Local government has been lambasted for its use of “impenetrable” language and systems that hinder rather than help prevent children from being abused.
Chiefs at the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers summit listened intently to the harrowing but powerful story of one of the survivors of the Rotherham abuse scandal, Sammy Woodhouse.
Highlighting the failings of social workers and the police to help her, Ms Woodhouse said: “I was never treated as a victim. I was always treated as the girlfriend… or a part of his [her abuser’s] gang.”
She later said: “There are still a lot of people not being treated as victims and they are not being listened to and that needs to change.”
Fiona Duncan, independent chair of the care review in Scotland, scolded councils for using “impenetrable” systems and language, including use of the term child sexual exploitation and being referred to as caseloads, as children do not understand them and this prevents victims from speaking out.
“The language labels and stigmatises children,” she said.
Wokingham BC chief executive Manjeet Gill agreed when she said: “We need to hear more of the real human stories and remind ourselve that when we’re speaking management language what does it really mean?”
Ms Woodhouse said there are still “too many people silent in regards to exploitation” and said authorities can only end it by working together.
She said: “The key thing is to listen to survivors and victims – there’s nobody that knows this better than us.”
Ms Woodhouse also urged those who interact with victims to do more to “empower” them and move on with their lives.
Ms Duncan said councils need to start developing “trusted relationships with people who you have not given enough reasons to trust you in the past” but warned “you have to act on what you have heard” and provide victims with the right support.
Barking & Dagenham LBC chief executive Chris Naylor, who chaired the session, said councils had “lost that sense of moral purpose” and asked the sector: “What are we going to do next?”
Ms Duncan said “just doing one thing differently” will help to change the system while Ms Woodhouse said: “Treat [victims] how you would expect your own children to be treated… I just needed somebody to help me.”