18 Nov 2013

Parents ‘blamed’ for child sexual exploitation

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

A new survey reveals 41 per cent of parents and 44 per cent of professionals believe parents are partly to blame for grooming and child sexual exploitation. Channel 4 News meets one victim’s mother.

They have been among the most high profile and disturbing trials of recent times: gangs of men exploiting young girls for sex. In Oxford, Rochdale, Derby and Telford vulnerable girls were drugged, raped, tortured, sold as prostitutes and trafficked around the country.

But while society has started moving away from blaming a victim for their sexual exploitation, it appears that parents are still being held partially responsible for the crimes committed against their child.

Channel 4 News has seen the findings of a YouGov survey examining just what professionals like teachers and the police know – and crucially what parents understand about this horrific crime.

One of the starkest findings is the question of blame: 41 per cent of parents and 44 per cent of professionals surveyed for the charity Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace) said they thought the parents themselves were partly to blame.

I just thought, I’m in a position here as a parent and I can’t protect my own daughter – Celia

The survey also reveals an alarming lack of knowledge by parents about how to protect their children from sexual exploitation.

The charity says it is time for the blaming to stop. It argues that official guidance too often excludes parents and that improving their knowledge must be part of the solution.

“There is still, within society, a feeling that the parents must have done something wrong,” said Fleur Strong, of Pace. “Parents have been excluded from the child sexual exploitation prevention strategy so far, there is always passing mention of them but quite often it is just lip service.”

Celia’s story

Celia is proud to be a mum. She loved the hustle and bustle of bringing up three children with her husband and talks about a life devoted to her family.

But a few years ago, everything changed. Her 13-year-old daughter Kitty turned from a quiet, bookish young girl into a disruptive child, truanting from school. Kitty was being targeted by a gang of young men who were grooming her for sex. It was as if a grenade had been thrown into Celia’s family’s life and Kitty wasn’t the only one damaged by the abuse.

Kitty’s story is grimly familiar. She was approached initially by young, handsome boys with cars and the offer of a first cigarette, a first taste of alcohol and a bit of grown up excitement. It turned into an alcohol and drug-induced haze of rape, coercion and even violence.

As Celia explained: “All of a sudden – bang, it was totally out of control. I just thought, I’m in a position here as a parent and I can’t protect my own daughter. And I just thought, what’s happening to her out there? It just doesn’t bear thinking about. Like I say, she was coming home in such a state with bites on her and marks on her and it was just horrific because she was just this sweet little innocent girl that I remember, all with, you know, girly things like boy bands, and that all changed.”

‘If I don’t go they’re going to gang-rape mum’

Celia and her husband Mike desperately tried to intervene. They pleaded with her to stay home, begging her not to go out to the men waiting in cars outside the house, to abuse her. Celia said she struggled to understand why Kitty constantly returned to the men until one Saturday morning when it all became brutally clear.

“Her dad was trying to get her to stay in the house and he was crying and she was crying. And he’s grabbing hold of her hands saying please just stay at home, we’ll protect you, He says; ‘just tell me, just tell me where you’re going,’ and she just said; ‘you don’t understand, if I don’t go they’re going to gang-rape mum and they’re going to do it in front of you and my brother’.”

Celia doesn’t need the survey to tell her people often think it’s parents like her who are partly to blame. As she begged police and social services for help, she found too often the focus was on her and what they felt she was doing wrong.

“It’s just the things that they would say like; ‘well make sure she stops in, have you tried being more family focussed and going to the cinema of an evening and taking her with you?’ Maybe they thought it would go away, because we once got told: ‘don’t worry, once she gets to 16 they won’t want her’.”

Celia’s daughter now has a child of her own – after getting pregnant by one of her abusers. The child is a real joy to all the family, says Celia. Each one of them victims in their own way of this terrible crime.