Post updated: 14 June 2015
I am disgusted and exasperated by the number of, largely right-wing, ‘journalists’ and commentators who continue to express an explicit disbelief in the veracity of many survivors’ statements about their abuse and that of others that they have witnessed. These people, best described as broadly establishment lackeys, include the Today Programme‘s John Humphrys who refuses to use the description “survivors”, The Daily Telegraph’s Alison Pearson who has stated that the inquiry is a “waste of money” and FT Journalist and official biographer of George Osborne, Janan Ganesh, who memorably called the child sexual abuse inquiry a “stale ritual”. Others in the right-wing media frequently question the idea that an independent statutory inquiry into non-current child sexual abuse will ever have any value – a cynical disbelief exemplified by Richard Littlejohn‘s favoured expression “and Jimmy Savile is still dead”
A fear that survivors would not be believed is known to be a key reason that they give for not informing the police or other authorities (including in many cases their own parents) of their abuse. Among a number of factors, the most powerful undermining influence on survivors’ confidence is the abuser’s perceived position within the family or parents’ friendship network. As a result, abused children seek external cues and are sensitive to what they see or are told about how society generally and the justice system, in particular, respects what children say when they allege abuse.
By and large it is the mainstream media that informs the tone for how victims are being and should be treated for both the child and parent /carer. That tone has, for many decades in the UK, been the casual assumption that allegations of abuse from children are to be treated as probably untrue and as a low priority by government agencies and the police. As a result, far too many survivors have shared the bitter childhood experience of attempting to denounce their abusers, the shaming interrogation, the incomprehension when they were disbelieved and the numbing terror of feeling that there was no hope of escape from the prison of abuse.
Children who feel isolated and unsafe often decide to remove themselves from their abuser’s reach by running away. This is especially true for those who (as I was) are raised in state-run children’s homes where wider family networks are largely non-existent and staff are seen as warders rather than ‘carers’. As a result, while most runaways return to their homes within a short period, abused children are more likely to go missing repeatedly and for prolonged periods.
There are thousands of children who have been permanently abandoned or forced to leave the family home by their parents or because of abuse. The lucky few find short-term housing from councils who are obliged to treat homeless children as a priority although government cuts have substantially reduced the funds councils have available for this service. Increasingly, these vulnerable children are forced to fend for themselves and many sleep rough on the streets of our cities and are easy prey for a committed child rapist.
It is rare for a child to fully consider the potential risks to which they expose themselves before running away especially when their more immediate concern is to escape from their abuser, but those risks are very real.
Missing Kids and Child Abuse – some key facts:
According to the CEOP managed Missing Kids website, in the UK a child is reported as missing every 3 minutes that’s 140,000 children who are reported as missing each year.
Missing People (a charity that reconnects missing children and adults with their families), report that child sexual exploitation is linked to many different ‘types’ of missing incident. Not only do missing incidents include running away from or being forced to leave home or care but also being trafficked into, out of and within the UK, being abducted and being kidnapped.
- Going missing is both a cause and consequence of child sexual exploitation and is a risk factor that is applicable to children missing from home and care environments. Evidence suggests that attention needs to be paid to the quality of relationships with care givers across different types of caring environments and addressing the ‘pull factors’ used by exploiters.
- Repeated missing incidents, however long in duration, indicate a high level of vulnerability to child sexual exploitation. Child sexual exploitation is not easily identified and therefore going missing even for short periods of time may indicate that a young person is moving back and forth ‘between worlds’. Crucial windows of opportunity exist when a young person returns from a missing incident to investigate the missing incident further and to understand levels of risk and harm.
- Over 16s are vulnerable to child sexual exploitation in the same way young people under 16 years of age are. They too often lack access to accommodation and financial resources, but are less likely to be recognised as in need of protection due to their age and professional perception around ‘consent’.
- Child sexual exploitation and missing incidents can be linked to other issues such as forced marriage.
- Victims of child sexual exploitation may need to go missing in order to escape their exploiters yet there is little support available that supports young people who seek to exert control over their situation – for example, safe specialist accommodation to flee to.
Download the research: Still_Hidden_2012
© BBC / Channel 4 / Channel 5
Whether a child runs away or is snatched by a paedophile, the consequences will always be horrific and potentially fatal. In 1990, the Granada documentary “The Boy Business” revealed the torture, rape and presumed murder of a Dutch child at the hands of two British nationals, known as the “Bjorn tape”.
