‘Colour blind’ social workers couldn’t see glaring racial clues to Rochdale sex abuse

John Bingham — Telegraph.co.uk Dec 20, 2013

Men convicted of grooming underage white girls for sex in Rochdale. Click to enlarge

A “dangerous” inability to recognise the importance of race meant social workers and police missed glaring warning signs about a gang of Pakistani men grooming white girls for sex in Rochdale, an official inquiry has concluded.

An obsession with being “colour blind” meant they failed even to notice the pattern of abuse going on under their noses, it found.

Although they carefully documented a spate of young white girls from troubled backgrounds in relationships with older men from a community they rarely otherwise mixed with, no one questioned what was going on, it said.

Had they asked why so many vulnerable white girls were striking up “friendships” with older “Asian” men they would have been able to stop the abuse much earlier, a serious case review finds.

The report focusing on six of the victims at the centre of one of the biggest child protection scandals of recent times concluded that a large part of the abuse could have been predicted and prevented if basic questions had been asked.

The report found no direct evidence that professionals willfully ignored the problem out of “political correctness”.

But it concludes that a baffling failure even to think about the racial element meant they missed some of the most obvious warning signs.

It also found evidence that class played a role in the failings. It said an army of professionals who dealt with the victims simply accepted what would otherwise be seen as tell-tale signs of sexual exploitation as being girls making “lifestyle choices” which fitted what was “expected” of them given their background.

Police, a youth offending team and charities also failed to recognise that many of the girls suffered significant learning difficulties or failed to recognise why this would make them more likely to fall prey to exploitative men.

The publication of the review comes more than 18 months after nine men from Pakistani Muslim backgrounds were convicted of the systematic grooming and sexual abuse of white girls in Heywood and Rochdale in 2008 and 2009.

The victims, some as young as 10, were lured to a flat above a takeaway for sex with the men, who mainly worked as late-night taxi drivers.

The trial resulted in a national debate over the role of gangs of largely Pakistani Muslim backgrounds in grooming white girls.

A chance to stop the gang was missed in 2008 and both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service were forced to apologise for their failings.

An interim report to the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board (RBSCB) last year found vulnerable young girls who were being targeted for sexual abuse, being written off by those in authority who believed the girls were “making their own choices” and “engaging in consensual sexual activity’”.

The latest report covers the period from the beginning of 2007 up until 2012 and looked at the involvement of various agencies including social services, health care teams, the Crown Prosecution Service and Greater Manchester Police.

It concludes that although it might not have been possible to have prevented all of the sexual abuse which went on but much of it could and should have been.

The review found that five of six youngsters which the report focussed on were “clearly in need of early help and at times intervention” by safeguarding agencies for several years before they were abused.

“It should have been possible to have prevented a significant part of the abuse that took place,” it says.

“Had there been a properly co-ordinated package of both support and assessment which recognised these risks, it must be possible that the vulnerability of these young people could have been assessed and responded to at a much earlier stage.”

It adds: “What resulted represents a culture and a pattern of leadership that individuals were either unwilling or unable to change.”

The case triggered a national debate about the phenomenon of “Asian” gangs of sexual predators at work and led to claims the racial element had been ignored for political reasons.

The use of the blanket term Asian caused serious difficulties for other minority communities such as Sikhs and Hindus and the

The inquiry concluded that it would be “dangerous” and “simplistic” just to explain the men’s actions as a cultural trait.

But it found that nevertheless that race was crucial key to the problem and that, had it been addressed, as it should have offered one of the most obvious clues.

“What has been very striking throughout this Review is the frequency with which the men are recorded as ‘Asian’,” the report says.

“The regularity of this term recorded in agency documentation suggests that either consciously or otherwise it was intended to convey a particular meaning.

“What is of concern, is that it was either not considered important to understand what this was, or it was too difficult to understand.

“What is absent is any evidence that practitioners attempted to understand why the fact that the men were ‘Asian’ might in fact have been relevant and legitimate for consideration.

“There is little evidence that practitioners asked questions as to why quite well established social and racial boundaries were being crossed so frequently.

“Questions could have been legitimately asked as to whether ‘friendships’ between middle aged ‘Asian’ men and predominantly socially disadvantaged and ‘challenging’ white teenagers required further examination.

“Questions as to why these two groups who would not typically have significant social contact, had become so closely linked. Asking such questions may have led to the recognition that the girls were being targeted and groomed by the men.

“The degree to which workers understood the communities they worked in may also have contributed to the failure to recognise the unusual patterns of interaction between these two groups.”

It goes on to say that staff from all of the agencies involved with the girls who were spoken to as part of the review were convinced that they did not even race.

“The fact that agencies considered they were not influenced by the men’s race in itself raises questions for those agencies,” the report says.

“Firstly it is unlikely even in the least prejudiced workforce that staff will never be influenced by issues of racial difference. In this particular context – the sexual abuse of young girls by men of a different ethnic background, in a community where there has at times been openly racist attitudes and confrontation between different groups, a completely ‘colour blind’ approach even if it existed, is potentially dangerous.”

One of the most striking details disclosed in the report is that there was evidence from school welfare reports of the girls displaying unusually racist attitudes towards “Asian” people despite, as it soon emerge, being in sexual relatonships with Asian men.

“Significant information was available within the School setting and in relation to Education Welfare regarding concerns … from at least 2004,” it says.

“These were predominantly concerns about behaviour and absence from school, but also related to explicit racist attitudes and aggression towards ‘Asian’ pupils and that the girls were sexually active at a very young age.

“Several senior school staff did identify these as safeguarding concerns, even though they often did not fully recognise that Child Sexual Exploitation was taking place.”

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