Tagged: child abuse

Unity, fear and hopes for a better society

Sarah Champion MP addresses attendees of the 3rd White Flowers Campaign vigil opposite Parliament

Sarah Champion MP addresses attendees of the 3rd White Flowers Campaign vigil opposite Parliament

Ian Pace live tweeted yesterday’s (14 January 2015) White Flowers campaign meeting in the House of Common’s here. My summary of the meeting, plus the meeting I had afterwards with Hilary Benn MP is below.

Committee Room 14 – the largest committee room in Parliament – was packed with survivors, campaigners, whistle-blowers, charities and concerned members of the public for the White Flowers Campaign Group meeting aimed at kick-starting the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry. A number of MPs were there as well, including John Mann, Simon Danczuk and Sarah Champion who all addressed the audience (it wasn’t clear how many more were in the room, or how many had engaged outside the meeting).

Dr. Liz Davies (whistle-blower and reader in child protection) explained to the audience that the White Flowers name comes from the Belgian campaign which remembers the children who were abducted, abused and murdered by a paedophile ring involving members of the Belgian establishment. The idea has spread internationally (e.g. Australia).

Photo of white flowers, The 3rd White Flowers Campaign Vigil, opposite Parliament.

The 3rd White Flowers Campaign Vigil, opposite Parliament. (http://bit.ly/1CamFuP)

The first White Flowers vigil was outside Elm Guest House; the second at Grosvenor Avenue, Islington honoured victims from Islington Children’s homes. The third vigil took place before yesterday’s campaign meeting in Parliament and was very well attended by survivors, campaigners, MPs and members of the public and press.

The campaign group meeting was chaired by Phil Frampton who is a survivor from Southport Barnados (his story is here). He opened by saying that survivors have been called treasure hunters, publicity seekers and now even conspiracy theorists. In Phil’s experience, the only thing that stopped abuse from happening was people coming together and acting – unity is needed. This was the main theme of the meeting and something echoed by all the speakers. The meeting was the first time that MPs, survivors, whistle-blowers and charities had come together in a public meeting. The media were there too, and Phil said they were essential in getting messages to survivors and driving for the truth. But they mustn’t exploit or exaggerate survivor stories to sell papers – this undermines the cause.

Phil said the group would not respond to the Inquiry until it was transparent and had a drive for justice, and when it safeguards and protects those coming forwards. The Inquiry is only one tool to do the job though. More whistle-blowers need to come forward, and journalists must be true to their profession and uncover the truth.

Actress Samantha Morton, a survivor herself, was unable to attend the meeting due to her filming schedule, but sent a message of support to the meeting. She said survivors must not be quiet. Abuse is happening right now to children – we must all come together for justice.

Nigel O’Mara spoke about the long-term effects of sexual abuse. It affected the individual deeply, but also those around them, and society as a whole. He had rebelled against his abusers and ended up being sent into care in the 1970’s. He lost his chance of education and as a result ended up homeless and destitute, not emerging from prostitution and hard drug use until his mid-20’s. Forty years on from his abuse he is still unable to find work – partly because of education – but mainly because he experiences difficulty in situations where people have power over him, such as in the workplace. Survivors can only ever learn to live with effects – there is no cure. He asked the Government to put proper support in place for survivors.

Chris Tuck, a survivor who runs the Survivors of Abuse Network, also spoke about the long term effects, which include PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Chris said we need a body that supports victim’s needs and helps them through the criminal justice system. At the moment, no-one knows what is happening – this has a negative impact on survivors. Chris also called for mandatory reporting of abuse – something which has strong support across government, and proper sex and relationship education in schools so children understand what is a good and a bad relationship and learn to set boundaries. Chris said it was controversial, but we also need help and support for paedophiles.

