Recently both our newspapers and television have been full of details with regard to the horrific sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham and the failings of the various agencies there: the sheer numbers of youngsters involved and whom the system failed are both shocking and soul destroying.
I recall that the grooming of children for sex became a reality for us locally in 2010 when 13 members of a gang in Derby were jailed for abusing over 100 youngsters. Derbyshire Police acted as soon as their suspicions were confirmed by three of the victims: they took immediate action and secured the appropriate convictions.
The victims in Rotherham, however, were not so lucky; over and over again complainants were ignored and disbelieved by the authorities whilst a report into the problem as far back as 2002 appears to have been suppressed. Unbelievably the reason given for this is that those in position to prevent abuse were afraid of being accused of racial prejudice.
Political correctness has had a lot to answer for over the years and it has made people afraid to speak out on so many issues. Since past experience has shown the crime of sexual exploitation of young girls is most often perpetrated by South Asian men of Pakistani origin it surely cannot be wrong to say so. If as a society we deny such facts and, because of our fear, turn a blind eye, then we will continue to condone by our silence one of the most heinous of crimes.
In Rotherham, therefore , the young people abused were wrongly dismissed as unreliable, sexually active and mostly out of control children in the care system, whereas in reality the vast majority of youngsters involved came from loving and caring families, lured into the exploiters net by boys of their own age often related to the criminals.
I welcome the enquiry now launched into all the failings in Rotherham and am sure Councils, Social Work Teams and Police Forces the length and breadth of the country are now checking to make sure they have not let similar crimes slip under their radar. I trust that their efforts will be both vigorous and transparent.
In Derby we are lucky enough to have Safe and Sound, an organisation which has worked tirelessly to end child sexual exploitation since 2002. They support both children and their families, work towards the prevention of children becoming involved in this trade and deliver a most valuable UK wide programme of training services.
It is important that everyone involved with children - parents, teachers, youth leaders and sports coaches and many others have conversations with children about grooming and what can happen. Our young people need to know how to recognise the signs and what to do if they are approached. Our police would prefer to act to prevent the abuse of children rather than deal with the tragic aftermath.
I am proud my Government have introduced the Modern Slavery Bill which is currently going through Parliament; one of the bill’s aims is to combat the trafficking and grooming of children. It increases punishments for those adults involved to include life sentence, the seizure of assets in order to compensate victims and a mandatory life sentence for any re- offender.
I will be supporting this bill at every stage and speaking out in support of the innocent victims at every opportunity: I will also continue to seek assurances from all agencies in South Derbyshire that everything is being done to ensure that all of our children are both safe and able to enjoy their childhood.