At the end of this month I will have been Police and Crime Commissioner for one year. I was elected last year when my predecessor resigned following the Jay Report on child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham.
Inevitably, therefore, CSE became my first priority. So what has happened over these past 12 months?
There were a number of obvious things that had to be done immediately.
First, I had to assure myself that South Yorkshire Police accepted the findings of the Jay Report without equivocation. There had to be no denial, no questioning the figure of 1,400 victims. No attempt to do anything other than say, ‘We made mistakes, now we must put them right’.
Second, we had to ensure that the unit where CSE officers worked was adequately staffed. In fact, they needed strengthening, and this was done.
We also had to make sure that all police officers across the county had some basic training in spotting the signs of potential CSE and the staff dealing with it had more intensive, specialist training.
Moving on, we soon realised that we needed to bring together in one place all those who had a responsibility for CSE, whether they were police or workers from the local authority, the NHS or Barnardo’s – and this has begun to happen in each of the districts of Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley.
Then we had to be clear that we must start to build cases for those crimes that had happened during the period covered by the Jay Report, and to get suspects charged and brought to court with a greater sense of urgency. This too has been happening.
All summer there have been arrests, charges and trials fixed, the first being in December.
While all these things – and more – were absolutely necessary, one other thing has been even more critical. I have been meeting with victims, survivors and their families after one father of a CSE survivor made contact.
I asked them if they would agree to be a Victims, Survivors and Families Panel, that I could consult and that would help the police improve their approach to victims of CSE.
Over the months, we have been able to build trust first between ourselves, and more recently between the panel and the police.
Earlier this month, this group and others held a conference for all those working in CSE – police, social workers, voluntary sector workers, and so on. This was one of the most remarkable conferences I have ever been to. Usually, events of this kind are organised by professionals for professionals.
This was run entirely by survivors and their parents. That was ground-breaking.
The survivors were moved to hear a senior police officer say she hung her head in shame when she realised how they had been let down in the past.
I was moved when a father said I was the first person in authority who had listened to them.
We still have a long road to travel, but we are in a far healthier place now than this time last year.