Statement on Child Sexual Exploitation

Debbie Abrahams' statement on CSE

The findings from the recent independent review of Operation Augusta are shocking. The review revealed what happens when statutory agencies don’t listen and take action on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Historical CSE cases in Manchester going back to the early 2000s were examined, finding fundamental flaws in how multiple agencies operated, including their cultural attitudes and assumptions, which left exploited children unprotected. National guidance from the Department of Health in 2001, which referred to ‘child prostitution’ in relation to CSE, an altogether unacceptable phrase today, was also considered. In addition, it included an examination of the circumstances which led to the death of 15 year old Victoria Agoglia in 2003. It concluded that there were failings from multiple agencies including Greater Manchester Police, Manchester City Council and even the Coroner’s Office. These were inexcusable. We must not allow these institutional failings to happen again.

We know from national data that in the year ending 2019, 3.1 million people (18 to 74 years) reported sexual abuse they had experienced before the age of 16 years, that’s 1 in every 13 adults (7.5%). But it was estimated that less than one-quarter of adults had reported their abuse to the police. We all have a responsibility to ensure that our young people feel confident that they can come forward and that they will be believed and supported.

We must ensure that everything is done to prosecute those responsible for CSE. In addition, the safeguarding processes of every organisation involved with our children, including schools, councils, the NHS, police and youth services, must be as rigorous as possible.

Fundamentally, our children must learn, at home and at school, what constitutes a healthy relationship. I supported my colleague, Stella Creasy’s call for age-appropriate relationship and sex education (RSE) back in 2013, and I have supported the Government’s introduction of RSE into the curriculum more recently.

When I first became a Member of Parliament in 2011, I was made aware of local CSE concerns. As such I included ‘Tackling Violence and Sexual Exploitation’ as one of my priorities. As part of my constituency office case work, I have a clear protocol to immediately escalate any CSE case that is brought to me with the appropriate authorities. I had regular briefings on, and visits to, Operation Messenger and subsequently Operation Phoenix. I meet regularly with local groups, such as Keep Our Girls Safe (KOGS) and I use my almost weekly visits to schools to promote equality, self-awareness and resilience. I also meet regularly with the Oldham Interfaith Forum, and together, we have worked to promote human rights for all, including the rights of our children. In Parliament, I am a member of the CSE All Party Parliamentary Group chaired by Sarah Champion MP, where we have heard evidence from those who have been abused, and reviewed evidence of good practice. In addition, I have asked a number of questions about CSE and Home Office procedures in the House.

I was shocked to hear the claims being made on social media about CSE in Oldham in the summer of 2019. In response to these, Cllr Sean Fielding, the leader of Oldham Council, asked for an internal investigation of local safeguarding policy to see whether the police, council and safeguarding agencies provided an appropriate response to allegations of inappropriate access to young people involving shisha bars, taxi companies and children’s homes in 2012/13. After the resignation of the Dr Mark Peel from this investigation, Cllr Fielding asked for a Greater Manchester-commissioned independent review into historical safeguarding practice led by Malcolm Newsam CBE and Gary Ridgeway to be expanded to include Oldham. This was agreed and is utilising the team and processes developed for the wider GM Safeguarding Standards Board’s review of sexual and criminal exploitation of children and young people. Both Mr Newsam and Mr Ridgway are the authors of the CSE review into Operation Augusta and given their forensic analysis of the issues in Operation Augusta, I am reassured that their review of historic safeguarding practices in Oldham will be as thorough.

The review will, as originally planned, consider allegations relating to CSE, including the allegations relating to shisha bars in 2012-13. It will also consider a number of other specific matters where concerns have been raised that sit outside this timeframe (2011-2014). In addition, it will look at how statutory safeguarding partners responded to CSE with particular reference to the concerns expressed in social media, and elsewhere, that the statutory agencies were aware of this abuse, failed to respond appropriately to safeguard children and subsequently covered up these failings. The terms of reference for the Oldham workstream can be found here.

At the full Council meeting on Wednesday 8th January, Cllr Fielding gave the following statement which details the review further. This includes information on the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) who I work with on a number of casework issue. I would urge anyone who has concerns or evidence of CSE to report it to MASH Phone: 0161 770 7777, Email: child.mash@oldham.gov.uk  Any recent, current or historical concerns or evidence can also be raised directly with the police.

Finally, social media has an immense power for good, keeping people connected and providing a quick and cheap method of communication. But unfortunately, it has and is being used not just inappropriately but potentially criminally. This applies to threats to our democracy, as suspected in the long overdue Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russian interference in the UK, but also to how individual politicians and others are abused. My approach to abuse directed at me has been to ignore it. But no-one can say whatever they want with impunity. There is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. The inaccurate and unfounded allegations made against me during the 2019 General Election of being part of a CSE cover up crossed a line. While I am sure that the vast majority of people who see allegations online and share them do so out of honest concern and a desire to protect the young people in our community, I worry that a small number of people may have a particular agenda. Given the seriousness of the allegations against me, I have reported this and last week gave a statement to the Police. To make any unfounded allegation during an election is a criminal offence under the 1983 Representation of the People Act; this is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

If you have any concerns, I would encourage you to report them directly to the Police. I look forward to the conclusion of the review and analysing the report when it is published.

 

Yours sincerely,

Debbie Abrahams MP

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