In the past week, the British public has been rocked by the findings of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. Alexis Jay’s independent report unearthed the horrific treatment of approximately 1,400 children between 1997 and 2013 which, according to its executive summary, ‘continues to this day.’ The abuse includes the rape, trafficking, beatings and intimidation of girls as young as 11 years old; but, perhaps more importantly, extends to the flagrant neglect of these children by the very institutions set up to protect them.
Despite clear evidence being persistently raised, both by victims and their social workers, these events continued unimpeded as both the local police service and senior figures within social care chose to take no action. Three publications highlighting the scale of the abuse in 2002, 2003, and 2006 were suppressed or ignored. Victims reporting their ordeals were treated with contempt, whilst further up the ranks their accounts, as put forward by social workers, were held to be exaggerated. The daunting number of cases combined with the fear of inflaming racial tension, given the Pakistani heritage of the majority of the perpetrators, cowed many into silence. Laziness, combined with cowardice and a total lack of human empathy, allowed the perpetrators to lay waste to the early lives of over a thousand children.
“The ‘evil’ acts of these crimes is extreme and…atrocious”
Readers may be familiar with Edmund Burke’s statement that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ We will never escape moral depravity: human beings are, after all, essentially imperfect. However, the ‘evil’ acts of these crimes is extreme and, thankfully, viewed by society as atrocious. It is the banal face of evil which is more insidious, however; the repercussions of turning a blind eye in the hope that the problem will not resurface, so that no act of responsibility will be required.
We have been given proof, time and again, of the fact that a person who has been elevated to a position of power and trust is not necessarily trustworthy. Our shock at this stems from the naive presumption that a person’s moral fabric correlates appropriately to their job title. Because this is not so, transparency is vital in ensuring that vulnerable people are not left behind by the ‘civilised’ society which claims to provide their protection.
Amongst these horrific events, at least, shines the courage of those victims who spoke up about their ordeals, and the vigilance of people such as Alexis Jay who, in simply fulfilling the duty of her position, brought these stories to light. Thanks to this response, Jay’s inquiry was able to report that the past four years has already seen an improvement in the handling of child sexual exploitation by Rotherham police service and borough council. If there are any positives to take away from these appalling revelations then it must be that society can demand past wrongs to be examined, and that as more cases are brought forward, our ability to understand our failings and better prevent similar events from taking place will grow stronger.