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UK proposals make officials accountable in sex abuse cases

March 3, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Some 370 girls may have suffered sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire in the last 16 years, according to a damning indictment of failings by police and social workers published Tuesday.

The serious case review was a haunting echo to an investigation last year in Rotherham in northwest England, which produced a larger catalog of abuse and failures by authorities to act on information that might have prevented further abuse. Though the serious case review found no willful professional misconduct by organizations, it cited a “worrying lack of curiosity and follow through.”

The release of the report came as Prime Minister David Cameron warned of sexual abuse on an “industrial scale” in Britain and accused people and organizations of “walking on by” when faced with abuse.

Cameron deemed sexual exploitation a “national threat,” on par with organized crime, and said he was considering measures to make public officials accountable if they fail protect children from sexual exploitation. The proposed measures were outlined at a meeting called by Cameron that brought police, healthcare experts and ministers together with victims.

An estimated 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham, a northern England town. A report last year that cited “collective failures” by authorities between 1997 and 2013 shocked the country and led to calls for action.

Alan Bedford, author of the Oxfordshire report, said the review panel was “conscious that these numbers may seem low given the higher figures in Rotherham, but the work was carefully done and was debated and agreed by panel members.”

Nine men were charged in Oxfordshire and seven were convicted, with five drawing life sentences. Further investigations and trials continue.

“What happened to the child victims of the sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire was indescribably awful,” the review said. “The child victims and their families feel very let down. Their accounts of how they perceived professional work are disturbing and chastening.”

Though the defendants were predominantly of Pakistani origin and the victims were white, the report said no evidence was seen of “any agency not acting when they should have done because of racial sensitivities.”

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