Revealed: Tower Hamlets officials called perpetrator 'boyfriend' of abused child

The contract changes affect staff working across Tower Hamlets Council. Picture: Mike Brooke

The report - published on Tuesday, February 1 - found "extensive failures" in how such exploitation is tackled nationwide - Credit: Mike Brooke

Officials in Tower Hamlets used the word "boyfriend" when referring to the perpetrators of child abuse, according to a recently-released report into the tackling of child sexual exploitation by criminal gangs.

Harrowing testimonies from 30 young witnesses from locations across the country - including Tower Hamlets - contributed to the damning report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

The report - published on Tuesday, February 1 - found "extensive failures" in how such exploitation is tackled nationwide.

It concluded that child victims – some of whom reported being raped, abused, and in one case forced to perform sex acts on 23 men while held at gunpoint – were often blamed by authorities for the ordeals they suffered.

Some were even slapped with criminal records for offences closely linked to their sexual exploitation, revealed the report, which focused on events between 2016 and 2019.

One child from Tower Hamlets - known only as CS-A22 - was taken into care after being assessed as at high risk of child sexual exploitation in 2017 at the age of 13.

She was taken into police protection when concerns were flagged she had been sexually abused and raped.

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However, elsewhere she was described as “a frequent missing person [who] appears to willingly expose herself to danger”.

Similar language was also used in reference to another child from Tower Hamlets, CS-A77, who was described as showing “risk-taking behaviour”.

Furthermore, the report uncovered "an inappropriate use of the word ‘boyfriend’ with reference to CS-A77's adult perpetrators".

The Children’s Society charity claimed they had found examples of victim-blaming language by both social workers and police officers.

Another revelation was that Met officers in Tower Hamlets had been using child abduction warning notices (CAWNs) against young victims to stop them associating with each another.

Yet the report determined that the prospect of receiving a criminal conviction might deter youngsters from disclosing child sexual exploitation, and could actually increase the hold perpetrators had over them. 

Professor Alexis Jay, who chaired the inquiry, said: “The sexual exploitation of children by networks is not a rare phenomenon confined to a small number of areas with high-profile criminal cases.

“We found extensive failures by local authorities and police forces in the ways in which they tackled this sexual abuse.

“There appeared to be a flawed assumption that child sexual exploitation was on the wane, however it has become even more of a hidden problem and increasingly underestimated.”

The report concluded that the failures seen across the country might be down to local authorities' determination to assure they are not seen as “another Rochdale or Rotherham” – towns blighted by child sexual exploitation revelations – rather than a desire to “root out … and expose its scale”.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said they welcomed the report, particularly because it has highlighted areas for improvement which align with the council's "desire to achieve the best outcomes for children".

They added: “We are pleased the report recognises that ‘the borough has undertaken substantial work to address Ofsted’s 2017 finding that its children’s social care department was inadequate'." 

The regulatory body handed the council a Good rating in 2019 to reflect the 'significant improvements' made in that two-year period.

That report made reference to a ‘relentless focus to improve practice’, ‘skilled and committed staff’ and ‘strong partnerships to protect children from harm’.

Met commander Sue Williams, who gave evidence at IICSA, added: “We applied to be a core participant of the inquiry as we are committed to improving our efforts to prevent children becoming victims and conduct thorough investigations into those responsible.

“Whilst we agree there are improvements to be made, the response we provide today has evolved, and we will continue to learn to ensure that victims and survivors remain at the heart of our approach."

Last year the Met launched a pan-London Child Exploitation Protocol so that all agencies can identify children vulnerable to exploitation, and aims to avoid missing opportunities to protect them.