to professional observers of the game to the fans. Richard Keys resigned from his role as presenter at Sky in 2011 after the sacking of Andy Gray for being unwittingly caught on camera making lewd comments and gestures to a co-presenter. Keys himself was caught referring to women as “it” – as in asking pundit Jamie Redknapp, in reference to a former girlfriend, whether he’d “smashed it” – and suggesting Redknapp would be found “hanging out of the back of it”. Vile.
The bone-headed machismo of sport soon descends into abuse on the terraces. Arsène Wenger was labelled “a paedophile” by rival fans because he was urbane and French, back when that was unusual in English football. After Sol Campbell moved from Spurs to Arsenal, Spurs fans sang, “He’s big / He’s black / He takes it up the crack / Sol Campbell, Sol Campbell” and, worse, to the tune of Lord of the Dance, “Sol, Sol, wherever you may be / You’re on the verge of lunacy / And we don’t give a fuck if you’re hanging from a tree / You Judas cunt with HIV.”
Campbell was wrongly rumoured to be gay. And that, of course, is still the great taboo in British football. And British sport in general. Last week, the words of former darts player Eric Bristow, for which he has since apologised, made that abundantly clear when he tweeted: “Might be a looney but if some football coach was touching me when I was a kid as I got older I would have went back and sorted that poof out.”
There is still no bigger insult in football than calling somebody a poof. There is not one “out” gay footballer in the Premier League. It is still a shameful fact that the only top English footballer who came out was Justin Fashanu, in 1990. After that, he never played top-flight football again, and in 1998 he killed himself.
It is to be hoped that the spate of revelations about child sex abuse in football will make everybody in the game sensitive to all forms of sexual abuse within football – from the predatory coaches to the predatory players, to the fans who hurl homophobic slurs at players, to the clubs who pay out money to silence the victims of abuse.
If there is one thing to learn from this scandal it is that sexual abuse is endemic in football (as it is in society). And it must be rooted out in all its forms.
A telephone hotline dedicated to dealing with abuse within football has received more than 1,700 calls since it was set up three weeks ago, a children’s charity has said.
According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), which is running the service, more than 900 calls came in the past fortnight – showing a dip on average from the number received in the first week.
Three-quarters of those calls which resulted in a referral to police or another agency came from victims of abuse themselves, the NSPCC said.
“It’s clear that for far too long, hundreds of people who suffered abuse as youngsters in the game have not been able to speak up but it is encouraging that so many are finally finding their voice in a climate today where they know they will be listened to and supported,” said the NSPCC’s chief executive Peter Wanless.
“What’s important now is that those victims get that much-needed support and that perpetrators are identified and brought to justice by police. Anyone can contact our hotline in confidence and we will get them the help they need.”
The hotline, which is being funded by the Football Association, was set up on 23 November as the scandal began to engulf football. It has since been claimed that 98 clubs have been named to the charity.
The NSPCC said it received 50 contacts from members of the public within two hours of opening the hotline and 860 calls in the first week. It added that 94% of its referrals were to the police, though it stressed that the number of calls does not reflect the number of victims, since multiple calls can come from one individual and not all calls result in further action.
Breaking the silence is immensely powerful and it is good medicine. But speaking up is hard. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has data that suggests one out of three people abused as a child has not disclosed the abuse and that the average victim who does waits nearly eight years to do so. Many of the men coming forward now, encouraged by the testimony of ex-footballer Andy Woodward, had never spoken before of the events when they were children.
In the past couple of years I have read or heard the accounts of more than 700 men and women sexually and emotionally abused as children in boarding schools, state-run and private. They came to me after I wrote in the Observer of the abuse at my own, Ashdown House. The stories are the grimmest reading, but what is heartening is that for so many people the simple act of speaking up is hugely helpful.
It is a rejection of the power of the abusers who bullied them into silence and the first step in sharing the pain with those around them. “After I sent you my story,” goes a typical email, “I showed it to my partner. We talked as we have never been able to before. I can’t say how glad I am – and she is – that I’m no longer alone with my past.”
For those who love the survivors, the moment of disclosure is often the beginning of hope, of rebuilding lives with people who may have seemed beyond help. The collateral damage of childhood abuse is huge and uncounted. Many of the footballers who have come forward talked of relationships broken by the burden of the secrets they had “locked away”, as Chris Unsworth, raped many times by coach Barry Bennell, put it. For many of the survivors I have interviewed, it is not until their own children reached the age at which they were abused that they confronted their past. For others, that moment came with crises, such as the collapse of a relationship and the urgent need to get explanations as to why life and love had been so difficult.
