Getting beyond the Rotherham Scandal Headlines

Rotherham Station in 1840

Rotherham Station in 1840 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we are to understand the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation scandal, we have to move beyond the headlines and the news stories. We may wish to stay on the surface of the issue and accept uncritically the journalist’s view or the politician’s view. For most of us going about our business, this is all we need. However, we need to go beyond the headlines if we are to understand the issue. Other people will have their own agenda in promoting various parts of the story and are unlikely to report the stories with the same interest or enthusiasm. If we accept their views, we become captives to what they want us to believe.

I raise this point for two reasons. First, it illustrates what went wrong in Rotherham. The scandal occurred in large part because the officers and the organisations accepted the surface view of the issue. They focused on the symptoms without understanding the problem. They did not ask critical questions and try to get to the root of the issue. They remained on the surface even when outside agencies, including journalists, tried to get them to think about it.

Find the evidence to hold public power to account.

Second, if the public hope to hold power to account over the wider institutional child abuse across the UK, they will need to go to primary sources and look at the evidence. If the public rely on the journalists or the politicians to understand the problems, they will be captive to what the establishment want them to think about the issue. The public need to look at the evidence and decide. By looking at the evidence, they can make a critical judgement about what the journalists and politicians are telling them about the child abuse inquiry.

If you follow the evidence you can understand the issue.

The Rotherham Scandal offers us an insight into what the UK child abuse scandal may look like. In that scandal, a number of stories or myths emerged that have shaped how the public understand the issue. Many people accept uncritically the twin argument that only white girls were being groomed, exploited, and abused and the victims were only girls rather than boys and young men. What we find when we read the Jay report is that ethnic minority girls were also exploited. We also find that boys and young men were abused.

Institutional abuse of power is often away from the headlines and the limelight

If we look at what is happening away from the main headlines, we see institutional abuses of power. The original reports and statement by the Home Office researcher who was ignored by the Council and the Police, we see a bleak and damning picture of how institutional power can be used to silence critics. Unless we look at her testimony and the evidence provided to the Home Office, we miss the story. We need to see the detail to understand the story. Even though journalists pursue stories, they are less interested in uncovering or creating documentary evidence for others to explore. They want people to read their stories, which they are paid for, and not for developing research sources.

Some links and sites to provide context for the Rotherham Scandal

To understand the Rotherham Scandal, I have compiled a list of sites and documents. I do not claim the list is complete or without some intrinsic bias. I have relied exclusively on official sources. However, I think these documents and these sites are important because they will help readers and researchers who hope to explore the topic.

Start with the official record to know how the story is understood by authority

The first place to start is always what the official record is saying. The Parliamentary Committee are a good starting place for written evidence and testimony by witnesses and experts. However, these are limited because they will only ask the question that interest them and are within the committee and the chair’s remit. Moreover, their work is always limited by their ability to ask questions. As I have written previously, poor questions soon turn a Committee meeting into political theatre.

What is particularly useful for the Parliamentary Committees is that the sessions are recorded. The reader can compare body language and tone of voice to the written evidence in the published transcripts. Transcripts of the hearings are posted a few days after the sessions.


Home Affairs Committee

What is useful is that the documents contain links to the Parliament TV. Here is how the transcript is introduced.

Home Affairs Committee Oral evidence: Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming: follow-up, HC 203

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 9 September 2014.

Watch the meeting

The Communities and Local Government Committee

Rotherham Borough Council

Another site is the Rotherham Borough Council page with the list of the documents.


Here are some key documents in the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation Scandal.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997 – 2013 (The Jay Report).

This report contains the best analysis of the problem to date showing the attempts by the Council and the Police to deal with the issue. It also catalogues the limited success of each organisation to deal with the problem for a long time. What is encouraging is that the report was commissioned and the situation appears to be improving.

The Council’s response to the Jay report.

This response is the Council’s official response. For the most part, it reiterates the positive points from the Jay Report. However, it has an interesting point on paragraph 9.9 where the Chief Executive explains that unlike the past, “Professional curiosity is encouraged and this supports staff to raise issues and know they will be taken seriously.” Perhaps this best summarizes why the Council and the Police failed to address the problem even as they dealt with symptoms.

Home Office Researcher’s written testimony to Home Affairs Committee.

The sworn testimony presents a depressing picture of how the Council and the Police behaved when they faced criticism for their handling of child sexual exploitation. As a trained and experienced solicitor working for an outside agency, the Home Office, one can see why she would have the fortitude to stick up for her research and for herself. However, even she admitted at the end, she could not sustain the fight against the institutional pressure. One wonders how a junior officer in either the police or the council would even dare to speak up especially if they lacked the same skills, job prospects, and independence of the trained solicitor. The testimony presents a sad and sobering reminder of how vicious employees can be when they abuse the power of their organisation and how reputation management can be used to justify such abuse of anyone who dares to question them let alone challenge them.

When challenged all the Executive officers expressed surprise and claimed they were unaware of such behaviour occurring in their organisation. We need to avoid the easy dichotomy that they were either out of touch with what was happening or they were complicit. Such a dichotomy does not help us understand the problem. Instead, we need to focus on the culture they were responsible for when mid-level officers can act in such a way with impunity or believe that they are serving the organisation (and the public) in acting that way.

Chapter 4 of the Pilot Report.

This is the report that the Home Office Researcher prepared and which upset the police and council officers in 2002 when it was written. When you read it, one has to wonder what they were as concerned about as it contains muted criticisms. The criticisms are based on the observable evidence, which indicates that personalities and egos were bruised rather than organisational interests being damaged. The response shows just how unwilling and unable the organisations were able to accept criticism at that time.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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