First of all let me thank everyone for coming. I wanted this meeting to take place in Number 10, Downing Street because I think it is so important that we grip this issue, we grip it in every local authority across the country but we also grip it centrally here in government as well.
I’ve just spent half an hour with some of the survivors of abuse in Rotherham and these are stories that are going to stay with me forever. They are absolutely horrific, what has happened.
The aim of today is to just take the first step to make sure we take all the action across the police, across social services, across local authorities, to make sure we deal with this far, far better to stop it happening again in other areas.
But even before we get onto the specifics … I think it’s very important we take a step back and just recognise the horrific nature of what has happened in our country. Young girls – and they are young girls – being abused over and over again on an industrial scale, being raped, being passed from one bunch of perpetrators to another bunch of perpetrators.
And all the while this has happened with too many organisations and too many people walking on by.
And we have got to really resolve that this stops here, it doesn’t happen again and we recognise abuse for what it is.
So, on the lessons we must learn, the actions we must take, the coordination the government needs to provide, but even before that I think there’s 1 or 2 things we need to be clear about.
The first is absolute clarity that abuse of girls under the age of 16 is abuse, it’s not consent. You can’t consent to your abuser, we need to be absolutely clear about that.
The second thing is a determination that, of course in the discussions we are going to have we are going to find out how complicated, how difficult, how many different agencies have to work together, how complicated some of these cases can be. But just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the absolute determination to stamp it out. We have dealt with problems like this before, we need to do it again.
The third point is we are going to produce better policies. We are going to have guidance, we are going to have better training, we are going to have better whistleblowing procedures.
We can put in place all of those things, but all the policies and all the practices and all the multi-agency approaches are no substitute for a massive dose of common sense, acting when you see abuse taking place, cutting down boundaries, and not as one case where a police force had to use a Freedom of Information request to get information off social services.
It’s about tearing down the barriers, acting together and using common sense.
The final thing from me before we move on is, I think we have to recognise as well all organisations are in this together. It’s the police, it’s social services, it’s local government, it’s central government, we all have to act on this in the same way.
This big change in culture needs to take place in order to solve it.
I’m sure there will be some concrete outcomes from today. We are talking about sexual abuse being a national threat recognised by the police and that will trigger police action – I’m sure Bernard [Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Met Police] and others will talk about that.
Extending the new offence of wilful neglect, that’s a change that we want to make in Parliament in the law that will make a difference. Better training and help for whistleblowers, these things will make a difference.
But I think we should recognise today this is about taking a first step in the process that is going to end this as we are absolutely clear that needs to happen. I want to thank Professor Alexis Jay, in particular for coming and for your brilliant report and thank Sarah Champion MP on my right, who has done so much work to bring this issue to national attention.
It’s very good that Nicola Blackwood MP is here as well from Oxford where, obviously, we have had the report that is out today and the serious case review. I just wanted to read one thing from it, just finally, because this really brought home to me the issue of how we need a massive dose of common sense, when in the Oxfordshire serious case review it notes:
One does not need training in child sexual exploitation to know that a 12-year-old sleeping with a 25-year-old is not right, or that you don’t come home drunk, bruised, half-naked and bleeding from seeing your ‘friends’.
I think when you have serious reviews as frank and clear as that, it is an absolute wake up call to all of us to act.
So above all, thank you for coming, thanks for all the good work that is going to be done and the good work that is already being done in many parts of the country.
But if we act more precipitously we can stop this happening in so many other places and that’s what it’s all about.