Comment: Rotherham abuse shows the danger of only having men in charge

By Frances Crook

There has been a cacophony of male voices commenting on the sexual abuse of children in Rotherham and I tentatively suggest that might be part of the problem, not the solution.

Before we go any further, I am not – absolutely not – of the school of thought that holds all men to be rapists. But unless we look at all the elements of what happened in Rotherham we will not prevent it happening again and while social exclusion, the culture of the men involved, and the failure of various authorities to intervene are part of the mix, the issue of masculinity must be addressed too.

The media appears to be obsessed with chasing and blaming individuals who could, and should, have intervened once the abuse started. There is legitimacy in this finger-pointing but one element not being discussed is that the people concerned are almost all men. It was apparently men of Pakistani origin who were committing the rapes and it was men in the police and local authority who ignored the cries for help from the girl victims.

Remember Soham? Several vulnerable girls who came from care homes had made allegations that Ian Huntley had sexually abused them. The local police did nothing about it. Interesting that the subsequent inquiry came up with recommendations relating to collecting data, not about paying proper credence to women.

So it is no surprise that when girls allege they have been raped the authorities ignore or belittle their claims, or worse, hold that the girls were consenting in their own abuse. The authorities in Rotherham in the 1990s were overwhelmingly men, from the police to council leaders.

This is not a conspiracy. It is not organised. It is just that there appears to be a pattern of disbelief and suppression when there are only men in positions of power and authority and young girls are victims.

So how do we learn from what has happened in Rotherham? First of all, ask the victims. Ask the young people who were raped and abused and ignored what they think could have been done to intervene to protect them. And, ask them what support they need now.

Go after the perpetrators. There are many, possibly hundreds, of men in Rotherham and Burnley and surrounding areas who are rapists and abusers and they need to caught and convicted.

A hunt for people in authority who could have intervened to halt the abuse is inevitable and cathartic. But we should not be distracted by that from the essential task of caring long term for the victims and making sure the perpetrators are dealt with.

The key lesson is that children, particularly young girls, should be listened to and when they say they are being abused, something must be done. Immediately.

Frances Crook is chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the oldest penal reform charity in the United Kingdom.

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