Earlier this month, former home secretary Sajid Javid announced he would be leading a new inquiry into child sex abuse in conjunction with the Centre for Social Justice.
Over the past few years, we have become used to seeing headlines about child sex gangs in English cities such as Rochdale, Rotherham, Huddersfield and Oxford. In many cases, the extent and systematic nature of the abuse has been hard to comprehend. The 2014 Jay Report estimated that 1,400 girls had been abused between 1997 and 2013 in Rotherham alone.
A common feature in many of these cases has been a reluctance of authorities to intervene because they feared being seen as targeting certain communities. Javid has said he will not be afraid to confront this question.
But there is another feature of the child sexual abuse scandals which has received less attention. This is the way in which underage sexual activity in the UK has come to be viewed as relatively harmless as long as it is consensual. Frequently, the police and social services have refused to intervene because the victims, often well below the age of 16, had supposedly consented. Worse, official policies which encourage the confidential provision of contraception and abortion to minors have been found to have facilitated and perpetuated sexual abuse of vulnerable young people.
One of the first people to draw attention to this aspect of the problem was the late Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust. Norman found that in case after case, the sexual abuse of young people was facilitated by the willingness of agencies to provide minors with birth control with very few questions being asked. At the same time, an unhealthy emphasis on confidentiality was used too often to exclude parents who might otherwise have helped stop the abuse at an earlier stage.
In one particularly tragic case, a vulnerable 15-year old with special needs from Hampshire was being sexually abused at school. Because the school judged her to be engaging in “consensual” sexual activity, her parents were not informed, and as a result the child continued to suffer abuse for years.
Other reviews have come to similar conclusions. For example, the 2018 Newcastle Serious Case Review highlighted that “… 85 per cent of victims of sexual exploitation had received services from sexual health services” and produced examples of 12-15 year-old girls being provided with contraception and abortion without questions being raised about safeguarding. The review was not the first to recommend that the Government needed urgently to review its policy on confidentiality in sexual health settings.
Despite the evidence that is out there, the Government has given no indication that it is willing to respond to these recommendations. It has been given cover by the lack of media interest.
Sajid Javid has shown admirable courage in his willingness to ignore politically correct concerns. It remains to be seen whether his inquiry will show equal bravery in standing up to the sexual health establishment.