A serious case review by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children’s Board (OSCB) has revealed that over 370 children may have been groomed and sexually exploited by gangs of men in the last 15 years in Oxfordshire.
The review into the abuse declared that there were “repeated missed opportunities” to stop years of sexual torture, trafficking, and rape, and that Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council made “many errors” in that case, although there was “no evidence of any wilful neglect, nor deliberate ignoring of clear signs of child sexual exploitation by groups of men.”
It stated, “The behaviour of the girls was interpreted through eyes and a language which saw them as young adults rather than children, and therefore assumed they had control of their actions. At times, the girls’ accounts were disbelieved or thought to be exaggerated.
“What happened to the girls was not recognised as being as terrible as it was because of a view that saw them as consenting, or bringing problems upon themselves, and the victims were often perceived to be hostile to and dismissive of staff. As a result the girls were sometimes treated without common courtesies, and as one victim described it by ‘snide remarks’.”
This report comes after seven men were convicted in 2013 of 59 counts of offences including rape, trafficking, and arranging or facilitating prostitution, following an inquiry called Operation Bullfinch.
In a statement at the press conference following the publishing of the review, the independent chair of the OSCB, Maggie Blyth, said, “There were repeated missed opportunities and many mistakes were made. The review concludes that the child sexual exploitation across Oxfordshire from 2005-2010 could have been identified or prevented earlier.”
She said the report outlines “an absence of acknowledgement amongst social workers, police officers, health staff and teachers that children were victims of child sexual exploitation by groups of men”.
Blythe coninued, saying, “The use of language by professionals that blamed the children for their plight” was one of the reasons for the delay in action and “systematic failing” in Oxfordshire.
In response to the serious case review, Chief Constable Sara Thornton said in a statement from Thames Valley Police, “We have contributed fully to the review and accept its findings. The independent review highlighted that agencies including Thames Valley Police could have identified the exploitation between 2004 and 2010 earlier than it did and many errors were made. The review acknowledges that we have been willing to learn and change. We have examined what went wrong and we are doing all that we can to put things right.
“We are ashamed of the shortcomings identified in this report and we are determined to do all we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. Safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children and robustly and vigorously investigating those who prey on them, is the responsibility of every officer and member of staff in Thames Valley Police.”
Whilst speaking in the House of Commons, Labour MP for Oxford East Andrew Smith called on the government to set up an independent inquiry, insisting that “the 370 other children identified at risk, their families and the public, horrified that these crimes were allowed to continue unchecked for so many years are owed answers to crucial questions which this Serious Case Review could not address.”
Smith told Cherwell, “The public are rightly shocked that no one is really taking responsibility for these awful failures to protect children, and no one has been disciplined.”
Leader of Oxford City Council, Councillor Bob Price, commented, “The crimes inflicted on these young girls over several years were horrific and will have devastating life-long effects on the girls and their parents. This report shows very clearly that the girls were badly let down by the people and organisations that could – and should – have protected them.
“It also shows that concerns raised with the responsible authorities by some City Council staff were not listened to when they were reported. However, we are grateful that their persistence contributed to the recognition by those authorities of what was happening and to effective intervention, which eventually brought the criminals to court.
“The Bullfinch enquiry has led to a series of major changes in reporting and management processes. Now, there is much stronger collaboration and cooperation to make sure children and young people can live their lives in safety and security.
“The City Council has always been fully committed to supporting the County Council and the Thames Valley Police in delivering their responsibilities to protect young people.
“It is good news that since September 2014, the City Council’s role has been recognised and one of our Directors now sits on the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children’s Board.”