Girls are being abused because those ‘protecting’ them are too worried about being called racist

·7-min read
Maggie Oliver: ‘I want to see these crimes stopped, once and for all’ - Paul Cooper for The Telegraph
Maggie Oliver: ‘I want to see these crimes stopped, once and for all’ - Paul Cooper for The Telegraph

The story is a sickeningly familiar one: of vulnerable young girls groomed and sexually exploited by older men in a city in Northern England. This time it was Bradford, where a review into two decades of offending reported this week that “children suffered abuse no child should have to experience”.

If you think you’ve heard this before, then that is because you have. What happened in Bradford, where nine men were jailed in 2019 for raping and abusing two teenage girls living in a children’s home, had already happened elsewhere. The victims in this case were 14 when the perpetrators began grooming them with drink, drugs and violence.

A particularly troubling detail in the latest report – an independent review of five cases in the Bradford area since 2001 – relates to a victim known as Anna, whose social worker recommended she be placed in foster care with the family of a man who was abusing her. She became pregnant at 15 while living with them, and went on to marry her abuser in an Islamic wedding, which one of her social workers allegedly attended.

“Many reports of abuse and assault were not addressed, and Anna had two children while she was still a looked after child,” said the report. “Multi-agency working and the placements did not keep Anna safe.”

Describing the trauma and abuse she suffered during her foster placement with her abuser’s parents, Anna told the reviewer: “We had no similarities in race, religion or culture and I continued to be subject to domestic violence and was subject to a coercive controlling sexual relationship with a known perpetrator. I was frightened to leave, in fear of an honour-based killing.

“At 14 years old I was engaged to be married, taking on the role of an Islamic wife fulfilling the needs of my husband and the extended family, somewhat like a maid.”

Meanwhile ‘Fiona’, a victim of the nine offenders jailed in 2019, tried to tell social services about her abuse, “but this was not heard or acted on,” according to the report.

If all this seems especially troubling, the general outline of what took place in Bradford is distressingly similar to all the other cases I have been involved in and learned of, first as a detective constable with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and now as founder and chair of a small national charity, The Maggie Oliver Foundation, set up to help adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

I resigned from GMP in 2012, so I could blow the whistle on the Rochdale grooming scandal, which saw nine men eventually jailed for a string of serious sexual offences against teenage girls. I was sick of seeing such abuse swept under the carpet by the authorities; of the victims being treated as worthless, a nuisance and even somehow to blame.

At that point I wasn’t aware this was a national problem. But since then we have seen scandal after scandal of this nature, and each time the same thing happens: everyone is shocked to begin with; platitudinous apologies are made by those responsible for letting these young girls down; inquiries and reports come and go. And then – nothing. History repeats itself.

This time, predictably enough, the Bradford Partnership (which comprises Bradford City Council, West Yorkshire Police and the local clinical commissioning group) said it “fully accepts more needs to be done”. But I don’t believe for one second that meaningful action will be taken. After all, we’ve heard so many versions of this before.

Since I launched my foundation in 2019, we’ve been contacted almost every day by survivors who, it has to be said, are mainly from the North of England. We’re currently dealing with 31 cases from West Yorkshire alone. But there are many cases from Greater Manchester, Hull, Cumbria and the West Midlands that all follow much the same pattern of abuse: predominantly Pakistani older men targeting mainly working class white girls, including some in the care system, but all vulnerable in one way or another and hence ‘easy pickings’ for the abusers.

I saw it with Operation Augusta, the police and social services investigation into child sexual exploitation in South Manchester in 2005, and again in Rochdale in 2010 to 2011 when I was part of the policing teams dealing with these crimes myself. It is now a phenomenon very well known to police, social workers and politicians, which means there is just no excuse for Westminster’s failure to get a grip on these crimes that destroy the lives of generations of children.

Yet successive governments of both political stripes have refused to grapple with the problem as they have been too afraid of being accused of racism. This is a wrongheaded approach. A paedophile is a paedophile, no matter their racial, ethnic or cultural background. Tiptoeing around the issue for fear of trampling on certain sensitivities means letting down thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of children.

But it isn’t only fear of being labelled racist that has held authorities back. It is also about social class. There remains an attitude that these victims deserve what has happened to them. They are judged to be making a lifestyle choice, rather than as vulnerable children who are being exploited. This means that when they do speak up, they’re ignored.

I’m sick of seeing warm words and empty promises. I want to see these crimes stopped, once and for all. I’m not saying there are easy solutions; but nor is it impossible. If there was a political will, there is most definitely a way. But again and again the authorities, whose very duty it is to protect children, are repeatedly choosing to merely turn a blind eye.

Why else is there no nationally co-ordinated way of collecting all the statistics and figures around these cases, so as to build a comprehensive picture? Instead, different regions collect different information, but the full facts, figures and details must be gathered if the problem is going to be tackled in a serious way.

We also need better training for the police officers who are dealing with these crimes on the ground. Investigations must be properly resourced. If West Yorkshire is overwhelmed with the number of cases it’s trying to deal with, leaders there need to speak up, not cover it up and pretend everything is just fine.

I don’t blame individual police officers; they may well be struggling to cope with the pressure of such a heavy caseload. The solutions lie at the very top – with chief constables, with senior social services managers and with the Home Office.

But they also lie at a community level. We can’t pretend it’s not the case that most of the perpetrators in these cases are Pakistani men. I would like to see representatives from this community working with the Government and working with our foundation, or with other organisations like ours, to try and understand where this pattern of offending comes from and why it has continued. I’d like to see them take ownership and call it out for what it is: namely child abuse.

I would like to see criminal prosecutions brought against senior police officers and social workers who knowingly allow this abuse to continue. If just one chief constable was taken to court for gross neglect of duty, I’m sure it would be a game-changer. As a civilised society we’re absolutely clear, in theory, that child abuse is wrong. But I’m angry and ashamed at what this country has repeatedly allowed to happen. I’m heartbroken for the children whose lives have been destroyed. And I’m fearful for those who’ll become tomorrow’s victims unless this scandal is addressed.

If you need help or can donate to help us in our work please contact www.themaggieoliverfoundation.com

As told to Rosa Silverman

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