“Earlier last year, the Guardian revealed the international police hunt for two unidentified men who had made the “Bjorn tape”, a chilling video which recorded their relentless sexual assault on an adolescent Dutch boy who was carried in front of the camera, limp and hooded, before being strapped into a chair where he was defenceless against the indulgence of his two attackers.
Following the story in the Guardian, which was linked to an ITV documentary [The Boy Business], Dutch police traced Bjorn’s accent to an area in the north of Holland, where they combed through files of reported child abuse – and found him. It turned out that he had contacted the authorities a year earlier to complain that a Dutch man, whom he named, had been drugging and raping him since he was only three years old, most recently with the assistance of an English man.”
© Channel 4 / ITN / Granada
“The Dutch man had been tried and – in the absence of the video – he had been acquitted. He had then sued Bjorn for making a malicious complaint against him. Bjorn had collapsed into mental illness and been given refuge in an orphanage.
Now, the tape not only proved that the boy had been telling the truth in all its grim detail, but it also confirmed the identity of the English man who had taken part. He is John Peters, a former soldier who went AWOL in the early 1970s after being charged with having sex with a 14-year-old boy in public toilets near his base in Sutton Coldfield. Since then, Peters has been convicted in Denmark of a separate offence of child abuse.
Although Bjorn’s Dutch abuser is now due to be tried again in Holland, Peters remains at liberty. Just as he evaded the police in Sutton Coldfield in the 1970s, so now he has evaded them again in Holland, simply by crossing a border. He is believed to be in Asia, whose population of impoverished and vulnerable children has become a magnet for paedophiles and whose police have no active intelligence link with the British or Dutch. The result: the abuser has escaped.
That same story in the Guardian also disclosed the activities of Warwick Spinks, a British paedophile who was then serving a sentence of five years after Scotland Yard arrested him for abducting and raping two homeless boys from the streets of London. He had sold one of them into a brothel in Amsterdam.”
Spinks is a paedophile of grandiose ambition, a man who has commercialised his obsession, first by running an agency in Britain which sold boys to like-minded punters, and then by moving to Amsterdam where, as the Guardian disclosed, he worked in brothels and joined a group of British men who produced videos in which five boys were alleged to have been raped and murdered for the pleasure of viewers.
As he approached the end of his five-year sentence, Spinks was transferred from prison to a probation hostel in south London where, last September, he was asked to fill in a form so that the police could enter his details on the new register of sex offenders. He is precisely the kind of compulsive offender for whom the register was designed so that police can keep an eye on their movements. Spinks, however, refused to fill in the form.
He simply walked away from the hostel and sent his probation officer a postcard with an invitation to come and see him in Amsterdam. Since then, he has travelled to Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Moscow and Prague pursuing his own special interests with never a care for the sex offenders’ register or any other limb of the child protection system. The result: another abuser has escaped.
The sexual abuse of children is a special crime, not simply because of the damage it does to its victims, nor even because of the anger and fear it provokes in communities, but more particularly because it is so easy – easy to commit, easy to get away with.
But this is only the beginning. Beyond the inherent difficulty of detecting and preventing this most secret crime, beyond the obstacle course of concealment erected by the collusion of clever paedophiles, the child victims of sexual abuse are betrayed by organisations who repeatedly prefer to avoid embarrassment by concealing awkward allegations and by a system of protection which simply does not work.
The Guardian April 1998
In The Boy Business, New Scotland Yard denied any prior knowledge of the existence of snuff movies involving children and dismissed the possibility that it could be an organised and widespread crime. It was only in responding to public outrage following broadcast that the Home Office revealed the police had been investigating up to 20 child abductions since 1984 where abuse movies were known or alleged to have been made and the child victims had disappeared and were presumed to be deceased. The Yard’s motives for denying knowledge of the child rape and murder trade is all the more curious given the prosecution of the notorious Sydney Cook gang the previous August who the police believed had abducted at least 9 children who they then tortured and murdered. The prosecution only succeeded on the lesser charge of manslaughter resulting in widespread criticism of both the police and the prosecutor.
Now that Operation Midland is making significant progress, it is notable that the police involved are saying explicitly that all witnesses who come forward will be believed. They have already stated in terms that the evidence of child sexual abuse, torture and three murders allegedly committed by MPs and provided by their key witness so far, “Nick”, is both “credible and true.” It is a sign that attitudes and procedures for dealing with survivors are changing for the better. Richard Littlejohn and his hateful disregard for the suffering of raped children will not stop our progress.
National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) Freephone: 0808 801 0331
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP a National Crime Ageny Command)
Telephone: +44 (0)870 000 3344 or 999 in an emergency
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