Karen Bradley's How Safe Are Our Children conference speech

The Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation's keynote at the NSPCC's How Safe Are Our Children conference.

The Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP

I went to court, I gave my evidence and they went to prison, and you can read about that in the newspapers.

What you didn’t read is the time I collapsed before I was cross examined and was sick, the tears, the nightmares, checking under the bed and in the wardrobe every night and the belief I may have done the wrong thing.

As no matter what he had done, I knew, if I could just see him, he would say sorry and it would be okay, as maybe he never meant to hurt me.

Those are clearly not my words but the words of a young victim of sexual abuse.

And as we all hearing today, more and more young people are reporting their experience of abuse, but this short quotation lay bare that, as much as this is an encouraging sign of the times, it is also an immense challenge to all of us.

Because reporting their experience to the police is never the end of it for a victim; because the damage of those experiences is so hard to undo; and because it is increasingly clear that far too many children are being damaged in the first place.

That is why protecting children is a priority for this government and why we will continue to do all that we can to stop children being abused and to protect the victims and survivors of abuse.

I am so grateful to Peter and to the NSPCC for inviting me to speak to you today, my first speech since being appointed Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the NSPCC for their continued dedication in fighting child abuse and protecting children.

My ministerial post is a new one; I am the first ever Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation. I am working with other ministerial colleagues across government including Edward to make sure we tackle this problem.

This is the first time that Home Office responsibilities for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults from sexual violence, for tackling child trafficking and modern slavery, and for preventing violence against women and girls have been brought together under one ministerial portfolio.

Today I would like to talk to you about what we are doing and how we can work together to protect young people.

First and foremost, I and the Home Secretary are determined that we continue and develop with no let up in urgency the vital work we have been undertaking since 2010. That means:

  • making it more difficult for those who want to abuse and exploit young people, whether in our communities or on the internet, and making sure we catch and stop those who do
  • getting agencies to improve the way they work together to protect vulnerable children
  • making sure people who have experienced abuse are given support

And we are at a watershed moment.

Children, young people and adult survivors of abuse are, more than ever before, feeling confident to come forward to report their experiences to the police and other services.

It is encouraging that more people are doing so and that these crimes are being reported.

However, we must not forget that these people have been hurt in devastating ways, and they are giving us their trust; we cannot afford to let them down.

We are committed to preventing child sexual abuse in the first place. We will do so by reducing the vulnerability to abuse by making environments safer and improving the resilience and protection of those at risk, and by identifying potential offenders early on and disrupting their behaviour.

Where abuse has already taken place we will make sure victims are given the support they need to rebuild their lives.

In December, we announced £7 million for services supporting victims of sexual abuse. Of this, just over £2 million has been given in extra support to existing rape support centres. We also established two new funds: one of £2 million for organisations who are reporting an increase in demand because of the establishment of the Independent Inquiry led by Justice Goddard, and a second fund of just under £3 million to help organisations to help them respond to the increasing numbers of people coming forward.

We have already awarded £4.5 million to 80 organisations that provide vital support to victims of sexual abuse. This funding covers a broad range of activity, including services such as counselling, advocacy, help-lines, online support, outreach, raising awareness and training.

We will strengthen support to victims in the criminal justice system, by increasing the protection for vulnerable witnesses, enhancing the services available to them under the Victim’s Code, and by fulfilling our commitment to enshrine victims’ rights in primary legislation.

We must also make sure children are not harmed in the first place.

This year we prioritised child sexual abuse as a national threat in the Strategic Policing Requirement, providing a clear mandate for police forces to collaborate across force boundaries, to safeguard children, to share intelligence and to share best practice.

We have supported the National Policing Lead, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, providing over £1 million of funding to put in place regional coordinators and analysts, to ensure that forces are tackling child sexual exploitation properly.

And we continue to support the tremendous efforts made by law enforcement agencies, industry and their partners tackling online child sexual exploitation.

Last year, the National Crime Agency led Operation NOTARISE to target individuals using the internet to view and share vile images of children being sexually abused.

Thanks to the efforts of the NCA and local police forces, and with the support of third sector partners, more than 700 people have been arrested and, most importantly, more than 500 children have been safeguarded.

We have committed an additional £10 million this year for the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) to create extra teams to track down offenders and protect children.

The NCA has also begun a joint initiative with GCHQ in which specialist teams use cutting-edge techniques to detect offenders.

And as announced by the Prime Minister last year, the Home Office has set up the Child Abuse Image Database, which all UK police forces will be connected to by the end of this year.

This database provides law enforcement agencies with effective tools to search seized devices for images of child abuse, reducing the time taken to identify such images and increasing the ability to identify and protect victims.

The global nature of the internet means we cannot solve the problems of online child sexual exploitation alone – we need to work with partners around the globe.

This is why the Prime Minister hosted the WePROTECT Summit in December last year.

This event, supported by the NSPCC and others, resulted in an unprecedented level of international cooperation culminating in commitments made by those present:

  • to remove illegal images of children from the internet
  • to identify and protect victims
  • to strengthen co-operation between law enforcement agencies to track down perpetrators
  • to build global capacity to tackle online child sexual exploitation

I want to thank everybody involved including the NSPCC for their work in this area.

