Lessons to be learned from Oxford grooming ring trial

Seven men were convicted of charges involving rape and exploitation in Oxford. Credit: ITV News

I covered the appalling events in Rochdale and remain in contact with some of the affected families. I have just covered the equally appalling crimes in Oxford, and my weekend down time has failed to eradicate the memories of my working week.

If there aren't moments when this job doesn't "get you" - then it's time to stop.

The Bullfinch trial was one of those moments.

The crimes in Oxford and Rochdale were carried out by two equally depraved criminal gangs - both predominantly of Pakistani heritage - and I hope they serve a very, very, long time in prison.

But I don't believe concentrating exclusively on their ethnicity, as so many of the pundits and Sunday papers are doing, is going to help the majority of our children stay any safer.

Of course, it's part of the story. And it is important that the Muslim community face up to it.

If it wasn't for the tireless reporting of Andrew Norfolk at The Times, we wouldn't have woken up to this emerging threat.

We on ITV News have explored it - several times. I have even interviewed an insider close to a gang who knew how the groomers operated and explained their motives and operating methods.

But not repeatedly and exclusively.

As one young Muslim woman in Oxford said to me last week, "Jimmy Savile was a Christian, but you don't bang on about that".

In Oxford last week, I found the Muslim community - young and old - full of a determination to root out any remaining criminals amongst them (more arrests are likely) and ready to eradicate the silence and warped values that may have allowed a few to operate undetected.

If there used to be an unwillingness to confront this crime, the shame and horror of Bullfinch has made that impossible.

As a multi-cultural society, we shouldn't be concentrating on what makes the crimes in Oxford, Rochdale and Derby unique - the ethnicity and cultural heritage of the perpetrators - but rather what links these crimes - and all the other cases of sexual exploitation together.

And that is the vulnerability of the victims.

All children who are sexually abused, whether in a school, a TV studio, or in the home, are exploited by adults who have power over them. They are children or young teenagers who don't know how to get help or protection, or how to seek justice afterwards.

Many don't even understand the nature of consent, or understand the crime that has been committed against them.

It is questions about how we can better support all victims of child abuse that should be dominating our agenda post Oxford:

  • How can we educate children better, and discourage their early sexualisation which can leave some so vulnerable to exploitative criminals?

  • How can we better support them as they seek help?

  • What can we do to make the experience of going to court less terrifying, less combative?

  • Crucially, what can we offer by way of support to try to help them recover?

In a society where childhood is short and getting shorter, social workers, police and each and everyone of us needs to remember that children remain children - however wilful or difficult they may become as young teenagers.

They are what we need to be talking about.

Discussing the ethnicity of the perpetrators isn't helping us ask the right questions or get anywhere closer to finding the right answers.