Andy Kershaw – a survivor of Forde Park – shared some of his experiences, including how the authorities had consistently failed to deal with reports of abuse. Whistleblowing had built evidence against 190 people but only 4 were ever convicted. Andy reiterated the White Flowers Group’s call for the cut-off date of the inquiry to be pushed back to 1945. Andy said the Group had confidence this was going to happen.

John Mann MP speaking to the press by the 3rd White Flowers vigil

John Mann MP speaking to the press by the 3rd White Flowers vigil

John Mann MP spoke of the symbolism of holding the meeting in a parliament committee room. He said how in his Nottinghamshire constituency people had now come forward from every single care home to report abuse. But the police and social services need the resources to deal with this – at the moment they don’t. He said that if those in the room couldn’t be united then they would be handing power back to the abusers. We must stand together.

Liz Davies said we’d moved from whispering about abuse and cover-ups from dark corners during the early 1990’s to shouting it out loud today. However, the stakes are very high for those trying to stop the organised abuse because it relates to so much power and money. Evidence of the abuse was being used to manipulate the abusers, so there were vested interests in seeing the abuse continue. We are challenging the establishment, so people are trying to undermine us, spread disinformation, attack us – academics are trying to justify paedophilia – but we will continue to fight them off every day. With the cross-party support we have we will move forwards. Personal testimony was so important when evidence is routinely ‘destroyed’ – not just the Dickens dossier, but on many investigations, including Liz’s in the past.

Liz said she rejected the NSPCCs move to medicalise paedophilia, and said we need to reinstate the definition of ‘organised sexual abuse’ and the guidance to deal with it that this government had removed from the statute.

Ex-chief constable of the Lancashire Police Force, Pauline Clare, sent a message of support to the meeting say she understood how abuse has wrecked the lives of so many and it was time that abusers were brought to justice – stronger measures needed to be put in place now to protect children. She offered to work with the campaign group.

Whistle-blower Peter McKelvie recounted how, 21 years after his investigations were closed down, he went to MP Tom Watson who then raised his concerns about a paedophile ring going to the heart of government with Prime Minister David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions. Peter said that, regardless of some people saying ‘don’t go to the police’, things were changing and survivors should now go to the police with their evidence. This was a very contentious point for some members of the audience who spoke of their terrible experiences when doing this in the past – not being believed, or even being punished or prosecuted themselves as a result. Sarah Champion MP later said she was unimpressed with changes to policing following the Rotherham Inquiry, and others had expressed resourcing and capability concerns. Ann Coffey MP’s report into child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester documented many similar experiences of policing. There is clearly a long way to go to build up trust. Sarah Champion MP said she didn’t want to politically point-score but the Coalition policy of police budget cuts and probation privatisation was the opposite of what we need.

Simon Danczuk MP, co-author of ‘Smile for the Camera’ which exposes the detail of the Cyril Smith scandal, said there were far too few meetings about child sexual abuse in parliament. MPs needed to connect with the mood of the nation on this. He said the factor that linked the scandals of the past to the slowness of progress today was ‘fear’. Frontline child protection workers, social workers, nurses, all say they are scared to speak out – scared of losing their livelihoods, being blacklisted, being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. Fear protects the abusers. We must introduce practical measures such as mandatory reporting and properly protect and celebrate whistle-blowers. He said people wanting to whistle-blow had contacted him to ask ‘who will protect and support me?’ Although the law had been strengthened recently, Ministers were paying lip service and not driving home the culture change. We must stop gagging public servants. This is a sophisticated cover-up. People in the frontline must be empowered to come forward.

Andy (a survivor) then spoke about how the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse was dealing with the issue in a much more robust way than our CSA inquiry was – it ensured that survivors were treated appropriately, and had the power to make people come forward. He also said that Ireland had set up an agency to support victims of the church – if Ireland can manage it then why can’t a country as rich as ours do it? Andy said he saw widespread denial about what was going on in this country. This plays to the sublime arrogance of the paedophile.

Phil Framptom said that a demand had been sent to the Tony Blair Government in 2001 for a national inquiry, but all they got was the North Wales Children’s Homes Inquiry which was limited by William Hague to looking at abuse that happened on the premises, missing out the abuse that occurred as children were trafficked around the country.

Alison Millar from Leigh Day Solicitors who represents CSA clients and has been very critical of the CSA Inquiry’s process for involving survivors, highlighted the issue of civil redress where survivors pursue legal action against the institution that failed them. She said there was currently no legal power to compel institutions to apologise to victims. Later on, Tim Hulbert talked about how insurance companies pressure Local Authorities into not apologising to victims.

Ian McFadyen – survivor and campaigner – made a point echoed later by Stuart Syvret: the CSA Inquiry is not actually about child abuse. It’s about the failure of government and institutions. Ian said many of the people in the room had been failed – for them the damage had been done and it was too late – but we can hold the people who failed us to account and make sure it doesn’t happen in the future to our children.

Tim Hulbert, ex-Director of Bedfordshire Social Services, said that missing files were not important – the most important thing was whistle-blowers coming forward. Tim talked about the malignant influence of insurance companies who, in wanting to minimise their liabilities, instruct councils not to apologise to victims. They try to narrow terms of reference and insist that the names of those involved are not released. When he resisted this the insurer started talking to the Chief Executive and councillors. They implied the threat that the council would not be underwritten if they did not comply. A statutory inquiry would have the power to tackle this. (The Jillings Report was compromised by the Municipal Mutual Insurance Company). Tim urged whistle-blowers from the institutions who had failed children to come forward.

Phil Frampton said he’d asked Barnados why they wouldn’t support victims in their quest for justice; their response was that their insurance companies wouldn’t let them. Phil said a FOI had been submitted to find out which insurers were underwriting the CSA inquiry.

Whistle-blower and ex-Jersey senator, Stuart Syvret, recounted how he had been jailed twice for whistleblowing. Jersey was further down the line in this process and could pass on some valuable lessons to the new CSA Inquiry: What do we want the CSA inquiry to investigate? And what does success look like? Stuart echoed Ian McFadyen’s point that this was not about child abuse but rather the abuse of power and the absence of real accountability of those in public office. He suggested a successful CSA Inquiry would result in properly enforced law, an independent prosecution service, and the removal of corruption from the police. He said it was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, but we still did not have the properly enforced rule of law.

I left the meeting at that point (missing the last few speakers) to meet my MP, Hilary Benn (who had signed the call for the inquiry) to discuss the White Flowers meeting and the CSA Inquiry. Hilary said he and Labour fully supported the Inquiry, but he voiced some scepticism about whether there was, or had been, a paedophile ring operating through parliament. Where was the evidence? Hilary said he’d only followed the mainstream news reports on the Inquiry and related events, so I showed him some of the recent evidence reported via Exaro provided by new witnesses coming forward, and summarised some of the things said in the White Flowers meeting, in particular by the whistle-blowers and by his peers Simon Danczuk and John Mann, the latter having recently handed further evidence to the police (and said it was inconceivable that police would not now arrest and interview some of the politicians he has named). We discussed Simon Danczuk’s co-authored book which showed how, time and time again, the police knew what Cyril Smith was doing but were prevented from acting – things were never allowed to go through the proper CPS process – I’m not sure if Hilary had entirely appreciated this. Politicians – Hilary’s peers – knew what was happening but put party success before justice and children’s well-being, as in the case of David Steel. To countenance the idea that members of the establishment are above the law, Hilary Benn cited the example of the expenses scandal which led to MPs being jailed (Hilary was one of the tiny minority who emerged with a perfect record on expenses). My view was that this was only a handful, with relatively small sentences, and then only after huge and sustained public and media pressure. When it comes to the sexual exploitation and rape of children we only see entertainment figures being convicted, or revelations properly emerging after the criminal has died.

