The authorities and staff entrusted to protect vulnerable people were too scared to do so. Andrew Lawes wants to help you speak out against abuse
Yesterday saw the release of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, England (1997-2013), by Professor Alexis Jay, OBE, which estimates that approximately 1400 children were sexually exploited over the 16-year period investigated, abuse that includes rape by multiple perpetrators, child trafficking, abduction, beatings and extreme psychological intimidation. In some cases, the children were doused in petrol and threatened with flames, others were forced to witness “brutally violent” rapes with the promise they would endure the same treatment if they spoke of what they knew.
This scale of the abuse, if not the extent of it, has been known to the Police, the town Council and within the social care system since 2002, when the first of three reports, which “could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham”, was issued. The first report was “effectively suppressed” because “senior officers disbelieved the data it contained”. Subsequent reports in 2003 and 2006 were ignored, with no action resulting from their release.
The majority of the abusers were of Asian descent, yet whistle-blowers were given “clear direction” to omit the ethnicity of the abuser from any disclosure. Many were nervous about disclosing the abuse at all, due to the ethnicity of the assailants. At no point did the councillors engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss jointly addressing the issue. Meanwhile, these children continue to be abused because people entrusted to protect them are scared of being labelled racist.
I do not blame them for being scared. However, I do hold them responsible for allowing the systematic degradation and the physical and psychological devastation these children still endure: In May 2014, the caseload of the specialist Child Sexual Exploitation team was 51. Their carers each had a choice: speak out about the evil they knew existed, or say nothing and allow it to go unpunished. They chose to say nothing, and by doing so, they became complicit in the abuse. They will have that on their conscience long after the world has forgotten they exist. I hope they can find peace someday, because I know how guilt tears at the soul, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
During my career as a support worker for adults with learning difficulties, I reported far more abuse than people would believe. Abuse within the care sector is widespread, and it takes many forms. Physical, Financial and sexual abuse cases are the ones that grab the newspaper headlines, but the culture of abuse is so ingrained as to have become normalised, deprivations of liberty and institutionalisation wrapped up in bureaucratic bollocks that serves only to excuse failure to stand up for what is right.
Until recently, I was working two jobs, supporting over 100 people. I left both of those jobs due to my inability to manage the effects of witnessing various deprivations of liberty and abuse go unpunished and channel my emotions in a business-like manner. In one instance, I refused to work for a company that knows about abuse and refuses to do enough to safeguard the people I supported; one long-term abuser was retained, despite overwhelming evidence, the reason given by my manager was that “it’s cruel to sack somebody close to Christmas”. In other instances, I was told by the internal investigating officer that “due to the difficulty in obtaining statements from some witnesses, it was impossible to collate enough evidence”. The truth is that these witnesses referred to left the company due to the institutional, financial and emotional abuse and the deprivations of liberty that went unpunished. I know, because I was one of them.
In the other, my employment was terminated. In the termination meeting, they admitted my relationship with the people I support was “excellent”; they welcomed me to re-apply in the future and they offered to let me work a months’ notice, but they let me go because I criticised the handling of a long-running row, over distribution of a small financial sum, which is having a significantly detrimental effect on a persons’ life on my website.
I chose to publicly lambast them knowing that I would, most likely, lose a job that I love. I chose to do it knowing that I had no other means of income, and that I would face some tough times ahead, given the current employment difficulties in my area and the reason I was fired from my last job. I chose to do it because I hoped that it would force some resolution to the situation. I did it because I had to know that my perception of the situation was accurate. I did it because I hoped that the person suffering the most because of the actions of people entrusted to support them would benefit from my decision.
Most importantly, I did it because I believed it was the right thing to do.
The most violent thing you can do to someone is violate their mind. The physical wounds of an attack heal far quicker than psychological scars, as many victims of domestic abuse will confirm. It’s the installation of fear that is the real abuse: fear of what is happening now, and fear of what may happen in the future.
The child abusers in Rotherham have used fear to, so far, escape punishment for their crimes. The police officers, town councillors and care staff of the town have allowed evil to thrive because they chose to allow fear of being labelled as racist to dictate their decisions.
The care providers I worked for were, in my opinion, scared to tackle the abuse. I believe the financial cutbacks they have suffered in recent years have resulted in abuse being downplayed so as to avoid the public reaction and P.R. nightmare and the knock-on effect of losing contracts to support people. Carers are scared to speak out against abuse because they know they are more likely to suffer negative consequences than the abusers.
The situations I have experienced are mirrored all over the world. Googling “abuse in care” brings up 430 million results. I hope that the 1400 children of Rotherham are an anomaly, but my experiences show that abuse, in various forms, is thriving because of the inaction of good people who are choosing to allow fear to dominate their decision-making process. The names and specifics may change, but the story remains the same, and unless people make the choice to speak out against abuse it will never change.
Making the care sector a person-centred world, one that’s free of abuse, is a process that will take many years, but it’s one every carer has a role in. I hope to play my part by empowering people to stand up for what is right. Revolution is a long journey, but it starts with a single step: choosing to be brave and say “I think this is wrong”. I hope people choose to be brave and take that step with me.
If you are a care worker and you aren’t sure if abuse is occurring in your workplace, please email me at [email protected]. I am happy to offer you advice on whether I believe your situation is abusive and how to manage the situation.
Before reporting any abusive situations, please ensure you read the Whistle-Blowing Procedure in your workplace. Failing to follow the correct procedure, even slightly, can damage any subsequent investigations.