Posted: 17 May 2017

BBC One's Three Girls is tough, necessary viewing

Jo Hunt, deputy director of our work in the north, writes of how the BBC's Three Girls drama  relates to our work in Greater Manchester and across the country.

We will be live-tweeting during tonight's and tomorrow's broadcasts of Three Girls. Follow us on Twitter.

Primetime TV is again highlighting the evils of child sexual exploitation this week in the BBC drama Three Girls.

It tells the harrowing story of three vulnerable girls groomed by a gang in Rochdale between 2008 and 2012. 

Nine men were eventually convicted of sexual offences against five girls as young as 13 – but only after professionals had initially failed to protect these victims.

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Signs of a child at risk

Three Girls may be a difficult watch, but I am glad it has been made because it helps to raise awareness about sexual grooming, including the signs that a child could be at risk and the techniques abusers use. 

In Rochdale, some perpetrators were plying girls with ‘free’ alcohol and kebabs – but it soon became apparent that they wanted something in return. 

Three Girls also shows the terrible consequences for victims when professionals fail in their safeguarding duties. The failures of 17 agencies were highlighted in a Serious Case Review, including a failure by police to recognise exploitation in its early stages and a failure by social services to prioritise the issue.

Teenage girls were regarded as troublesome and promiscuous rather than vulnerable

The review found that teenage girls had been regarded as troublesome and promiscuous rather than vulnerable. For an organisation like The Children’s Society, which led the way in demanding an end to talk of ‘child prostitution’ and criminalisation of young victims, this was shocking.

A failure by agencies to work together was also highlighted and it is vital that professionals share information and receive the right training to identify signs of grooming.

Much-needed changes have since been implemented and an ‘Improvement Notice’ imposed by the Government on Rochdale Council was lifted two years ago.

Highlighting child sexual exploitation is making a difference

And the exposure of what was going on in Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford, and elsewhere, has ensured the issue of child sexual exploitation has been in the public eye like never before. 

In her latest report, Stockport MP Ann Coffey, who has campaigned on the issue, says this is one reason why Greater Manchester Police last year recorded more than 700 child sexual exploitation offences, nearly five times as many as in 2014. 

It also hopefully indicates that more brave young victims now feel able to come forward.  But these figures also highlight the worrying extent of the issue.

Working together in Greater Manchester

That’s why it must stay at the top of the agenda for everyone involved in safeguarding children with a continual drive to improve and stay a step ahead of paedophiles.

At The Children’s Society in Greater Manchester we are part of Project Phoenix, the Greater Manchester coalition of public and third sector organisations set up to tackle child sexual exploitation in the wake of Rochdale. 

Multi-agency teams now operate in all 10 districts while the It’s Not Okay campaign runs awareness weeks which have focussed on everything from online safety to the risks for missing children.

...and supporting children across the country

We know from our services across the country supporting children who run away that they can be vulnerable to exploitation and that young people may also go missing because they are being groomed.

While police officers, social workers, parents and carers have a vital role in protecting children, perhaps the most valuable resources of all are the eyes and ears of everyone who encounters children in their daily lives or work. 

That could well be you, so if you see a child you think could be at risk, call police on 101 or 999 in an emergency, or if you are in the Greater Manchester area, contact your local Project Phoenix team.

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Help us stop CSE

You can help stop child sexual exploitation
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