Rotherham: Yvette Cooper calls for change to law after abuse scandal
Shadow home secretary says Labour would introduce mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse.
Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse would be introduced by a Labour government to try to prevent a repeat of the Rotherham scandal and encourage a cultural shift where allegations from victims are treated seriously.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that a change in legislation was urgently required to ensure people working with children reported allegations or signs of abuse to the police. Her call was prompted by the publication last week of an uncompromising report that identified repeated failures by police and local authorities to deal with the issue as seriously contributing to the sexual exploitation of at least 1,400 children in Rotherham over a 16-year period.
The report by Professor Alexis Jay, a former chief inspector of social work, follows a series of historical child abuse scandals, some involving celebrities such as BBC television presenter Jimmy Savile, alongside similar grooming scandals in Derby, Oxford and Rochdale, where local agencies failed to act on evidence of abuse.
Among Jay’s findings were claims that teachers in Rotherham were discouraged from reporting potential cases, ensuring the scale of the problem remained under-reported. In the Oxfordshire case, a court heardthat the authorities had exhibited “almost wilful blindness” to a gang who raped and trafficked girls as young as 11.
Cooper said: “We are still seeing the same mistakes being made, victims not being listened to. It is now time to have the mandatory duty to report, to make clear that cultural change has to take place in every institution. It will also challenge the idea that any professional should be tempted to think that things can be solved quietly or privately by brushing them under the carpet. A clear signal needs to be put out that people should not put institutional reputation before protecting children.”
On Friday, the former director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, said the case for mandatory reporting of all child sexual exploitation was now “overwhelming” and required to eradicate the “culture of disbelief” demonstrated in Rotherham.
Labour is also planning to make the cover-up or concealment of known child abuse a criminal offence. Cooper said: “There cannot be any hiding behind ethnicity or communities when abuse is being committed.”
Meanwhile, the children’s charity Barnardo’s has called on the government to introduce a bill that would remove the term child prostitution from the Sexual Offences Act 2003 at the earliest opportunity.
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, said: “It is disgusting that sexually exploited children in Rotherham were labelled as ‘prostitutes’ by those they turned to for help. Young teenagers who believed they had found love were then brutally raped by gangs of men. The fact that these children were then seen as complicit in their own abuse is deeply disturbing.”
Responding to Labour’s call for the introduction of mandatory reporting, the Department for Education said: “Existing statutory guidance is already crystal clear that professionals should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child or vulnerable adult. In the year ending March 2013 there were 593,500 referrals.”
The government understood public anxiety about potential under-reporting of sexual abuse and was “actively considering” whether a mandatory reporting duty was necessary.
- The Observer,