Abdi Mohamed – The Operation Brooke serious case review, which was published on Thursday, highlighted how the police, social workers and the NHS let down the teenage victims of abuse. But it said little about the lack of prevention mechanism to detect young perpetrators and disrupt abuse.
The review found that, although all those convicted were Somalis, “there was no evidence that their ethnic origin was a key feature”. The report also stated that the perpetrators were a “diverse group who had no obvious connections”. This is contrary to widely circulated media reports which claimed that they had operated as a gang.
The “Somali sex abuse gang” headlines had sent shock waves through the Somali communities in Bristol and in the UK – and elsewhere. Somali speaking media had shown interest and the BBC Somali service had a reporter present at Bristol crown court; VOA Somali had broadcast telephone interviews of Bristol Somali leaders; the London-based Universal Somali TV had ran a live programme one week after the sentencing of the 13 young men, which had brought together professionals, community leaders and parents; Somali news websites and blogs had extensively published posts about the story; and many others had taken to social media cursing Bristol Somalis and accusing them of inappropriate sexual behaviours.
The main reason was that, in addition to the nature of these abhorrent crimes, it was the first sexual exploitation case that involved Somali young men.
The case, however, has left mental scars on many in our local communities – including the victims and their parents, and the parents of the convicted young men.
A number of people that I spoke to during and after the trial expressed their horror and were trying to understand, in a Somali Muslim community prospective, what happened and how it could have been prevented. These questions are still outstanding and are among the shortcomings of the Brooke case review.
The review should have fully explored the life experiences of these young men – most of them were either born in the UK or Europe or came as a refugee child with their parents – and the challenges they have faced.
Somali children and young people in Bristol face many challenges, which the local authority and service providers have failed to address. These include lack of understanding about their social and emotional needs, and a follow-up acknowledged response of any issue that the community raises.
More than 90 per cent of the Somali children in Bristol attend inner-city schools, which are marred by underachievement and lack of parental engagement. How can schools that cannot even provide expected educational standards be expected to empower children and young people develop social and emotional skills?
The failure to empower children and young people to develop social and emotional skills is a main factor in youth crime – as I understand from the report.
The review interviewed two of the convicts: one coming from a “well-educated background” while the other had “experienced more hardship”, yet they have been convicted for the same crime.
This is because they have not been given opportunities to develop social and emotional skills; it is not an isolated incident but it is a barrier that has hampered children and young people in inner-city schools develop full personal potential.
Another pressing issue is the need to give a voice to young people of Somali ethnic heritage, the single largest BME in the city, yet the least engaged – there is no single Somali youth worker employed Bristol City Council.
It was unforgivable how the majority of the Somali youth in Bristol was left voiceless when the media published the details of the Brooke case.
A conversation that I had with a member of the Somali youth at the time made me speechless as he explained how “tough” it is living in Bristol as a young Black Muslim; not because of the negative media stories, but because of the lack of representation – even local councillors went completely silent and none of them had spoken about the case and how it had impacted the community. It seems that they had been gagged, however.
Another important issue that the review failed to highlight was the lack of service provision for defendants cleared of abuse, who are aged under (or are) 18. Currently, they are a gift to criminals and extremists.
In addition to the responses to Brooke serious case review by the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board, safeguarding of children from harm will depend on how the local authority and partner agencies rise to the challenges presented by working with a diverse population; children and young people and their communities must be part of the solution – practically though.
This will help them take advantage of the wealth of resources within communities and focus more on young perpetrators and put in place preventive measures.
The article was first published on Bristol24/7