I would have liked to have seen Hilary Benn at the White Flowers meeting so he could hear the speakers himself, but he did meet me and genuinely debate the topic; some attendees MPs wouldn’t meet them, and a lot of MPs refused to sign the call for the Inquiry. The CSA Inquiry will need to make some serious progress before Hilary Benn and other’s faith in Government and the criminal justice system is shaken. Hopefully the White Flower’s Campaign will be a catalyst for that progress and, in the long-term, we’ll have a better society as a result.

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The policing of prostitution in West Yorkshire – the view from the street (Part Three: the BLAST Project)

The BLAST Project logoThis interview is with Phil Mitchell from the Leeds-based BLAST Project. The BLAST Project provides a range of support services to boys and young men across Leeds and Bradford who are or have been sexually exploited, or are at risk of being sexually exploited, including those who are involved in selling/exchanging sex. This interview is part of a series with agencies in West Yorkshire who support sex workers and liaise to some degree with West Yorkshire Police. The first interview was with the Joanna Project, the second with the STAR Project. All previous articles on this topic can be found here.

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Q: How much work does the BLAST Project do with sex workers?

We’re currently working with two young men in the Bradford area, but we’re finding male sex workers difficult to identify and engage with at the moment. We have outreach workers who go out late at night and they work with a number of young men who appear to be begging or homeless. We know a number of them have offered sexual stuff in exchange for cash or drugs, but a lot of them won’t disclose it to us, so we’ve got to get to know them better and build more trust. We have worked with more sex workers in the past, although they tend to only talk to us once or twice and then don’t want to see us again. Quite often they are looking after themselves and their sexual health and don’t need support; they have friends and they say they don’t want to speak to anyone else. So we just let them know we’re here if they ever need us for anything. There’s not really any 1:1 work with sex workers at present, the bulk of that type of support is with boys under 18 who are being abused or are at risk of being abused.

Q: Do you have much interaction with West Yorkshire Police?

If someone from the ‘Vice Squad’ knows of a young man out selling sex they always refer them to us. But this rarely happens because either the boys aren’t out on the streets or some of the police don’t identify them as selling sex – they see them more as causing trouble, wanting to mug someone, or begging, and they move them along – some officers don’t understand that they could be selling sex. The police tend to make assumptions based on gender which isn’t helpful.

While we do work closely with WYP in some instances, we are very careful about how we associate with them. A lot of the boys and men we work with don’t like the police, so if we say we work closely with the police they won’t engage with us. If we become aware of something which is worrying and potentially a crime we’ll send the information to the police. But if the young person doesn’t want to speak to the police then that’s up to them.

Q: What are the interactions like between West Yorkshire Police, the BLAST Project and the people the Project is trying to support?

There are negative and positive aspects. There are some officers and individuals who are amazing, but there are others that tend to say one thing but do another. They deal with allegations and say to the victims they’ll keep in touch and let them know what’s happening, but 9 times out of 10 that never actually happens. A person can make a complaint and give a statement and it can be a year later before they find out what’s happened. In that year no-one has kept in touch, no-one has said what’s happening – has it gone to the CPS etc. – we have to phone and chase.

The Police have a tendency to criminalise boys and young men. All of the safeguarding guidance says you cannot label someone under 18 as a prostitute, but there have been instances where this has not been followed. Only this week we found out there was a 14 year old boy who’d been offered drugs for sex. We approached WYP about this and they said, “This is male prostitution…” – we had to challenge them – he’s a 14 year old boy, you cannot classify him in that way. The focus tends to be on prosecution, but there has to be more to it than that.

We’ve had reports from children and young people like “I’ve been online, I’ve chatted to what I thought was a girl and she’s got me to perform a sex act on a webcam but it turned out to be a middle aged man who’d recorded it. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to the police but they said ‘there’s nothing we can do’…” So I’ve phoned the police and said “You’ve got a child reporting a child sexual offence to you, you can’t say ‘there’s nothing you can do’?” – then they try to bat it back to the voluntary sector saying, “Well, you do this and then if they want to speak to us phone us back.”, and we’re like, “They did want to speak to you – they spoke to you and you told them to go away.”

