Three Girls: Unless we learn the lessons, the exploitation and abuse will only continue

Viewers have quite understandably been shocked by the first episode of the three-part BBC real-life drama Three Girls about the horrific abuse suffered by vulnerable children and young people in Rochdale . But unless we take the lessons to heart the exploitation and abuse will only continue, says national charity Family Education Trust.

What happened in Rochdale was not unique. Over the past five years, serious case reviews have reported on child sexual exploitation perpetrated against vulnerable young women in regions as far apart as Torbay, Liverpool, Thurrock, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Bristol . In addition, in 2014 Professor Alexis Jay published the findings of her independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997-2013.

Family Education Trust director, Norman Wells, whose review of these reports was published last week observed:

‘All eight reports tell the same story: underage sex was viewed as a normal part of growing up and relatively harmless provided it was consensual. Again and again it was assumed that the girls were making “lifestyle choices”. There was a readiness among professionals to routinely provide contraception in confidence, without considering the possibility that the young people may be suffering abuse.

‘The reports in Rochdale and the other regions reveal an inclination to treat children under the age of 16 as adults with the competence to make their own decisions with regard to sexual activity and a tendency to dismiss the concerns of their parents out of hand.’

One of the two Rochdale serious case reviews notes that it was ‘absolutely clear that the problems were much more deep rooted than can be explained as failings at an individual level’. There were ‘widely held and deep rooted attitudes’ on the part of professionals whose assumption that the teenagers were making meaningful choices about how they lived their lives was ‘fundamentally misconceived’.

Norman Wells commented:

‘The underlying problems are social, cultural and moral. It is time to grasp the nettle and get to the root of the crisis. A review of professional attitudes towards underage sexual activity is long overdue.

‘We also need an investigation into the unintended consequences of teenage pregnancy strategies which have a focus on sex education and the confidential provision of contraception, abortion and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

If we continue to turn a blind eye to the root causes of the current malaise, we can expect to see yet more horrific cases of child sexual exploitation.’


Unprotected: How the normalisation of underage sex is exposing children and young people to the risk of sexual exploitation by Norman Wells was published by Family Education Trust on 8 May 2017, 152pp, ISBN: 978-0-906229-24-8, £7.50.