Nothing was done about child sexual exploitation (CSE) in South Yorkshire, England, because the girls involved were seen as prostitutes, a police commissioner has said.
Alan Billings, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner, said “it all went wrong” because police did not understand what grooming was or that it was child abuse.
Dr Billings was speaking after reports published for the first time revealed that police were warned around 10 years ago about the extent of the CSE problem in the county but did nothing about it.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think any of us at that time understood what grooming was and that this was grooming.
“I think we saw these girls not as victims but as troublesome young people out of control and willing participants.
“We saw it as child prostitution rather than child abuse, and I think that was broadly accepted and that’s why it all went wrong.”
Dr Billings said police were prioritising burglary and car theft because of public demands at the time.
And he said the problem was a cultural issue which went beyond South Yorkshire Police.
A report by Professor Alexis Jay provoked nationwide shock last August when it revealed that at least 1,400 children were raped, trafficked and groomed in Rotherham.
A further review by Louise Casey, published earlier this year, led to the mass resignation of the ruling Labour cabinet and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles ordered Government-appointed commissioners to take over the running of the council.