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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks investigation report


D.5: Children from ethnic minority backgrounds

77. Several witnesses gave evidence to the Inquiry that children from ethnic minority backgrounds face additional barriers to disclosing sexual exploitation.

78. Ms Rosie Lewis is Director of the Angelou Centre in Newcastle, which provides support for black and ethnic minority women and children who have been the subject of domestic and sexual violence. She explained that for many ethnic minority families and victims of sexual exploitation there is not an innate trust that institutions would support them, due to a feeling of having been targeted and excluded in different ways. As a result, many do not come forward.[1]

79. Professionals sometimes failed to identify and respond in a culturally sensitive manner to child sexual exploitation in ethnic minority communities. The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse considered that there are several possible explanations for this, including:

professional resistance to recognising that CSA victims come from all ethnic and religious groups, fear of being viewed as culturally insensitive, and fear of intrusion into cultures that are different from the dominant”.[2]

80. The theme of professional ‘nervousness’ was also highlighted by Ms Zlakha Ahmed MBE, founder and CEO of Apna Haq, a survivor-led organisation in Rotherham which supports black and ethnic minority women and girls who have experienced any form of violence. She expressed the view that institutions such as children’s social care departments did not feel confident working with girls from ethnic minority communities and would therefore “back off” and refer girls to Apna Haq. She gave an example of a girl who was referred to both children’s social care services and to Apna Haq but with whom children’s social care did not engage for three months because of a feeling that they did not understand the community or culture.[3]

81. Ms Lewis considered that statutory services generally had “a lack of cultural competence” – meaning a lack of understanding of systemic violence and institutional discrimination – and that this can be “really problematic”.[4]

82. Dr Shehla Khan, Chairperson of the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team (an organisation working to support ethnic minority people across Wales, including those vulnerable to exploitation) noted that it often found the behaviour of police officers in Swansea “wanting in terms of their sensitivity to the needs of BME young people in particular”.[5]

83. There is some evidence that a lack of diversity among staff can lead to unconscious bias and a perception of intentional discrimination.[6] In the North-East, fewer than five percent of staff in statutory services were from an ethnic minority, despite the fact that in some schools 41 percent of children were from ethnic minorities.[7] Swansea Council’s evidence was that it had become clear that “staff working within statutory organisations were insufficiently ethnically diverse, and so lacked cultural diversity understanding”. Swansea Council has recently reviewed its workforce strategy, including how it can attract a wider range of ethnicities into its workforce.[8]

84. Specific support services for ethnic minority communities can also assist in identifying and responding in a culturally appropriate way to child sexual exploitation.[9] The need for such services, and the extent to which such services are provided, varied across the case study areas.

84.1. Durham County Council disbanded its ethnic community outreach team several years ago.[10] It does, however, have ‘Team around the Family’ arrangements, including community workers who help child sexual exploitation workers to understand cultural backgrounds and sensitivities in their area.[11]

84.2. Swansea Council was “acutely aware” of the low levels of reporting by ethnic minority victims and so introduced a ‘culturally harmful behaviour worker’ to sit alongside its practice lead for child exploitation.[12] It also works closely with partner agencies with direct links to ethnic minority communities, such as the EYST, including inviting them to strategy and planning meetings as appropriate.[13] In Swansea, Dr Khan argued for the creation of a child sexual exploitation advocacy team with ethnically and culturally diverse staff.[14]

84.3. In Warwickshire, a Barnardo’s officer has worked with a community centre in the South Asian community, focussing on training and encouraging outreach work.[15]

84.4. St Helens Council has not, to date, completed specific work to improve the accessibility and sensitivity of child sexual exploitation services to children and young people from ethnic minority communities.[16]

84.5. In Tower Hamlets, at the time of our hearings, the Metropolitan Police Service had conducted no specific planning about the accessibility of child sexual exploitation services to ethnic minority communities.[17]

84.6. In Bristol, the number of ethnic minority young people identified as at risk of sexual exploitation and accessing specialist services via BASE appeared to be proportionate to their population. Barnardo’s undertakes specific work with victims identifying as Muslim in recognition of the lower proportion of South Asian and Black African young people accessing services.[18]

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