Child abuse: Theresa May vows to end ‘culture of inaction and denial’
A new single national point of contact for whistleblowers trying to expose child abuse, and to spot patterns of failure across the country, is to be set up in the wake of the Rotherham scandal, the home secretary has announced.
The measure, along with a specialist national taskforce to help local authorities struggling to tackle this issue, is part of the package to be announced at the Downing Street summit on child sexual abuse.
Theresa May said it was clear that the huge scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was only the tip of the iceberg and that a national response was required to the series of failures exposed by the inquiries conducted by both Prof Alexis Jay and Louise Casey.
“We need to address the culture of inaction and denial that led to victims being dismissed and ignored,” said the home secretary, as she published the official report responding to the Rotherham scandal.
Ministers say that “misplaced concerns about political correctness”, as was seen in Rotherham, where the majority of the known abusers were of Pakistani heritage, was unacceptable and should not be allowed to stop action being taken.
“People who abuse children must be stopped. Their race, age or gender is irrelevant … We cannot allow professionals to avoid tackling the sexual abuse of children by members of ethnic minority communities for fear of being seen as racist … There is no culture in which sexual abuse is not a crime,” says the cross-government report.
The official response, based on a series of cabinet-level meetings, chaired by May, confirms the government’s intention to extend the new offence of wilful neglect to those who work in children’s social care, education and elected politicians to “eradicate the culture of denial”. The new offence will carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
The home secretary also told MPs that she will override the discretion of police and crime commissioners over local priorities and resources by making child sex abuse a national priority, and putting it on the same footing as responses to terrorism, public safety, and organised crime.
Ministers have also decided to launch a £1m communications campaign to promote a wider understanding of what people should do when they suspect a child is being abused. Revised guidance is also to be issued on “what to do if you’re worried a child is being abused” for professionals, the public and children.
The government hopes that a new “whistleblowing national portal” for child-abuse related reports will help bring child sexual exploitation to light and make it easier to spot patterns of failure across the country.
But the home secretary had to admit that she could not yet report on the findings of an internal inquiry looking into allegations that her own Home Office department had been made aware of the problems in Rotherham in 2002, yet failed to act.
“My department has been undertaking detailed searches of Home Office files and records of the time – and potentially relevant files and records across government – to establish what action was taken as a result.
“Searches of the department’s digital holdings are still ongoing and we expect to be able to provide the completed investigation … in the next three months,” May told MPs, in a written ministerial statement.