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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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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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