The abused children of boarding schools and football academies have much in common. It is not just that they all lived in stiff-upper-lip cultures that scorned weakness and overvalued loyalty. These children all carried a potential curse when they left home – the burden of adult hopes and expectations. Many of the footballers who have come forward speak of how impossible it was to tell of what Bennell was doing to them for fear of disappointing their parents.
Steve Walters told how his father, now dead, had changed his life, moved and got a job with Crewe Alexandra football club, to be near his son. Many boarding school children had parents tell them how they’d scrimped and saved for this amazing start to their life. How could these lucky children confess that the great plan had all gone so horribly, shamefully wrong? What if it was their own fault? One of the common side-effects of abuse is the destruction of a child’s sense of self-worth.
The abusers – and more are certain to emerge in football – are also horribly familiar to a researcher into the darker corners of the boarding schools. Contrary to popular belief, child abusers are rarely violent, opportunistic psychopaths. They would be caught if they were. According to criminologists, far more prevalent are the calculating groomers, men and occasionally women for whom the game of snaring a child seems as much a part of their motivation as any sex act. They are rarely violent. What they seek is situations where, however improbably, they can believe hey have their victim’s consent. That is not just a sexual need: a child who thinks it is complicit is a child less likely to tell.
We lack an epidemiology of child sexual abuse, of any indication of whether it is really increasing or decreasing, whether it is worse in some cultures or in others. What we do know is that 90% of sexual abuse is in the family circle, which is perhaps why abuse in institutions is so under-examined. Better understanding might save more children.
Many of the teachers I’ve come across in research for my book were, just like Barry Bennell, adept seducers of parents and bosses too. I’ve heard the confession of a convicted former Catholic priest who explained that when he chose children to target, he started by working out which families would be most open to his entry in their lives: “I’d usually choose a poor single mother who wasn’t really coping,” he said. Men like this would make themselves indispensable to the institution in which they operated – Bennell was a “brilliant coach, an inspiration”, just as the teachers and priests who abused were often the most charismatic and effective.
So, when managers or headteachers are faced with incredible allegations from children against vital members of staff, the easy way forward is all too compelling. It’s far simpler to tell a child off for having a nasty mind, as happened to me at school, than it is to call in the police. Cover-up is a British institutional tradition, and the background noise of historical sex abuse scandal is of brushes working busily under the carpet. Yet the decision to cover up entails something absolutely devastating to the child – the abuse of not being believed. That is shattering. The destruction of faith in adult justice is a trauma that will be carried for ever; the anger may lead to rejection of all adult values, the loneliness and shame of being pronounced a liar leads to substance abuse, self-harm and suicide attempts.
One of the worst things about each child sex abuse scandal that emerges is what first seems to be unthinkable often turns out to be exactly what happened. Police and social workers did cover up what was happening in the children’s homes of North Wales. NHS officials were aware of what Jimmy Savile was up to in the hospitals – and they did tell junior staff to keep quiet. Senior BBC managers did the same. Schools have hushed up complaints, bullying parents to keep quiet and, instead of calling the police, allowed dangerous paedophiles to leave with a reference. It looks now as though the powerful in football who might have rescued children instead did the usual. Two victims have said that senior players and management at their clubs knew what was going on. Chelsea has admitted paying off a victim of its chief scout in the 1970s, on the condition of silence. There’s no doubt at all that more such cases will emerge.
The answer is that proper protection is also enabling children to speak, teaching them that it is their right to do so. When they do speak, they must be heard. Another report for the NSPCC looked at the cases of 208 “disclosures” made by children and found that only 58% were acted upon. That is why there is now an all-party campaign for it to be mandatory for an accusation in an institution to be reported to a third party, as is the case in most countries.
Referrals from calls to a dedicated football abuse hotline more than tripled the amount made in the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the NSPCC has revealed.
Launched on 23 November to support the victims of child sex abuse within football, the charity said more than 860 calls had been made to the helpline in its first week.
The NSPCC chief executive, Peter Wanless, said there had been a “staggering surge” in the amount of people getting in touch.
He said: “The number of high-profile footballers bravely speaking out about their ordeal has rightly caught the attention of the entire country.
“We have had a staggering surge in calls to our football hotline, which reveals the worrying extent of abuse that had been going on within the sport.”
The helpline was set up with the support and funding of the Football Association. Within two hours of the opening of the helpline, the charity said it had been contacted 50 times by members of the public. Within the first three days, it had made 60 referrals to the police or children’s services.
The charity made 17 such referrals in the same timeframe following the opening of its Savile helpline in 2012.
Mr Wanless said anyone who wishes to contact the helpline “can do so in confidence, with the knowledge they will be listened to and supported”.
“In future, footballers – both young players and former athletes – must have the confidence to open up about sexual abuse and feel able to come forward,” he said.
The NSPCC’s football abuse helpline can be called 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.