ralph berry masthead for columnBradford Council recently debated the issue which has been affecting the District [and many others] for some years taking a deep critical look at the council and what its partners are doing, making use of £250000 of additional Bradford Council  investment to support victims groups, and to deliver effective awareness programmes in all Bradford High Schools.

The Council’s executive is about to endorse a major upgrade to the strategy and outline the current pressures and changing patterns. This follows a review and ‘challenge’ to make sure all patterns and forms of abuse are tackled, this includes abuse of boys [around 10% of cases]. We must give serious attention to what is believed to be an under reported issue of abuse of Asian children. It is my belief that men who abuse do not operate on ‘racial lines’, so if we have abuser’s in any community the notion they will only abuse outside ‘their’ community is not sustainable.

What we do know from other areas like Birmingham is that there are issues that have to be discussed in all communities, and that in Asian communities there are cases coming forward, some from past years where shame, ‘Izzat’, or other pressures have prevented people coming forward. The multi agency team have daily meetings to assess risks and agree actions, supported by dedicated skilled social workers and experts in the voluntary organisation partners at the ‘Hub ’. This is a world away from the response victims got in the past years, but we recognise issues form the past need to be addressed

It is for that reason the report sets out the need to set up a team to work on past allegations and try to get evidence and, as some cases have shown recently, get evidence before the courts.

For a while, this is going to look very tough, as significant numbers of cases will be coming before the courts.

Attention has focused on cases in Keighley as figures show 26 local men are on police bail and ‘likely’ to be charged later this year as part of Keighley-based investigation into child sex abuse going back some years.

Over the last 6-month period, the Bradford Hub identified 158 children at risk of Sexual exploitation. The Council’s report shows 99 were white British, 19 from ‘other white’ backgrounds, 23 Asian and 14 mixed heritage. This shows children from a diverse range of backgrounds are being protected, confirming the views of the Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berlowitz of focusing on one pattern or group, ignoring that the abuse need to be identified and a variety of other situations. I recently met Council teams dealing with this issue in Cambridgeshire, Sutton, Kingston upon Thames and West Sussex, as well as the known issues in many Northern Cities and towns.

In terms of age, 17 were under 12, 30 were aged 12-13, 65 were 14-15 and 46 were over 16. Thirty of the children were male, something that really needs to be recognised.

Action is being taken on new cases and the hub is currently investigating 48 separate cases of suspected grooming. In those cases, eighteen of the alleged abusers are Asian, 11 white British and 2 Eastern European. Again, this shows the patterns are changing and we have to deal with the fact that risks are in a variety of settings and patterns. All communities need to be acting and working with the ‘know the signs ‘ campaign [on West Yorkshire Police website], and myths like the victims are all from ‘troubled ‘ backgrounds also need nailing, children from all backgrounds can be vulnerable, the evidence clearly shows that.

That is why work with schools needs to ensure good social and relationship education is delivered in every school, backed up by the excellent play that is going to all Bradford High Schools. We already know that young people who get that awareness raise concerns, protect themselves and others, and help prevent abuse.

We know seven suspected abusers are currently awaiting trial due to these investigations by the Bradford ‘Hub’, which has been widely praised.

Let us not forget four people have been convicted during the past six months. One has been found not guilty, and another received a caution. Those convicted are getting substantial sentences.

We are looking to ensure all Councillors are trained and all agencies from Housing, to community wardens and anyone working for public and other agencies work together to share information.

I have piloted an online training courts developed by safeguarding agencies so that we all know who to contact and what the up to date awareness and information tells us.

One issue that bothers me is, thus far none of the men sentenced in the cases around the country have accepted their guilt, so I believe it is important to show how and why these men developed into rapists and abusers of our children!

Bradford and other councils are using creative techniques as much as possible to deal with this, such as the ‘child abduction warning notices’. We are trying to keep on top of the changing patterns, such as the growing number of eastern European children at risk. It is a constantly changing process and there are many different patterns when it comes to child sex exploitation.

We have to look at facts without worrying about being politically correct; we have to deal with anyone willing to engage in this activity. But some of these figures show people who are prepared to rape and abuse children don’t operate based on racial identity – it is about exerting power over children.