‘It’s those who think it will never happen to them who are most at risk ‘. The role that Grassroots Sport can play in combatting Child Sexual Exploitation.
Recently I attended a training session at Rotherham United FC, this time it wasn’t anything to do with football training, but instead helping grassroots coaches and team managers to identify potential child exploitation, and to help young people recognise that they may be a target of a groomer. The dangers of child sexual exploitation are everywhere, any youth, any age, can be groomed. Some may be groomed quicker than others, a few hours in some cases, and over a year in other cases. The whole point of grooming is identifying a person’s weakness and exploiting it. In reality, those most at risk of grooming are young people and their parents who believe it will never happen to them, the youths who have supportive parents and activity filled lives. The reason they are most at risk is exactly because they think it will never happen to them, so they are not looking out for the signs – the supposed football scout who turns up at youth football matches, speaks to parents and gains their trust, or the person who advertises exam tuition classes in the family home. Over time that person gains the trust of the family, and at the same time learns about the youth, and hence can identify their vulnerability, or waits for a vulnerability to show. All it takes is an argument with parents, a broken relationship, or some poor school results, and they then become a shoulder to cry on, a person who understands. It is at this stage the sexual exploitation can start in earnest, and before the youth or parents realise what is happening, it can often be too late. The whole point of the child sexual exploitation grassroots sports training is to help those who work regularly with youths to identify the signs, such as the football scout who is attending youth matches, but who hasn’t previously contacted the local Football Association to arrange their attendance, the child who usually turns up to swimming club on their own but who has recently been turning up with an adult who isn’t a family member or friend, a player who has started to act violently towards other players on the field, or who will no longer undress infront of their team mates in the changing rooms. All of this is placing a big responsibility on sports coaches and managers, and they shouldn’t be expected to do it alone. Parents should also be aware of the signs, not just in their own children, but listen to their sons and daughters when they are talking about the changes they are seeing in their friends. A friend whose parents are on low income, and all of a sudden the friend has a brand new iPhone which he uses at school but which his parents don’t know about. The friend who is wearing new clothes and is talking about the new ‘older’ friends she is chatting to online. The youth who suddenly has new football boots and is being dropped off at training in an unknown vehicle. While we can reflect on how sad it is that we have to be suspicious of others, it is exactly these suspicions which can help to prevent future child sexual exploitation. Just being an extra set of eyes and ears, and if we see something which doesn’t seem right, to challenge it. If the football scout is genuine, they will accept that they have to be listed with the local Football Association, if the person taking an interest in the young swimmer is a family friend they should be happy to provide their name if asked.
Today summonses were served by the Metropolitan Police Service on 5 Chelsea FC fans in relation to the Paris Metro incident a few weeks ago.
This afternoon there has been a lot of incorrect media reporting about the content of the summonses and their likely outcome, as well as further publication of the fans’ personal details and private life. We can assure concerned Chelsea fans that we are currently working to correct this incorrect and misleading reporting.
We have not seen all of the summonses but we can comment on what we have seen and what we know about this area of law. The summonses are for Section 14b Football Spectators Act football banning orders. They are not for criminal charges of racist offences. As we stated previously, the Metropolitan Police Service cannot bring charges of racist offences against fans for their alleged actions overseas, only the French police can do that. The summonses do not act as European Arrest Warrants, no fan can be extradited to France on the basis of a summons, nor can they be sent to prison in the UK.
The first hearing of these cases is 25th March 2015, it will come as no surprise that this has been set 2 days prior to the England v Lithuania match. The fact that these summonses were served on the day of the CFCvPSG match is no happy coincidence, and the cynics among us would say it was done to create another media storm, and to further cement a trial by media against these fans. With this in mind, We repeat our warnings of the past few weeks, if you are a Chelsea fan, please think carefully about your social media interaction tonight, as lazy journalism will no doubt continue, with the media publishing comments from twitter or Facebook and many of these may be taken out of context. We are a vocal supporters of freedom of the press so it is a shame that we are having to warn fans about the dangers of exercising their right to freedom of speech on social media, but sadly in relation to this incident, fair reporting has not been conducted by some of the media, and fans need to protect themselves from potential damage to reputation.
For further information, please see our previous statement linked on the right hand side of this page.
Alison Gurden, Barrister & Melanie Cooke, Solicitor