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Authorities failed Rotherham abuse victims, report finds

29 August 2014


"Politically inconvenient truth": Professor Jay at a press conference at the New York Stadium, Rotherham, following the publication of her report, on Tuesday 

"Politically inconvenient truth": Professor Jay at a press conference at the New York Stadium, Rotherham, following the publication of he...

AT LEAST 1400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, a new independent report states.

Published on Tuesday, the report, Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997-2013), sets out "blatant failures" by the police and Rotherham Council.

Girls as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were cases where children were doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, made to witness violent rapes, and threatened that they would be next if they told anyone.

Families were terrorised by perpetrators, and, in some cases, child victims went back to perpetrators "in the belief that this was the only way their parents and other children in the family would be safe". Children in care were targeted: a significant number had a history of child neglect and sexual abuse. Many victims repeatedly self-harmed, and some became suicidal.

In two cases, fathers who tracked down their daughters and tried to remove them from houses where they were being abused were themselves arrested. In other cases, the victims were arrested for breach of the peace or being drunk and disorderly, while no action was taken against the perpetrators of rape and sexual assault.

The report speaks of "blatant" failures by the police and council. Despite evidence from front-line staff, senior managers in social services "underplayed" child sexual exploitation, while the police gave it "no priority . . . regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime".

Three reports on the problem were ignored, and the first was suppressed because some senior officers did not believe the data it contained.

The author of the latest report, Professor Alexis Jay, states that, until 2009, the prevailing culture at the most senior level of the council was "bullying and 'macho'" and "not an appropriate climate in which to discuss the rape and sexual exploitation of young people".

She states that "by far the majority of perpetrators were described as 'Asian' by victims." Yet there was no direct engagement between the council and the Pakistani-heritage community. "Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist," she writes.

The deputy council leader from 2011 to 2014, Jahangir Akhtar, described the child sexual-exploitation convictions of five Pakistani-heritage men in 2010 in Rotherham as a "one-off". This was "at best naïve, and at worst ignoring a politically inconvenient truth", Professor Jay writes.

On Tuesday, Roger Stone, the leader of the council since 2003, stepped down. No other employee of the council or police has followed his lead. The chief executive of the council, Martin Kimber, apologised to the victims, and accepted the recommendations of the report, but said that services were now "not perfect, but they are fit for purpose". No one is to be disciplined.

A statement from South Yorkshire Police said that "lessons have been learned." South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, the councillor in charge of children's services from 2005 to 2010, has vowed to stay, despite many calls for him to resign.

On Tuesday, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, said that he had been "deeply moved and appalled" by the report. He called on Rotherham Council to make "full provision for the ongoing care of those who have been affected in this tragic series of events". Professor Jay has warned that there is currently "not enough long-term support for the child victims".

The founder of Rotherham Muslim Youth Group, Muhbeen Hussain, said: "We want prosecutions to be made, and we want communities to unite on this issue to make sure it is categorically stamped out. Race, religion, or political correctness should never provide a cloak of invisibility to such grotesque crimes."

Safeguarding adviser appointed. For the first time, the Church of England is appointing its own full-time national safeguarding adviser. The Church currently shares a national safeguarding adviser with the Methodist Church. Changes were needed "in the light of new demands", a statement said on Tuesday.

Question of the week: Should religion and ethnicity be considered as factors by the police and social services?

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