07:43 GMT28 July 2021
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    Britain's Prime Minister has ordered police forces across the country to treat child sexual abuse as a "national threat", equivalent to terrorism and organised crime.

    Teachers, social workers and councillors could face up to five years in jail if they fail to act upon suspicions of child abuse to help "eradicate the culture of denial".

    Speaking at a summit held in Downing Street David Cameron said: "We have all been appalled at the abuse suffered by so many young girls in Rotherham and elsewhere across the country.

    "Children were ignored, sometimes even blamed, and issues were swept under the carpet — often because of a warped and misguided sense of political correctness.

    "That culture of denial which let them down so badly must be eradicated".

    The announcement made by the Prime Minister follows a Serious Case Review looking at a case in Oxford where six vulnerable girls were groomed, raped and abused for five years but were dismissed and disbelieved by the authorities.

    A review of Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire social services found that 370 children were potential victims of exploitation and sexual abuse over a 16-year period despite warnings given to the authorities that it was happening.

    The report found no signs of willful neglect; nevertheless signs of child sexual exploitation should have been spotted sooner. The authorities didn't understand 'street grooming' and national guidance was not followed. 

    Chief Constable Sara Thornton from Thames Valley Police said: "We are ashamed of the shortcomings identified in this report and we are determined to do all we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again".

    The review, published by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children was ordered after seven men were jailed in June 2013 for grooming and sexually abusing six girls aged between 11 and 15.

    The mother of one of the victims said:

    "I ended up not knowing whether my daughter was more at risk from the services than she was from the men who were clearly using and abusing her. I was giving social services and the police names and addresses…

    "I knew way back in 2005 that my 13-year-old daughter was being trafficked while in the care of Oxford County Council. I put that in a letter and they totally ignored it."

    Maggie Blyth, independent chair of Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children's Board said the abuse could have been spotted sooner. "I would like to apologise for how long it took agencies in Oxfordshire to see what was happening and see the perpetrators were brought to justice". 

    Blyth suggested it was the 'tip of the iceberg in Oxfordshire'.

    "It is impossible to name the number of perpetrators at this stage, but I think what is working well is the increasing number of convictions."

    The report looking into the failings in Oxfordshire echoes similar cases in England.

    In December 2013, a review into a case in Rochdale in which nine men groomed and sexually abused young girls found that 17 different agencies, including the police, child protection and social services all missed opportunities to help the victims.

    In August 2014, an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham revealed that around 1,400 children were sexually exploited from 1997 to 2013. Over a third of girls were known to social services and that workers in care homes knew child sexual exploitation was a serious problem in the town.

    Following David Cameron's announcement, The Strategic Policing Requirement will be re-written to include sexual abuse as a national threat alongside civil disorder, terrorism and cybercrime. £7 million will be allocated to centres that care for traumatised victims of abuse.


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