‘If political outrage were currency, Rotherham would be overflowing with cash, action and initiatives to help the survivors.’
If political outrage were currency, Rotherham would be overflowing with cash, action and initiatives to help the survivors. But as I found when I went to make a BBC film about the role of “political correctness” in the child sex-abuse scandal there, it’s not.
As I write, the police have yet to arrest any of the alleged abusers of the women I met. All have reported them. There is no organised support for any of the survivors or their families. The Rotherham Women’s Counselling Service, which offers specialised support to sexual abuse survivors, has a six-month waiting list.
There is no organised campaign for compensation. It is pure chance whether these young women have a decent lawyer to fight their case or not. Many don’t. Some are being threatened anew by their former abusers for speaking out. They compare stories on the phone about who received protection measures from the police after seeking help – and who has been denied them.
Many are still struggling with the council. Holly Archer is 17 now. She was abused from the age of 13 by five men, after the council placed her in foster care – the abusers were all white, incidentally – and the council never tried to stop it. She is trying to get her baby back from the council, which wants to have him adopted. Her mother, Joanne Turner, only found out that Holly’s foster carer had given her the morning-after pill during our interview. Joanne is full of the strength, protective anger and regret of a mother betrayed; she had only sought council help to stop her daughter going off the rails. She struggled to challenge the council when she realised that no one was stopping these men taking her daughter off for sex. “It’s not a topic they choose to discuss,” she told me. “‘That’s Holly’s decision to make’. They’ve said that since she were 11 or 12 … They condoned it.”
Meeting women like Holly and Joanne, it feels as if they’ve come through a war. In some cases, they’re still in it. Survivors, only in their late teens or 20s now, were numbed by alcohol and drugs through it all. I felt guilty asking them to re-tell their experiences again.
A macho and bullying deal-making culture seemed evident in claims made to me and my producer, Sam Wichelow, that accused councillors and officials of mediating handovers of abducted girls from British Pakistani abusers. A lot of official energy seems to be focused on protecting the citadel of the council and South Yorkshire police. Jessica (not her real name) said police officers called her “whore”, “bitch” and “mistress”. She was 13.
And the dirtiest secret behind it all? Widespread, normalised domestic violence. It was how these young girls were controlled by their rapists – white and Asian. One British Pakistani woman told the Inside Out team it was her community’s “deep dark secret”. This is the community where many of these abusers grew up, and in some cases kept traditional wives while abusing white girls outside.
White adult survivors of sexual abuse in their own homes in the 60s and 70s are coming forward too. I met one who had reported it to police and teachers as a child, and was treated as a troublemaker, not a victim, just like the young women now.
Outrage is cheap. If national politicians really want to make an honest reckoning, they need to make connections: between the things that they say outrage them – like domestic violence and sexual abuse and the treatment of “hard-working” working-class families by officials – and the impact of cuts to legal aid and domestic violence refuges and independent support services.
I was humbled by the bravery of the women of Rotherham I met who are speaking out. But frankly, they’ve been speaking out for years and the people who run things have just not listened. What evidence do we have that anyone’s really listening now?
• Samira Ahmed’s special report on Rotherham is on BBC1 HD tonight (6 October) at 7.30pm.
• Donations can be made to the Rotherham Women’s Counselling service at www.rwcs.org.uk.