One of the commitments the government made was to provide £50 million over the next five years to the Global Partnership and Fund, which will be managed by UNICEF, to Prevent Violence Against Children.

It is right that industry partners have stepped up their efforts too.

Google and Microsoft now prevent certain search terms returning links to child abuse material.

We are also working with internet companies to develop technology solutions which will make the internet a safer place for children, and a more hostile environment for those who want to use it to exploit children.

The government will move swiftly to deliver the important work I have outlined, to protect children online and in our communities, and to support the victims of abuse. But we do need to look back at how we got here, and where things went wrong.

As highlighted by the work of Professor Alexis Jay, Louise Casey, Ann Coffey MP and others, far too many young people have been failed.

By police officers who saw vulnerable teenagers as ‘difficult’ and ‘problematic’, instead of seeing them as the victims of serious crimes.

By social workers who lacked the professional curiosity to explore the underlying reasons for challenging behaviour, or who knew that abuse was being ignored and did not, for whatever reason, speak out.

By health workers who felt unable to share vital information with other agencies about children who were being harmed.

By senior officials and councillors, who convinced themselves, and the people around them, that they didn’t have a problem.

We must make sure these failures are not repeated.

That is why the government is launching a public consultation this year on how we strengthen the measures in place to protect children from all forms of abuse and neglect.

Introducing the mandatory reporting of child abuse is one possible option to address this, but it is an issue on which debate is frequently divided. That is why the consultation will also cover wider sanctions for professionals who fail to take action on child abuse where it is a professional responsibility to do so, including a possible extension to the existing crime of wilful neglect.

We need to ensure that any new measures do not lead to unintended consequences, such as diverting the child protection system from the most serious cases or creating a culture that favours reporting over acting.

I look forward to all of your views on these issues to ensure we make an informed and appropriate decision.

You know as well as I do that this is a complex and emotive issue with no clear cut answer.

I can assure you that these considerations will be carefully explored. Your views are crucial and I urge you to make your voices heard.

I know that the thought of raising concerns you may have about the way your organisation is handling child abuse cases can be extremely daunting.

That is why we are also, later this year, launching a whistleblowing hotline for professionals.

Employees are often worried about the potential repercussions if they report concerns and ‘blow the whistle’. Or they can simply be unsure what to do next and who to contact.

The new hotline will simplify existing procedures and offer support to whistleblowers at every stage in this process.

These measures will help to make sure the failures of the past never happen again.

But I think we should look not only at what has gone wrong, but at the opportunities we now have to do better:

  • to create a better culture in all of our professions, one with a deep understanding of vulnerability and the signs of abuse that is reflected in excellent frontline practice
  • to work together across professional, organisational and cultural boundaries to protect children and stop those who abuse
  • to understand and to tackle vulnerability, so that abuse is prevented wherever possible, before the damage is done

Put it simply: in order to have a crime, we need to have a perpetrator who comes together with a victim and has an opportunity to cause harm. It is our job to make sure this doesn’t happen.

We’ve all seen what doesn’t work.

This government will do more to equip professionals with the evidence of what does work.

We are determined to find what works and make sure that it is promoted and supported, based on the best evidence, wherever it exists, whether in the UK or in other countries.

That is why we are establishing a new national Centre of Expertise, to make sure we all understand what works to prevent sexual abuse in all its forms, of how best to help people who have suffered from this horrendous crime, and of how to work with the perpetrators to prevent them from reoffending in the future.

There are many examples out there we want to see.

We want to see agencies link up beyond their own local authority, across regions, to tackle problems that cross administrative boundaries and I saw this in practice last week when I visited the West Midlands to look at regional collaboration there. There is similar regional work going on across Merseyside, Manchester and London.

We want to see multi-disciplinary police investigations, like Operation Brooke in Bristol. This provided dedicated support through Barnardo’s to help victims to give evidence, and developed strong community links, resulting in the conviction of 13 men.

We want to work with the victims and survivors of abuse, like in Manchester, where they are directly involved in delivering training to frontline staff.

These are just a few examples, and I have no doubt that there are many, many more.

All I ask of you is that you work together to make sure these sorts of practices are seen not as exceptional, but as the norm.

The government is ready to support you in this.

I began by quoting a victim of abuse and we must always remember their words in all that we do. Keeping children safe is everyone’s job.

Abuse of children is never somebody else’s problem; it’s our problem.

Here in the UK nobody should ever think they can get away with abusing a child.

So, let’s celebrate and reward the police officer, youth worker, social worker, psychologist, teacher, or clinician, who builds trust, who asks questions, and acts on their suspicions.

Let’s build a shared understanding of the approaches that work and the approaches that don’t.

I don’t believe that government can solve everything and more importantly - I don’t believe that it should.

As I have said, the solutions are out there.

So please, let’s work together to find them. That way we can make our children safer.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.

Published 17 June 2015