Ann Coffey’s report

A significant report released today by former social worker and MP for Stockport, Ann Coffey, revealed how the sexual exploitation and grooming of vulnerable young boys and girls has become the “social norm” in some parts of Greater Manchester.

The report was commissioned by Tony Lloyd, the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, following the Rochdale grooming scandal, which resulted in nine men being jailed in 2012.

One of the most concerning findings of the report was the experience of young people themselves;  that exploitation in its various forms was, for them, just “part of everyday life”.

Safe and Sound works directly with young people who are being or are at risk of being, sexually exploited. We also work with their parents and carers and provide training to those who work with children and young people.

With this in mind, accepting that we now live in a sexually exploitative culture is not acceptable.

web-1883The many faces and models of grooming and changing public perceptions

High profile child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases in recent years, like Rochdale or Operation Retriever in Derby, have brought the issue of CSE into the public consciousness. These cases can have a particularly wide remit in terms of the number of both perpetrators and victims and take up a significant amount of time, both for the police and local authorities. However, this has led to a perception that CSE is only about vulnerable girls being exploited by gangs of men, when this isn’t the case.

In fact, many cases of sexual exploitation occur when older lone perpetrators manipulate young people to believe they genuinely care for them – often referred to as the ‘boyfriend model’ – and in an increasing number of cases, perpetrators are using the anonymity of the internet to groom young people on social networking sites and forums.

This was also highlighted directly with Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and Rochdale Sunrise CSE Team in the report – approx 15% of reported CSE cases were gang related with 85% being lone perpetrators.

Changing attitudes to vulnerable young people

Coffey said she believed that child sexual exploitation should be declared a priority public health issue and a change in attitude across the sector was crucial to developing a more strategic approach to the issue.

The report claims that there is still inherent prejudice towards vulnerable teenagers amongst police, social workers, prosecutors and juries and that this might have something to do with why only 1,000 out of 13,000 reported cases of sexual offences against under-16s in the past six years in Greater Manchester have resulted in convictions.

If this statistic could be used to gauge the extent of the issue across the rest of the country, it’s likely that CSE is still drastically underestimated and misunderstood by those in positions of authority.

web-1804Authorities need to gain the trust of young people

A better understanding of the forms of child sexual exploitation should be a critical factor in influencing this change in attitudes. As Coffey’s report identified, there are still clearly those in positions of authority that identify sexual exploitation as something that happens to young people that are already involved in petty crime or have had difficult upbringings, when in reality we find that the young people we work with are from different backgrounds, ages, genders and ethnicities. We also find that criminal activity can come as a result of young people being involved with perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.

A number of young girls in Coffey’s report explained that they were regularly approached by older men trying to entice them into their cars or touch them inappropriately but they were unlikely to report this to police as they felt stereotyped, “looked down on” and as if they would not be taken seriously: “we just have to focus on getting away from the guys”.

Whilst the real-life cases in the report are disturbing, Coffey’s recommendations should highlight the requirement for longer-term solutions to the issue.

We’ve put together our response to some of the key recommendations in Coffey’s report:

  • It was found that only 21% of police officers at Greater Manchester Police had been through some CSE training. All police response officers and community support officers should receive training about child sexual exploitation crimes.

TrainingOur one-day training courses that are run nationally are open to professionals such as those stated in the Coffey report and are tailored to different levels and experience of child sexual exploitation within an organisation and of the individual.

For example, our training on CSE Prevention, Protection and Investigation includes typical indicators of CSE, grooming models, risk assessments and general best practice when working with young people affected by or at risk of child sexual exploitation.

Our CSE Train the Trainer course aims to equip those working in the sector, including police response officers and community support officers with CSE skills and understanding including laws, policies, overcoming stereotypes and multi-agency information sharing, in order for individuals to disseminate this learning across their organisations.

We also run bespoke training tailored to the individual needs of an organisation or department.

  • Formal talks in schools by police officers in uniform are important in giving children information about CSE. In addition, police should consider more innovative ways of connecting to children, such as speaking to small groups in a more informal way in civilian clothing. This must be a two-way process, not just the police ‘talking at’ the children, but a constructive dialogue in which young people feel they are being listened to.

Whilst we agree there is more than can be done by police authorities to earn trust with young people, we’d also suggest it appropriate to have trusted teachers deliver this CSE information and guidance in schools as part of the curriculum. Our training is suitable for all those working in safeguarding roles within schools and in December, we will be releasing a film produced by our youth participation group and an accompanying resource pack for schools designed to help teachers to deliver CSE guidance in an engaging way.

GetHelp600x350Work with schools in Tameside has already included presentations to head teachers; delivery of “Train the Trainer” sessions to  key staff in all Primary and Secondary schools across the region; development of a CSE awareness presentation for young people and the roll out of a theatre production, “Somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter”, across secondary schools.

In Derbyshire, we are experiencing a similar roll out of CSE awareness in schools and the production “Chelsea’s Choice” which will be touring Derbyshire schools in November.

  • Inform children and young people so that they are better able to recognise an exploitative sexual relationship.

We have worked with many young people who are not even aware themselves of the signs they are being groomed. Whilst more extensive training may be suggested for those working with young people, there is still much work to be done to help young people to recognise the early signs of exploitation and where to seek advice and support.

Perpetrators rely on an ability to manipulate young people; making them feel wanted and important and then unable to speak out when they feel the relationship has become inappropriate. Equipping all young people with the knowledge to recognise early signs of grooming along with the self-esteem and understanding around what constitutes a healthy relationship, can all work towards preventing CSE in the first place.

Our CSE Training

Please let us know what you think about our response or if you’d like to discuss our training for you or your organisation.

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