The chronic problem of sexual abuse

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These latest reports examine the chronic causes which are putting children in danger.
These latest reports examine the chronic causes which are putting children in danger. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

The Children's Commissioner's reports are the result of two years of research, 850 children and young people were interviewed for the enquiry.

They follow several terrible cases of sexual exploitation in which children were failed, and once again they warn that the system isn't listening or helping the majority of children at risk of sexual exploitation, or already victims of it.

But these latest reports also examine the chronic causes which are putting children in danger.

They have been compiled by the Children's Commissioner for England, with the University of Bedford and London Metropolitan University.

The first report "If only someone had listened" catalogues the continuing failures of police, health professionals social workers - and Local Children's Safeguarding Boards (LCSB) - to listen to children and protect them from sexual exploitation. It concludes that only 6% of LCSB's are meeting the statutory guidance issued by the government in 2009. Thousands of children, it suggests, are at risk and worse, continuing to suffer from terrible sexual abuse.

It links some of the wider attitudes about women - the objectification and sexualisation of young women in particular - to criminal and victim behaviour.

This report concludes:

There is a deep malaise within society, from which we must not shirk.

The second report about young peoples' attitude towards sexual consent also links the way women are portrayed and viewed in society to the sexual crimes which are committed against them.

To quote the report's author, Maddy Coy:

There is a sexual double standard here about the ways in which young people are allowed to be sexual; so young women who are sexually active are judged as 'sluts and slags' but young men who are sexually active are seen as 'players and legends and heroes' and what we have found is that that double standard is linked to how young people understand sexual consent.

It points out that a frequently cited idea is that non consensual sex is the result of "miscommunication," and that when that happens the woman is blamed for not being clear about "giving consent".

They argue that far more responsibility needs to be taken by the man to be sure he is certain he is "getting consent"."Sex without consent, I suppose that is rape" also cites the significant influence pornography now has in young people's lives, and the lack of effective sex education offered to young people

They argue  that far more responsibility needs to be taken by the man to be sure he is certain he is "getting consent".
They argue that far more responsibility needs to be taken by the man to be sure he is certain he is "getting consent". Credit: ITV News

The third report is about gang associated sexual violence and exploitation, entitled "It's wrong but you get used to it". It contains the harrowing statistic that 18,915 sexual crimes against children were recorded in 2012/13 in England and Wales (ONS 2013) - and points out that these are only the ones we know about. Even so they make up 35% of all sexual crimes. It is particularly concerned about peer on peer abuse. One of the startling statistics is that 46% of young people questioned blamed the girls believing they "were inviting the sexual attention".

News journalists like myself usually concentrate on the most terrible cases - like those in Oxford and Rochdale involving organised gangs who sexually abused young girls.

In those cases the victims lives were ruined by their abusers - and that harm was compounded by those in authority who then disbelieved them when they asked for help.

These stories do deserve our attention, but what these reports set out is that there is a chronic and larger problem within society affecting us all: And that is the damaging and widely held views about women and sex. They conclude that these attitudes are helping to fuel crimes of sexual exploitation against young women and also tragically preventing the victims receiving the help they deserve and need.