Lucy Allan: After decades of failure, the victims of child sexual exploitation in Telford are finally being heard
In a turbulent and dislocated political environment, is easy to wonder why anyone would choose to be an MP. Then something happens that reminds you and so it was last week.
After years of campaigning on child sexual exploitation, last week saw the publication of the report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Telford. This measured and thorough report, written by Tom Crowther QC, who chaired the inquiry with sensitivity and emotional intelligence, has the power to be transformational for many.
Shortly after I became MP in 2015, women and girls in Telford started to share their experiences of sexual exploitation with me. As the stories unfolded, it was clear they were struggling to understand what had happened, some spoke of feelings of guilt and shame, others wanted me to help their campaign for an independent inquiry.
As in other cases of institutional failure, (such as the Post Office scandal, or the Shrewsbury and Telford Maternity scandal), there were those in positions of power who prioritised protecting their organisation and position above justice for the individual. There were those who did not believe their organisation had failed, those defensively believed it was a confected scandal whipped up by the media.
The recommendations laid out in the Telford report will have the capacity to transform the lives of vulnerable young people across the UK
When something goes wrong an inquiry can be an opportunity to drive change to in both culture and attitudes. Organisations seldom recognise their shortcomings and are naturally unwilling to change. If constituents have experienced an injustice or been failed by an organisation, an MP has an extraordinary platform to help.
There were obstacles to overcome. Those in authority were clear. Child sexual exploitation was all in the past, their processes were good. They were standing shoulder to shoulder. There was nothing to see here. In one foolhardy attempt to close down the growing campaign, and there were others, ten men in positions of power co-signed a letter to the Home Secretary setting out why the victims, campaigning journalists and the MP, (all of whom happened to be women) were wrong – no inquiry was necessary.
I was not alone in this endeavour. I was proud to work with good ministers willing to listen and other campaigning MPs, such as the inspirational Sarah Champion who had fought her own battles on the same issue, and of course the survivors themselves.
When the report was published on 12 July, it was found that there had been recent “glaring failings” by a generation of local politicians, with some 1,000 victims affected in what is just one small town. This inquiry report is a testament to the bravery of young women and girls who had been ignored and regarded as “badly behaved children on the margins of the society”.
Child sexual exploitation is a horrific crime carried out through a deceptive and gradual process of grooming and befriending. It targets victims who often do not recognise the coercive and controlling nature of what is happening, or if they do, the control evolves into threats and acts of violence.
Child sexual exploitation happens in other towns and cities across the country. The recommendations laid out in the Telford report, if adopted by councils and the police, will have the capacity to transform the lives of vulnerable young people across the United Kingdom.
Work like this, just like the work on the Post Office scandal or the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital maternity scandal, highlights how crucial MPs can be in delivering justice and change for those who need it most. There are some issues that transcend politics, and this was one. I feel privileged to have been able to do this work.
Lucy Allan is the Conservative MP for Telford.
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