There was one young lad who came out as gay and went online looking for a boyfriend. All these older men said to him “Let’s have sex, it’ll show me that you love me” – he was groomed by lots of different men. Some of them had previously been in prison for sexual offences. He tried reporting this but the police told him he was wasting their time, that he was costing too much money – they told him they’d lock him up in a secure unit – again we had to challenge the police. Fortunately we managed to stop that happening on that occasion.

Some WYP officers don’t understand that boys and young men don’t go to the red light areas like the women do. The red light areas are used by male, heterosexual kerb-crawlers. The boys will hang around all the gay bars and gay venues and approach the gay guys. “I can let him watch me masturbate and get £20”, or “I’ll let him think I’m gonna suck him off but then I’ll mug him and run off.” But then sometimes they end up being raped. But because they’re often under 18 we wouldn’t call them sex workers – they’re sexually exploited young people. Unfortunately the police don’t always get that.

There are some officers on Vice that have been very good. They’ve spoken to victims and built a good relationship with them. But it depends on individual officers and their background. Maybe you could blame the cuts for some of this. Everyone’s got to do more for less. But that excuse can only go so far. It hasn’t helped that West Yorkshire Police have historically been reluctant to say they sometimes get things wrong or could do things better, but I’m hopeful that things may now be changing in this respect.

Q: Have you heard of West Yorkshire Police’s “Operation Topaz”?

I’ve heard of it, but we’re not involved in it. WYP didn’t consult with us about it. They have consulted with us on some things but not on a great deal.

Q: Do you work to change communities and societies views towards sex work?

We do, but the focus is on preventing sexual exploitation of under 18 males rather than on sex work. I spoke at a conference earlier today with the message that it doesn’t just happen to young girls, it happens to young boys too. We do national campaigns like the ‘Think Again’ campaign, and we do challenge – we challenge that you can’t use the term ‘prostitute’ for under 18’s for example.

Q: Have West Yorkshire Police offered to join forces with you in this work?

We are in discussion with WYP about doing an online web chat. WYP have previously worked with Isis (linked to Genesis but dealing with girls who are sexually exploited) and separately PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation who support parents who have children who have been abused) to do web chats, so we’re hoping to do one aimed at parents about boys who are sexually exploited and give people advice about grooming and sexual exploitation.

We’re very careful how we link up with the police as sometimes they say the right thing but they don’t do the right thing. I’ve got more negative experiences than positive experiences, and I think so have the boys and young men we see, therefore we have to be very careful about how we associate with WYP.

A few years ago we did some outreach with some PCSOs in one of Leeds’ main red light districts late at night. We approached the working women and said we’re looking for boys to give information and support to. Many of the women knew of boys but said they won’t be here; they’ll be around all the gay bars. Then the PCSOs, who were lovely, said, “We’re out and about, take care of yourselves, but look, if we see you here again we’re going to have to arrest you or move you on”. And that made us think – even though we got on, our approaches are very different, so we can’t do outreach again together.

Q: Are you aware of the ‘Merseyside Model’ which is recommended in the 2011 Association of Chief Police Officers’ guidance and centres on treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes?

I think that anything that helps brings a prosecution is good, but anything that makes these people feel supported, and not judged, is also good. I’m all for anything that does that.

I’m not that familiar with the ACPO guidance, but it is not a big surprise that other forces have not adopted the approach of Merseyside Police. The police often let their morals get in the way. What they need to do is put their morals and views aside and just focus on the fact that you’ve got a victim. Some officers don’t seem to realise that you can sell sex legally in some circumstances – they think it’s all wrong, illegal. What really matters is that there is a victim.

