Blame game doesn’t tackle the causes of abuse
Soapbox – March 2015
As I write, it is in (dread) anticipation of “CSE Tuesday” (3rd March) when it’s expected that the combination of a No.10-convened summit, the Government’s response to Louise Casey’s report on Rotherham, and an Oxfordshire Serious Case Review will lead to the latest round of hand-wringing (it must never happen again), table thumping (everything must be done to stop this evil in its tracks) and, worst of all, blaming (whose head must roll).
Now, believe me, I take CSE as seriously as anyone. I wish I could avoid hyperbole, as there has already been a surfeit of it, but it is necessary for me to say that this is a vicious and deep-rooted strain of sexual abuse that makes me sick to the stomach just to think about it. And, like so many others – but none more so than the children, their families and friends, of course – I want to know how to make this stop.
But I’m concerned that the rightly indignant who are in positions of power and responsibility, including some key figures at the national level, will make the same mistakes as last time. And the time before. And the time before that. Having written on this topic last Autumn I suspect that you know what I am about to say.
It is my strongly held view that this kind of abuse will not be addressed properly until we accept that it is the causes of CSE that must be tackled. First and foremost, we need national and local leaders across the political and sector spectra to form an alliance and agree a campaign that takes root in all our communities; a campaign, for example, that challenges and changes those stubborn and regressive views that see children as somehow ‘asking for it’ and, consequently, consenting to their own abuse; that removes the barriers to making it uncontroversial to point out the perpetrators for what they are – the sexual assaulters and rapers of the innocent.
A campaign, therefore, that should, without a sniff of party politics or sector rivalries, unite all decent people in a common cause to identify, challenge and eradicate the societal and cultural values and beliefs that make it possible for CSE to be condoned or go unchallenged.
It is also my equally strongly held view that we must re-examine accountability. All sensible people understand that it is the offenders who are, quite literally, the villains of the piece. Sensible people also know that those in public service don’t necessarily get things right or always properly fulfil their responsibilities. When we get it wrong we should answer for it.
But there is a preoccupation with blame – and it is corrosive and, ultimately, self-defeating. There are occasions when standing down or, ultimately, being sacked are appropriate. But in defaulting to blame, a bad situation is made worse – especially when blame is partially applied (to Chief Constables; NHS or Local Government Chief Executives; Directors of Children’s Services; but rarely to the national policy makers). Such an approach only serves to create a legitimate fear of taking on responsibility for safeguarding and ignores the shared accountability between national and local leadership for the safety of children. Policy-makers and funders cannot be detached from the deliverers.
To tackle CSE successfully we need to build together a three-legged stool in which all those with shared responsibility and shared accountability come together to focus on addressing the root causes of this evil. To act otherwise is to give the perpetrators and, crucially, the victims the wrong message.
This is the latest column Mark Rogers has written for the Municipal Journal in his capacity as President of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE). The views expressed herein should not be assumed to be those of the City Council.