After a significant amount of media coverage and discussions amongst both colleagues and friends, last week I grabbed a coffee and sat down to watch ‘Three Girls’. Admittedly a few weeks behind the initial broadcasting, I was keen to see the way in which the BBC chose to reflect the true story of the Rochdale Child Sex Abuse Ring. The three part ‘drama’ series represents the real life occurrences of the grooming, abuse and trafficking of predominantly white girls by gangs of Asian men in the Greater Manchester town of Rochdale.
The BBC framed the series around three girls; Holly, Amber and Ruby. Their individual stories are real but their names have been changed for the purposes of anonymity. The first episode follows Holly who is keen to make friends and fit in, having recently moved to the area with her family.
We see Holly building a friendship with a group of girls who hang out with older men at the back of a local kebab shop. The infancy stages of the grooming process begin when the men be-friend the girls through offerings of food and alcohol. Before long, the exploitation begins and we see the harrowing tale of how the girls endure rape, abuse and pregnancy over a number of years.
Throughout the series, it was interesting to see the way in which multi-agency information sharing was represented. Some of the barriers that were highlighted were; referrals being viewed as too complex to manage - for example when the sexual health worker made numerous referrals to partners but they weren't acted upon, referrals ‘slipping through the net’ due to a high turnover in staff, poor record keeping and a lack of capacity and capability for practitioners to action referrals accordingly.
All of these barriers and more were seen within the Rochdale cases and for that reason, the girls were failed by all safeguarding services. Several years on from this particular case the services still continue to be chastised within publications, articles, interviews and the media. But what are we actually achieving from this approach and where is the learning? More importantly, how can we stop this from happening again?
I’m uncertain as to the extent of progress that has been made in terms of answering those questions, and for that reason I'll refrain from providing any further criticism to avoid strengthening what is already a cross-cutting blame culture.
Instead, lets take a moment to ‘re-frame’ our attention to what should always be at the heart of our thoughts and decision making; the victims. Girls, your bravery is applaudable. Your determination has seen that those men will never do to others what they did to you. You have provided the hope that justice can be served for those who have been abused and exploited and you have given strength to others to know that they are not alone. Regardless of the failings that took place around you, by sharing your story and demanding that those in power listen, you have made the world a safer place.
To read the Centre's work on improving information sharing within safeguarding, please see our safeguarding page.