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Rotherham’s Collaborators

The helping professionals didn’t help; the caring professionals didn’t care

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By SAM SCHULMAN
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Two weeks ago, the British press broke the news contained in Professor Alexis Jay’s “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham.” Between 1997 and 2013, Jay estimated, 1,400 young girls in that Yorkshire town were exploited: gang-raped, trafficked to other cities, threatened, beaten, and forced to bring other girls into the network. The police did not respond to emergency calls from the girls and their families; fathers reported being threatened and even arrested for complaining. The victims and the authorities knew that “by far the majority of perpetrators” were “Asian,” meaning Pakistani/Kashmiri Muslims, who constitute about 3.7 percent of Rotherham’s population of 260,000. Members of this group dominate the town’s taxi industry, and therefore had easy access to victims. The perpetrators were not merely pimps: They also dealt drugs and sold guns. Yet during the 17-year period she studied, Jay found, “councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue.”

One of the 1,400+ Rotherham sex abuse victims

One of the 1,400+ Rotherham sex abuse victims

Newscom

Jay’s report proved that virtually everyone in any position of authority from the late ’90s until today must have known the scale of the sexual exploitation. Internal documents show that they heard reports on the situation several times, most notably in 2005. Town councillors have been accused of having business interests in the taxi companies​—​one of the companies that was accused of rounding up and grooming girls also had a contract with the city to ferry children between social services locations.

The story of such grooming rings in the north of England had been broached by many newspaper reports over the past decade, particularly by Andrew Norfolk of the Times. But the impact of the Jay report overwhelmed the usual attempts to say it was being exaggerated out of racism and Islamophobia. “This scale of criminality and victimhood is vast for a country that has traditionally regarded itself as law-abiding,” the British journalist John O’Sullivan wrote last week. And the size and scope of the tragedy has made it safe not only for columnists but for cabinet members to say that “institutionalized political correctness” is responsible for the tragic fate of the girls of Rotherham. From 1997 to 2013 it was imprudent to say anything like this, or even to mention the ethnicity and religion of the perpetrators: A Home Office researcher who tried to tell police and superiors what was going on was sent on a diversity training course instead. (The influential 1999 Macpherson Report said any policeman who has not been given formal diversity training must be assumed to be racist.)

The only ones who haven’t had much to say are the feminists​—​but given their dismissive attitude even to women of Muslim background like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who testify to their mistreatment by Muslim men in the name of Islam, one can’t expect them to show up to support women of English ethnicity or Christian heritage, especially from the working classes. Some feminists try to defuse the situation without actually criticizing the perpetrators, such as Suzanne Moore in the Guardian: “The bigger picture is not, as the right claim, about ethnicity but systematic abuse of girls and boys by powerful men,” expounds the subheading above her piece. “Our untouchables turn out to be little girls raped by powerful men,” she claims. Dan Hodges of the Telegraph replies, “But they weren’t. Our little girls were raped by Kashmiri cab drivers. Yes, powerful men were involved in the Rotherham abuses. But they weren’t the ones doing the raping. They were the ones turning a blind eye to the rape. And why were they turning a blind eye? Because of the ethnicity of the rapists.”

Thanks to the Jay report, however, we can say that the Hodges rejoinder is not entirely true. The Rotherham problem​—​which we’ll call Childhood Sexual Exploitation, or CSE, because everyone uses that jargon​—​was the subject of repeated scrutiny throughout the period when 1,400 girls fell victim to it, not only by the local government itself but also by social services, private charities and their consultants, the National Health Service (NHS), and the police. The girls were abandoned only partly because so many made a cowardly choice to let a crime go unreported when they could not think of a “non-racist” way to describe it. They were also abandoned because of the way that these agencies tried to do good. The process of “caring for children” was already bad; the distortions and systematic mendacity encouraged by the ideology of multiculturalism and racial and gender theorizing made it worse.

Jay needs only about 10 pages of the 119-page body of her report to tell the big story: 1,400 victims neglected, mistreated, and betrayed. Every agency contributed to silencing the whistleblowers and abandoning the girls. Parents who acted to protect their daughters were ignored, harassed, even fined and arrested. Rotherham Council ignored their pleas and continued to give contracts to the taxi firms whose owners and drivers were the perpetrators, and in whose cars no teenager in town would ever willingly travel. 

The remaining pages offer material that is, in a way, even more horrifying, because in them Jay patiently, plonkingly details the organizational behavior of perhaps half a dozen stakeholders in the tragedy, as seen through some 16 reviews, audits, and assessments by governmental supervisory agencies and private experts from the child protection establishment. Thanks to Jay’s work, we can at least answer the question of what those who were responsible for protecting the girls of Rotherham thought they were thinking. They thought they were thinking very hard and caring very much about CSE, and doing so in the way that they had been instructed was the proper and professional manner to do so. The politicians, social workers, police, and medical professionals had every reason to believe that their efforts​—​which in fact were completely nugatory​—​demonstrated the “best practice,” or as the British more modestly say, “best known practice” on the subject. Jay demonstrates that the public services of England have been marinated in a managerial culture that makes it almost impossible for a frontline institution​—​local government, social services, the police force, schools, private charities, and the NHS​—​to see that they and their partners are doing virtually nothing at all about CSE.

