The numbers are shocking: at least 1,400 children sexually abused over a 16-year period in an English town of less than 300,000 people. Children “raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked … abducted, beaten and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight.”
The accusations, laid out in an independent report commissioned by the Rotherham Borough Council and released Tuesday, drew shock across Britain and beyond and led to the immediate resignation of the council’s leader, Roger Stone. On Wednesday, pressure was mounting for the police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire to step down.
The report charts a history of widespread child sex abuse in Rotherham since 1997. Some incidents took place as recently as last year. Most of the victims are female, but the report’s authors note that exploitation of young males remains underreported.
Many of the cases involve the so-called grooming, or manipulation of children, over several years, often with the aid of drugs and alcohol. One anonymous child rape victim in Rotherham, known simply as Emma, told a BBC radio program Wednesday of having developed a relationship with her abusers over several years.
“After being groomed for quite a while, I started going into Rotherham town center, and I was hanging around with grown men,” she explained. “They started introducing alcohol and soft drugs to me. And then, when I was 13, I was sexually exploited by them.”
Emma said she was raped weekly and that the abuse continued until she was 15. Her family, it's reported, moved her away from the area after authorities ignored her allegations. The report asserts the police “regarded many child victims with contempt.”
A South Yorkshire police press officer said the department will be investigating the report’s findings and working with its authors. The local borough council and South Yorkshire police face criticism for failing to spot the problem and act sooner.
Shaun Wright, the current police and crime commissioner, was in charge of children and young people’s services in Rotherham from 2005 to 2010, a period in which the abuse took place. Today, his Labor Party called for his resignation. So far he’s refused.
The report states that victims, most said to be white Britons, identified the perpetrators as being of Asian or Pakistani descent, and it notes a reluctance among children’s social care workers to draw conclusions about abuse within Rotherham’s Asian and Pakistani communities.
“Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so,” the report says.
In 2012, former Justice Minister Jack Straw controversially warned of an “ethnic dimension” to the problem of grooming and child sex abuse in Britain in which “Asian men” were targeting “white girls.”
“We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number Pakistani heritage men thinking it’s OK to target white girls in this way,” Straw told the BBC at the time.
The report in Rotherham comes amid a slew of child sex abuse investigations in Britain over the last two years. They began with the revelation in 2012 that Jimmy Savile, a once-revered British celebrity who had hosted several, long-running music and children’s television programs, was suspected of having sexually abused children and adults on a large scale over numerous decades. Savile died in 2011.
British musician Cliff Richard was questioned this month by South Yorkshire police on sexual assault allegations that date to 1985.
The Los Angeles Times contacted several organizations that work with youth groups in the Rotherham area. None returned calls for comment.
Werth is a special correspondent.