UK Abuse Minister: Our battle
By Karen Bradley, UK's first minister for preventing abuse and exploitation
Some crimes, particularly involving children, are so appalling it is human nature to want to turn away. Some victims’ and survivors’ experiences are so shocking they are almost unbearable to hear. And some failures by those who should protect the most vulnerable have been so inexcusable and systemic it is tempting to despair.
However, my job, as the first ever Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, is to confront these issues. I look at this as a Minister, but also as a mother. While I feel lucky to be well-informed about child sexual abuse, the scale of it is astonishing.
When I was at school, a man walked past a group of us girls with his genitals on show. There were giggles and when I got home I told my mum. She phoned the police. The police found him, he was locked up and he was never allowed to go near the school again.
But now the internet gives such people anonymity. They can go online and be somebody else. The internet normalises this behaviour because people with this interest find others who share their interest. There’s a market for it and the internet helps to feed that market.
My post is a new one, the first time responsibilities for protecting children and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse and exploitation, tackling child trafficking and modern slavery, and preventing violence against women and girls have been brought together under one ministerial portfolio.
The spectrum of abuse is vast and varied. It goes from people who think it is acceptable to look at illegal images online to those who want to have sex with children and even babies. One victim I met who had been trafficked to this country to be a sex slave was found dumped on the side of the M25. A gang that had prostituted her out no longer wanted her as she was pregnant.
Many young people have been failed by police, and social and health workers, who saw vulnerable teenagers as ‘difficult’ and ‘problematic’, and who lacked the curiosity to explore underlying reasons for challenging behaviour.
We must make sure these failures are not repeated. This year we prioritised child sexual abuse as a national threat, alongside terrorism and organised crime. It is one of the greatest threats of our time.
We have allocated an additional £10million to track down offenders and protect children. The Home Office has set up a database, to reduce the time taken to identify illegal images; we are setting up a centre of expertise on child sexual abuse, and a whistleblowing helpline for public sector workers.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, which is why the Home Secretary established an independent inquiry to examine failures to protect children; to get to the truth, expose what has gone wrong in the past, and learn lessons for the future.
As a society we are at a watershed. Victims and survivors of abuse are, more than ever before, feeling confident to report their experiences. This is encouraging, but also an immense challenge. Because coming forward is never the end of it for a victim; because the damage of those experiences is so hard to undo; and because it is clear that far too many children are being damaged in the first place.
But the Government can’t solve everything and, more importantly, I don’t believe that it should. We must all look unblinkingly at the reality. Raise our voices when we suspect a child is at risk and work together to find solutions. It will not be easy. But it can and must be done if we are to protect our children.