Jay surveys the results of planned and unannounced inspections by government agencies, including the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) and Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education): “a full inspection in 2003, a follow-up in 2004, a full inspection in 2008, a ‘monitoring visit’ in 2009, an unannounced inspection in August 2009, a full inspection in 2010, an unannounced inspection in 2011, and an unannounced review of child protection services in August 2012.” In addition, consultants from the venerable charity Children First reported on Rotherham’s child protection efforts in 2009; inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) reported on the South Yorkshire Police in 2010; the well-regarded child protection charity Barnardo’s conducted a “Rotherham Practice Review” in 2013.

The inspectors told the various players in Rotherham that ever more must be done to deal with CSE​—​but just as urgently, the agencies must also create initiatives to prevent CSE, to create awareness of CSE, to ensure that the focus on girl victims of CSE isn’t so exclusive that boy victims of CSE and LGBT victims of CSE don’t have their own solutions. (Outside reviewers warned Rotherham agencies not to neglect male and LGBT victims as early as 2002, and frequently queried them about it thereafter; perhaps the nagging worked, because there have never been any reported.)

The individual girls who were victims and the particular men who picked them up in taxis from their middle schools and preyed on them in public places all over town lose their specificity. The inspectors continually praised the “focus” and “commitment” of the city and its agencies, but made victims and perpetrators vague and fuzzy categories. The weapons they recommended to fight the evil were even more abstract and ineffectual. The activity the inspectors prescribed and praised in the most lavish terms will be familiar to anyone who has ever been in private business: It consists of nominating teams from different departments to tackle a certain problem on a coordinated basis. Rotherham was urged above all to “develop multi-agency responses to CSE.” The goal was multitudinousness itself: Where two or three agencies are gathered together in the name of tackling CSE, there must be something productive going on. In business, after a point, the teamwork approach will be measured against a goal that can be enumerated: Sales must grow or production time shrink. If the goal is not attained, the collaborative effort withers away. But no social agency, policeman, town councillor, or inspector ever mentioned a numerical goal, such as reducing the number of victims or increasing the number of arrests—with the exception of adequate budgeting for staff.

In reality, the number of victims grew every year, and the number of arrests was vanishingly low. But the inspectors continued to praise Rotherham’s “commitment to safeguarding young people”; continued to measure commitment by the quality of collaborativeness itself. In 2003, the SSI praised “examples of innovation, moves towards integrated services and new preventive strategies.” In 2010, Ofsted was delighted by “effective, creative multi-agency work” to prevent sexual exploitation, and even more so by “cross-agency training.” Two years later, Ofsted smiled upon “good collaborative work between the local authority and the Police resulting in a targeted approach.”

Barnardo’s experts admired the joint “commitment to addressing CSE” on the part of the town council and social services agencies, a commitment expressed vividly in “their plans to widen the inter-agency partnership.” Barnardo’s left Children’s Services with this praise ringing in its ears, and with an advanced model for calculating risk of CSE, which it had sold to management. Social workers dealing with girls in the field found the Barnardo’s model consistently understated the degree to which their real-life cases were exposed to rape and abduction, but were made to use it, even though it undermined their recommendations.

The Inspectorate of Constabulary praised the collaborative disposition and, of course, the commitment of the South Yorkshire Police’s CSE work. Not only was everyone “conscientious, enthusiastic, and focused,” but “the force had improved its engagement with other agencies working in this field and had co-operated with them in developing strategies.” The strategies thus developed did not require constables to arrest specific sex traffickers who had been pointed out to them by material witnesses: According to the Jay report, they systematically refused to do so, using a variety of excuses that may have been developed on an interagency basis.

Most ecstatic was Children First’s 2009 review of the Rotherham Office of Children’s Services, the welfare division directly responsible for protecting children from exploitation​—​which, Jay reported, demonstrated little interest in children not already on their files, and none at all in children who had become sexually active or pregnant because they were raped. Children First gave the division alpha-plus marks in interagency-manship: Its partnership with one of the six Rotherham NHS units has “been well developed and represented ‘highly advanced and ambitious practice.’ ” The CEOs of the two organizations had “ambition to create an integrated locality structure”​—​all that was needed was for their joint vision to be “refreshed.”

But without social workers, volunteer advocates, and police, in uniform or undercover, to go out to the streets, schoolyards, and taxicabs of Rotherham, the most advanced integrated locality structures could not realize their full potential. It emerges in Jay’s narrative that there was once such a group, ironically organized directly by the Rotherham town council itself in the late 1990s. It was called Risky Business, and its social workers went out to the streets, gained the trust of the girls at risk, and actively defended them from their tormentors. Many informants told Jay that Risky Business was the only organization they felt they could trust. But when the Risky Business staff identified girls at risk to Children’s Services, they were treated with contempt. Jay says that Children’s Services treated a recommendation from Risky Business as “a pretext for attaching lower importance to it”—since Risky Business’s 12- and 13-year-olds were having sex or babies, they weren’t really children anyway. Cops told them their clients were prostitutes or “white trash.” When Risky Business gave police a carefully compiled map of victims and perpetrators, no investigation ensued. 