I think there needs to be more general awareness about selling sex and the law – not just within the police, but in wider society. If I wanted to invite people to my house to sell sex then I’m not breaking the law. There are more students now who want to do that because they’ve got more debt – they think it’s quick and easy – obviously there are risks but younger people tend not to give the risks much weight. I never tell any of the young men that they shouldn’t do it – it is their choice. I advise them to be aware of the law – if it’s under 18 it’s a crime, if it’s in a public place it’s a crime, if it involves coercion it’s a crime, but otherwise you can sell sex quite legally, – and to be aware of the risks and make an informed decision, and get support if you need it. But the police are often very judgmental. I don’t think that criminalising prostitution solves anything.

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Footnote:

West Yorkshire Police’s Operation Topaz and the Association of Chief Police Officers 2011 Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation are discussed in this article.

The BLAST Project recently launched their 2 minute My New Friend video to highlight the grooming and sexual exploitation of boys and young men.

The ‘Cycle of Abuse’ myth

“The ‘Cycle of Abuse’ theory proposes that if you are abused as a child you will in turn abuse others. But if we begin with what we know about the gendered distribution of sexual victimisation and offending the proposition begins to fall apart. We know that girls are between three and six times more likely to experience sexual abuse, yet the vast majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by males. If there is any kind of cycle it is a gendered one, and that in turn requires explanation. Even if arguments that there is a hidden iceberg of female abusers have some validity to them, to reverse the gendered asymmetry would require an iceberg of literally incredible proportions. Continue reading

No safety net for disabled children in residential institutions in Ireland

I don’t think Pauline Conroy’s powerful 2012 article No safety net for disabled children in residential institutions in Ireland is widely available so I’m sharing here in case of interest to others. The abstract is below:

“The voices of adults and children with disabilities who have experienced violence and abuse are slowly beginning to surface in the public domain. Segregated residential institutions run by religious congregations appear to be dangerous places for children with disabilities and perceived differences – according to the former residents, speaking and communicating to us today as adults in Ireland. A statutory Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in Ireland attracted important numbers of former residents – witnesses – who recounted appalling experiences of violence as children. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities contains articles concerning the prevention of cruelty, sexual assault, violence and acts of humiliation that may be useful for countries like Ireland which have been unable to ratify the Convention. The protection of children with disabilities requires legal reform in Ireland, statutory licensing, monitoring and inspection of the segregated centres where children with disabilities are living.”

No safety net for disabled children in Ireland (pdf)

Sentencing Council consultation on guideline for sentencing sexual offences

Sentencing CouncilUpdate 12/12/13: the Sentencing Council have released their new guidelines. Press notice here. The new guidelines make fundamental changes in response to the consultation.

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The Sentencing Council recently consulted on a new guideline for sentencing sexual offences. It sought views on:

  • the main factors that reflect the harm caused to the victim by an offence
  • the culpability of the offender
  • the additional factors that should influence the sentence; and
  • the approach and structure of the guidance and how this should be tailored to different offences.

I have partially completed the consultation – my response below. Continue reading

Savile and how he got away with it: The 3 questions everyone needs to consider.

The "Giving Victims A Voice" report which showed the geographical and chronological breadth of Savile's offending uncovered so far.

The “Giving Victims A Voice” report which showed the geographical and chronological breadth of Savile’s offending uncovered so far.

The  “Giving Victims a Voice” report of 11th January 2013 tells us that Savile carried out his abuse from 1955 to 2009;  that 214 crimes have been recorded so far – but at least 450 have been identified in the last few months but not recorded due to “some people wishing to remain anonymous and others who don’t wish the matter to be reported as a crime or are unable to remember sufficient detail.” There will be many more victims who felt they could not come forward at all, or who died prior to Operation Yewtree. The abuse occurred across the UK including London, Leeds, Scotland, Wales and Jersey; in hospitals, hospices, tv studios, children’s homes; and the victims were female and male ranging from 8 to 47.

Following the release of the report, the police and media have posed the question, “How did he get away with it?” This question needs to be split into three: Continue reading