TAXI drivers, nightclub bouncers and hotel staff are to be urged to report suspicions of child sexual exploitation (CSE) as part of a government crackdown on abuse.
People working at night are to be given guidance on how to recognise the signs of children being mistreated amid warnings child abuse is widespread in Scotland.
Education secretary Michael Russell yesterday launched the Scottish Government campaign, which follows the findings of the investigation into the Rotherham child exploitation scandal.
The report’s authors believe training night workers to recognise signs of child sexual exploitation – acting as “eyes on the streets” – could play a key role in bringing suspected abuse to the attention of police and social workers.
Strategies to help medical staff, police and teachers recognise CSE are also to be developed as part of the national awareness campaign. Announcing the move in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Russell said he would tackle the issue with “ruthless determination”.
He told MSPs the Scottish Government was still considering whether or not to hold an inquiry into historical child abuse cases and would reach a decision on this by Christmas.
The Scottish Government is considering establishing a high-profile investigation into historical abuse carried out at institutions run by religious orders and children’s homes.
Its action plan was launched after a report by the Care Inspectorate watchdog in Scotland warned against complacency on the issue in the wake of the horrifying abuse uncovered in Rotherham. In September, it was revealed 1,400 children had been abused in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013.
Mr Russell said: “The first national action plan on child sexual exploitation, which we are publishing today, has been informed by the Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, which is one of the reasons why it has taken a little longer than expected.
“The action plan is not a panacea to tackling child sexual exploitation – there is no single solution. However, the action plan represents a critical milestone, outlining tangible steps for useful action that will move us forward in our efforts to tackle this vital concern.
“For example, I am pleased to announce today our commitment to work with partners to develop a national awareness campaign on child protection.
“We’ll be looking to work with Police Scotland to develop guidance on child sexual exploitation indicators for night-time economy staff such as taxi drivers and hotel workers who come into increased first-hand contact with children and young people, especially at vulnerable times.”
The government’s plan will also see protocols for local authorities to be used as best practice to establish consistency across the country in supporting services dealing with CSE.
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It will also result in the establishment of a children and young people steering group, develop robust internet safety procedures and set up a review of civil preventative orders – mechanisms designed to prevent sex offenders released from prison targeting children.
The government report was published alongside a report by the Children in Scotland chief executive Jackie Brock, who has been chairing the ministerial working group on CSE.
In its report, the government admitted that the full scope and scale of CSE in Scotland remains unknown.
“We know that it will be difficult to ever know accurately and in full what might be taking place. We also know that victims of sexual exploitation are not always easy to identify as in some cases they may not always see themselves as victims,” the report said.
In an effort to find out more about its prevalence, the action plan will roll out data monitoring tools across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
Earlier this year Police Scotland said there were 3,369 sexual offences against children in 2012-13.
The police have said systematic sexual abuse of children on the scale exposed in Rotherham is “absolutely not” happening in Scotland, but added there has been a large number of child rapes and hundreds of convictions for CSE in the last year.
Yesterday, the children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland warned that child exploitation was widespread in Scotland, including organised abuse, but agreed it was not of the extent experienced in Rotherham.
Barnardo’s director Martin Crewe said: “I think we should be very concerned. Barnardo’s Scotland first raised this in the Scottish Parliament in a petition in 2011, and so we are delighted that this has come through today to what we understand is the announcement of a national action plan.” He added: “We are certain that there is widespread child abuse but what we don’t know is the exact nature and prevalence of it.
“I don’t think that [anything of] the exact nature of Rotherham is happening in Scotland now.
“What we are seeing with child sexual exploitation is a wide range of problems, from an unfortunate relationship between, say, a 19-year-old male and a 14-year-old girl right through to organised abuse.
We know that a determined perpetrator will abuse a large number of children.
“We have to get in there and not just pick up the pieces. We’re working with the police, for instance, to identify perpetrators early and to really bring them to account.”
He said any public inquiry should balance the need to investigate historical abuse in institutions with calls for a wider examination of abuse in foster care or in the home.
“We need to be clear what the parameters are because this could be absolutely enormous and take years to come to fruition,” Mr Crewe added.
A report into the Rotherham scandal by Professor Alexis Jay found there had been “blatant” collective failures by the council’s leadership and South Yorkshire police had failed to prioritise the issue.
The Rotherham inquiry team found examples of “children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone”.
Last night Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said: “The horrors of child abuse unite all of Scotland in revulsion, and we welcome the renewed focus of the Scottish Government in ensuring it remains a priority in public debate.
“We also welcome the important work of Children in Scotland report, which will provide a solid evidence base going forward to inform debate in the Scottish Parliament and beyond.
“I am disappointed by the delay announced today regarding a public inquiry. I however accept in good faith Mr Russell’s commitment to return to parliament before Christmas to give an update and explanation of his decision on this issue after further assessment.
“I will hold him to that commitment.”
Mr Pearson added: “It is now imperative that we move forward quickly and thoroughly, to make sure that survivors get the answers they have long deserved.”
The Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said: “The harrowing experiences suffered by survivors of child sexual exploitation are owed a robust response from Scotland’s public agencies. It is upon all of us to ensure that every step is taken to safeguard children in Scotland from this horrific abuse.”
Mr McArthur added: “It was disappointing not to see detail and an urgent time frame on practical measures like this in the minister’s statement.”
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