Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Operation Augusta — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:10 am on 5th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 10:10 am, 5th February 2020

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.

I am going to be brief, because I have said the same thing for six years. However, I think it needs reiterating, because it clearly is not getting through. I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend Graham Stringer for bringing this debate forward. These things need to be heard, because things are still going wrong. I, too, watched the drama “The Betrayed Girls”, but it could have been a documentary and, to be honest, it could have been almost anywhere in the country. Time and again, I meet girls—often, they are now young women—who have been through an identical experience.

There is an almost identical pattern of grooming and then sexual exploitation, which often leads to trafficking and prostitution as the children become adults, so I am concerned that there is still no national strategy for the disruption and prevention of this specific form of child abuse. Why is that? There are incredibly close similarities between grooming and exploiting children for sex, and grooming and exploiting children for criminal activities. My hunch—I do not know this; it is just a hunch—is that those things are probably done by similar gangs of people. Will the Minister please commission research on that?

As my hon. Friend said, we also need a perpetrator profile. Unless the police understand the way these networks operate, they are unable to disrupt them—they are unable to get ahead of the curve and prevent children from being harmed. We absolutely must have that profile. It would be a simple thing to do. A forensic psychologist could be commissioned to do it. Again to be blunt, we have probably 300 perpetrators of exactly the same method of criminality in jail. Please, let us use that resource and use their experience for a positive purpose.

I also want to focus the Minister’s attention on the fact that statutory support for victims and survivors just disappears as soon as they turn 18. That is very important because, under this method of criminality, although children tend to be groomed at around 12 or 13 and the sexual exploitation happens between 13 and 16, it continues into adulthood. Often, because of the mental torture and manipulation that victims have gone through, it takes them years once the abuse has stopped to be able to articulate it, let alone to be believed. That is why it tends to be adults who come forward to speak about these crimes. We need support in place for adults to enable them, I hope, to have the strength to go through the court process.

Next week, I will launch a report by my all-party parliamentary group, the APPG on adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, on the impact of this crime and the likelihood of justice. It impacts every aspect of the lives of survivors, from their mental health to their physical health. It affects their likelihood of being addicted to drugs, their ability—or inability—to maintain long-term relationships, and their ability to fulfil their education and therefore their career. I say to the Minister that he needs to work in a cross-departmental way to establish a fund so anybody who discloses this sort of abuse, particularly if they are an adult, can immediately get, for example, six sessions of counselling or support. That would enable them to stabilise their life so they can go on and have a good life, and to be a good witness so we can get the prosecutions we so desperately need.

A number of Members mentioned accountability. Accountability is important because, clearly, people have failed in their duty to protect those children, for whatever reason. Accountability is important because we need to know it will not happen again. If there are training needs or if some sort of disciplinary action should follow, that should be implemented so other children are not let down in the future.

Tim Loughton, who has done so much in this area, said that this issue was not really on the radar of the statutory agencies until 2011. I agree, but he also knows that this model of behaviour has been going on since the early ’60s. That is the earliest I can find it documented. I have people in Keighley, Birmingham and, indeed, Rotherham who can testify that they saw it going on in the early ’60s. It was not on the radar of the statutory agencies, but it was on the radar of the wider communities. There was a lack of trust and respect because people knew a crime was being carried out but the agencies did not act on it. Unless there is accountability now, it will be very hard to bring forward that trust and respect. I therefore urge the Minister, on behalf of the survivors and of children who are still vulnerable, to ensure that we have a fund for survivors and that we see accountability for these crimes.