by Kevin Meagher
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has pledged that a Labour government will bring in a new obligation to report suspected child sexual abuse and to make its concealment a criminal offence. As she told The Observer:
“We are still seeing the same mistakes being made, victims not being listened to. It is now time to have the mandatory duty to report, to make clear that cultural change has to take place in every institution. It will also challenge the idea that any professional should be tempted to think that things can be solved quietly or privately by brushing them under the carpet. A clear signal needs to be put out that people should not put institutional reputation before protecting children.”
Of course, it is depressing that this even needs to be codified in law, but after the sheer scale of institutional failure revealed in Alexis Jay’s report into Rotherham, pledging to enact what most decent people would regard as the bleeding obvious is sadly necessary.
But this new law should stretch beyond social workers, teachers and council officials. Any requirement for mandatory reporting should also apply to councillors and MPs too. They should be made to record, in writing, any approach from a constituent about child sexual exploitation and offer up any third party intelligence they receive, referring the matter on to the police and social services.
They must be included in the new law as they are often the first port of call for families seeking justice and for those trying to tip-off the authorities about an issue. Frankly, good councillors and constituency MPs should already know what is going on in their areas and be perfectly willing to share this with the authorities.
But, unfortunately, they sometimes face other considerations. As Rotherham’s Labour MP (between 1994-2012), Denis MacShane, put it the other day: “I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat if I may put it like that.” While maintaining that no-one came to him with details of child abuse, he concedes that he should have “burrowed into” the issue.
Damn right he should have. And so should his colleagues. So as well as being obliged to report abuse, might we also consider a charge of wilful neglect in public office? MPs and councillors who don’t know that their vulnerable constituents are being raped and abused on an industrial scale right under their noses are not fit to represent them and should be drummed out of public office.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut