Public officials who fail to act on suspicions of child abuse could face five-year prison sentences under new measures unveiled today.
Prime minister, David Cameron, said council chiefs, social workers and teachers who fail to protect children could face criminal action to help ‘eradicate the culture of denial’.
He warned that those who turn a blind eye to child sexual abuse out of a ‘warped sense of political correctness’ would face criminal prosecution in the wake of the Rotherham grooming scandal.
Police forces would be ordered to treat child sexual abuse as a ‘national threat’ equivalent to terrorism and organised crime.
The announcement came ahead of an independent inquiry which is expected to find that 300 children were sexually exploited by gangs in Oxfordshire over 15 years.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said social workers, teachers and local and national politicians should be held to account if they fail to protect vulnerable children but warned that ‘we need a million eyes and ears to look out for our young people’.
Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: ‘We need a culture change in the way the grooming and abuse of young people is recognised by both professionals and members of the public, to give anyone who comes into contact with it the confidence to report their concerns.
‘Families and communities need to feel reassured their children are not at risk. We need to feel certain everyone in society recognises that teenagers cannot consent to their abuse and are victims of sexual crime.
‘We need a million eyes and ears to look out for our young people to do this, everyone must be aware of the complexities of child abuse.’