Authorities in South Yorkshire claim they are getting tough on child sexual exploitation – after being condemned for their ‘inexcusably slow’ realisation of the extent of the problem.
A Home Affairs Select Committee report said there had been ‘a woeful lack of professional curiosity’ at the top at Rotherham Council.
MPs found social workers dismissed victims – children as young as 12 – as prostitutes, instead of helping them.
They examined the issue of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham after a serious case review identified missed opportunities to help 17-year-old Laura Wilson, who was ‘on the periphery’ of a grooming ring when she was stabbed to death and dumped in a Rotherham canal in 2010.
Joyce Thacker, Rotherham’s director of children’s services, was challenged in the report for claims that prosecutions in sex grooming cases were of ‘secondary importance’.
Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, formerly Rawmarsh councillor and Rotherham Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, was accused of ‘failing to engage with victims’.
And, in evidence to the inquiry, one former grooming victim said a South Yorkshire Police officer told her when girls complained of abuse ‘we just think it’s little white slappers running around with Asians’.
But Mr Wright said this week that he had met victims and he felt Ms Thacker had always been ‘incredibly professional’.
He added a project had been established to tackle child grooming over a decade ago which saw a gang sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2008.
A Rotherham Council spokesman said the authority saw tackling child sexual exploitation as a ‘top priority’ and would be reflecting on the issues raised.
A police spokesman added that “significant progress has been made” to tackle such horrific crimes.
The report recommended council workers should be trained to recognise signs of sexual exploitation and conduct interviews with children who go missing within three days of their return.
In addition, councils should set up a safeguarding hub with representatives from various agencies and a courtroom should be designated to hear sex-grooming cases.
School teachers should be provided with a list of warning signs for child sexual exploitation, the report added.