Did the Inspectorate credit Risky Business for its success with girls at risk, limited as it was? Far from it. Risky Business lacked precisely the excellences that Children’s Services and other players in the CSE game possessed in such abundance: It was judged deficient in “managerial and risk assessment skills, the rigour of case management supervision, procedures, risk management plans, defined roles and responsibilities, and office systems.” The cure for such shortcomings was obvious: integrated interagency co-location. Accordingly, Risky Business was folded into Children’s Services offices, where it lost its separate identity and, evidently, its effectiveness.

When it comes to the girls who are victims, Alexis Jay is most indignant about the failure of Children’s Services to provide after-rape counseling to them. As a longtime social worker, she believes in the power of counseling, and she is right that these children were treated coldly and reluctantly, if they were treated at all. But it seems to me that the only failure that really matters was that of the South Yorkshire Police, who could, by aggressive policing, have pursued and arrested the relatively small group of men, whose identities were well known, who started the ring in 1997-98. Why didn’t they? The leading theory is a culture of political correctness: Crudely stated, the police refused to arrest the perpetrators because they were Muslims. One of the first journalists to write about the Rotherham grooming scandal, Julie Bindel, reported this conversation in a pioneering 2010 article in Standpoint:

“The fact that these particular gangs are made up of Pakistani men is significant but not in the way racists would have us believe,” says one child protection expert who asked not to be named. “While the BNP would have us believe that abusing white girls is an endemic part of these men’s culture​—​which it absolutely is not​—​the truth is that these men are aware that the police do not want to be accused of racism in today’s climate.”

The eruption of Rotherham’s grooming gangs in 1999 coincided with publication of the infamous Macpherson report, which concluded that the Metropolitan Police Service demonstrated “institutional racism” in its investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man, in London in 1993. A famous 2000 analysis of the report by the think tank Civitas concluded that “there was no attempt to show that the Metropolitan Police Service was racist in the sense of being formally structured to put members of ethnic minorities at a disadvantage. In spite of this, the Macpherson report found the Metropolitan Police, and British society generally, guilty of ‘institutional’ or ‘unwitting’ racism.” Even to question that a crime was racist was, “in itself, adduced as evidence of racism.”

But there are other factors to consider—again, factors having to do with the managerial culture of the police and criminal justice system in Britain. Begin with the fact that policing in Britain is both reluctant and, compared with American “best practices,” incompetent. In 2001-02, Rotherham’s director of education complained to police about taxis picking up young girls at school gates with the intention to abuse them. Persistence led to meetings with senior police officials. In the last, Alexis Jay reports, 

she was shown a map of the north of England overlaid with various crime networks including ‘Drugs’, ‘Guns’, and ‘Murder’. She was told that the Police were only interested in putting resources into catching ‘the ring leaders’ who perpetrated these crimes. She was told that if they were caught, her local problems would cease.

This kind of thinking—conveyed with a kind of Yorkshire arrogance and impatience that Jay’s careful retelling can’t disguise—is not only bad policing, but heartless. We’re not talking about a ring of safecrackers, but of men who capture young women at the beginning of adulthood and ruin their lives. It’s the small fry who cause the greatest human damage. Rapists need no ring leaders or complicated distribution systems to enjoy the fruits of their crime.

The police may have been reluctant to arrest Muslim suspects accused by white Christians, but the police in Britain are comparatively reluctant to arrest anyone at all. The incarceration rate in England and Wales is about a fifth of ours, and accordingly, the citizens of the law-abiding country John O’Sullivan describes are 228 percent more likely than we are to be a victim of a violent crime. The actual crime rate is likely to be even higher, since the police are believed by HMIC itself systematically to underreport crime.

These managerial cultures​—​which prevented the social services from doing their job and the police from doing theirs​—​have an absurd aim. The police must show loving kindness to those who are most dangerous and threatening, lest they think the police don’t love them, at the expense of people who are vulnerable to the threats. The public services must work together as if they were members of a family, agreeing with one another on plans and standards of care before delivering any. The result is to tear apart real families, and destroy the lives of 1,400 schoolgirls. Meanwhile, only the perpetrators retained a real sense of community. The mother of a victim of grooming made this point to Julie Bindel in 2010: “These men all know and trust each other. They don’t abuse these girls because they are Muslim, but because they are criminals who think they are above the law.” The authors of the Civitas response to the Macpherson report made the same point about the effect of the new ethos of policing:

To recommend that police officers should deal with anyone who is especially uncooperative, excitable, or anti-police with more than normal restraint and tolerance because that is their “culture” is simply to invite others to develop or to claim to be part of the same “culture.”

Rotherham’s “best practices” not only unintentionally did grave harm to real families, but created a sense of community and mutual trust among the very men who preyed on the most vulnerable. In Rotherham, only the rapists could rely on one another.

Sam Schulman is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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