The scale of sex crimes against women in the North East and the rest of the UK is ‘bigger than anybody thought’, the Government’s Children’s Commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson has said.
Yet the region’s victims have been listened to, she claims, ‘nipping in the bud’ what could have potentially become a problem of the size seen in Rotherham.
Referring to national exploitation investigations and Northumbria Police’s own Operation Sanctuary probe which has so far led to the arrest of 120 people since its launch in January, Dr Atkinson said: “The extent and scale of the problem is far bigger than anybody had ever thought.
“It continues to be shocking but it shouldn’t surprise us. The scandal is when adults turn a blind eye and attempt to blame the victim for their own abuse.
It’s the perpetrator, and the perpetrator’s twisted behaviour that led to victims being victims.
“One has to hope that something has been nipped in the bud.
“The big thing is that because of the numbers in this region, it’s quite possible that when those girls told, they were listened to in ways that it seemed they weren’t listened to in Rotherham.”
The Children’s Commissioner, who is the former director of Children’s Services at Gateshead Council, said police investigating cases as part of Operation Sanctuary had appeared to take seriously complaints made by 60 young women at an earlier opportunity than authorities in Rotherham.
The South Yorkshire inquiry found at least 1,400 children in Rotherham were sexually exploited by predominantly Asian criminal gangs between 1997 and 2013.
She also praised the Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird, local authorities, charities and universities in Newcastle for keeping incidences of abuse and violence at the top of the region’s policing and social care agenda.
Speaking at a conference organised by the High Sheriff of Tyne and Wear Ruth Thompson OBE into the impact of domestic violence on children, Dr Atkinson said during her time working in Gateshead she felt there was a strong sense of cohesion among organisations working with vulnerable young girls.
She said: “There are people of ill intent wherever you go.
“Sexual crimes are almost always hall marked by very clever behaviour and under the radar behaviour.
“It’s four and a half years since I left Gateshead but our elected members worked considerably with young people to keep their finger on the pulse with what’s going on and out schools did the same.
“I did my level best to spend time with front line social workers in team offices, as I’m sure still happens.
“The children who were vulnerable in Gateshead were very definitely under our radar and a great deal of work was done with them. It was very important to us that we got to those children and staff worked beyond the call of duty.”
So far 21 people have been charged since the launch of Northumbria Police’s Operation Sanctuary.
This month Newcastle men Hafeez Cole Oye-Dada, of Hampstead Road, Benwell, and Moses Ologbenla, of Ellesmere Road, were jailed for a total of 16 years after being snared as part of the crackdown on cases against vulnerable girls and women.
Two schoolgirls tried to kill themselves after being plied with drink and drugs and subjected to vile sex attacks.