You might have missed the Serious Case Review on the grooming, sexual abuse and exploitation of at least seven young girls by two Turkish men who ran a barbers’ shop in Yeovil. It was buried beneath the slew of allegations about MPs touching the knees of, or making clumsy passes at, female journalists over boozy lunches several years ago.
The case makes for seriously depressing reading. Two of the victims outline their harrowing ordeal over a number of years here; it includes being pinned down and forcibly tattooed and pierced, being beaten and raped, multiple forced miscarriages/abortions under the age of 16, being force-fed a number of drugs and fearing for their lives.
One of the girls reported her abuser to the police several times, only to find herself in court facing charges of verbal racist assault brought by the man. At this point she had already disclosed her under-age relationship with this married man who was at least 12 years older than herself to the police, who saw fit to ignore it completely and have her up in court. The police also decided to ignore the fact that the perpetrator had a history of ‘domestic issues’ with his 16-year-old ‘girlfriend’, didn’t disclose any of this to the CPS, turned a blind eye to the string of allegations already levelled at this man and the fact that, at the time the supposed racist incident occurred, the man was in the street with a group of teenage girls.
In common with the Rotherham grooming gangs, the police were so blinded by concerns of hate crime that they couldn’t identify that a man knocking about with a bunch of young teenage girls on the street merits further investigation, especially if he is already known to them on account of having domestic issues with his wife and girlfriends. Why bother digging a bit deeper, when you can quickly and easily have a child up in court facing a hate crime to boost your stats? Hate crime, of which the girl was cleared, is so much more pressing than actual child exploitation!
In fact this case review is a damning indictment of the misplaced priorities so prevalent in today’s culture. When the parents of one of the girls repeatedly begged the authorities to investigate further and not to close the case having reported behaviour changes, self-harm attempts and suspected miscarriages to them, they were ignored. The review found that practitioners focused upon short-term intervention for perceived parenting deficits rather than taking the time to listen and hear the parents’ worries of risks outside the family. In other words, they automatically attributed the girl’s mental health and behavioural problems to bad parenting skills, rather than the fact that these girls had been targeted and exploited after they had come into contact with a couple of men who ran an illegal tattoo and piercing operation from their barbers’ shop. It’s an attitude all too typical of various state-employed professionals who believe that they know far better than unqualified parents when it comes to identifying what’s going on with their children.
After 14 missed opportunities to do something about the abuse, it was only when the mother of one of the girls wrote to the Police and Crime Commissioners in 2014, after four long years of abuse and contact with the authorities about her concerns, that something was finally done. A strategy meeting took place and a detective constable was allocated to research previous crimes, known information and ascertain any new lines of inquiry. One of the victims also contacted the police when she began to suffer harassment and her property was attacked by her long-standing abuser.
Two children giving birth by the same man in a 12-month period was not enough. Neither was police intelligence that the man had threatened one of these girls with a knife to force her to terminate the pregnancy or the evidence one girl had given about waking up in a flat with strange men after having her drink spiked. It didn’t seem to matter that on three occasions, one victim had reported her abuser to the police for following her in the street and trying to take her baby, or that a harassment notice was served on him, or that the local authority was informed. Nothing was done.
Abortion provider Marie Stopes acted as though the Care Quality Commission’s temporary closure of its clinics on the grounds of safeguarding last year was an overreaction, but a subsequent report earlier this year has highlighted that staff are still ignoring safeguarding procedures. While we do not know which provider was involved in Yeovil, whoever carried out the procedure also has to carry some portion of the blame, as this was identified by the review as yet another missed opportunity for intervention.
One girl turned up to the clinic without her parents, but accompanied by a woman at the consultation who signed the consent form with her. The review found no indication that the staff explored the identity of this woman or any consideration of safeguarding concerns. The abortion took place the next day when the child was on her own and according to the report, was the second missed opportunity to discover the abuse of the child, and the ninth opportunity to investigate the perpetrator. Yet another tragic example of how abortion facilitates rape.
Another concern is that the regulations in place for tattoo and piercing parlours don’t adequately address safeguarding risks. Despite the fact that the barbers’ shop attracted young people attracted to piercings and tattoos, there’s no record of one of the abusers ever holding any kind of licence to work there. While the police have investigated the sexual abuse which took place at the premises, the CPS has decided to ignore witness statements of 14- and 15-year-old girls having their ears, tongue, nose, navel, wrists and even nipples pierced there. No legal consent is needed for body piercing, but children under 16 cannot consent to genital (which includes nipple) piercing, which constitutes sexual assault. There is no nationally recognised accredited training, standards for practice, agreed knowledge and skills framework or arrangements for monitoring and reporting professional competence. The current registration process in Somerset, at least, is not fit for purpose.
What of Relationship and Sex Education? Surely, if nothing else, this case demonstrates the case for it being made compulsory in schools, or at least, that is what the professional campaigners who are lobbying for their organisations to be made the official providers will claim. The victims who were interviewed for the Serious Case Review said that if RSE lessons were to be helpful then these lessons should be for single-sex groups of children and for smaller class sizes. However this was not accepted by the staff who contributed, who felt that mixed-gender conversations are helpful. That’s right, Nanny knows best! All boundaries about discussing intimate and sensitive issues with members of the opposite sex when you are young and vulnerable must be broken down. Have they learned nothing?
If anything, sex education in schools is as much to blame, because nobody quite understands whether sex under the statutory age of consent is legal. As in the case of the Bristol Serious Case Review, ‘professionals and managers couldn’t distinguish between sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and/or underage sexuality activity; this risks leaving some children at continued risk of exploitation in the mistake belief they are involved in consensual activity’. Basically, when children reported being in consensual sexual relationships with significantly older men, including one who claimed that the man was going to leave his wife and marry her when she was 16, then they were left alone to get on with it.
It’s a microcosm of modern Britain; police more interested in a fabricated accusation of verbal racist assault made by an abuser than the plight of his victim and a society which believes that teenagers need to be taught about sex and given free access to abortions to get them out of trouble.