The children’s charity Barnardo’s has been accused of blaming a victim of child sexual exploitation for her own sexual abuse by a gang of men who had groomed her.
A letter written by a Barnado’s project worker in 1993 says that abuse of a 16-year-old girl in accommodation owned by the charity could have been avoided if she had not placed herself in danger.
The letter states that the girl was sexually assaulted but: “The situation could have been avoided if [she] had not been party to the antics of a group of young men.”
It goes on: “Having consumed a quantity of alcohol and three valium tablets [she] was not able to maintain control or respond to the situation in a constructive and cohesive way.”
Last month chief executive of Barnardo’s Javed Khan condemned institutions that had blamed children for their own abuse and called for them to be investigated by the Government’s independent inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation.
The victim, now 37, says the sexual assault that triggered the letter happened in her Leeds flat after British Pakistani men befriended her and let her run up debts before giving her drink and drugs.
“I woke up and I didn’t have any clothes on and there were half naked men around,” she said.
“I knew I’d been assaulted. I didn’t know to what extent, I didn’t know if I’d been raped or what, really.”
She says she spent years feeling ashamed after being told at the time that the attack, which occurred shortly after she had left a children’s home, was her fault.
“Looking back, how I feel now is absolute disgust with predominantly Barnardo’s for knowing this happened, for blaming me for it happening and doing nothing about it,” she said.
She remained in the flat for a further six months and says her abuse by the men escalated over that time and included rape.
Greg Mulholland, the woman’s MP, is demanding an investigation by Barnardo’s and Leeds City Council for what he calls “shocking and utterly disgraceful” behaviour.
“To actually blame her for the most appalling abuse and grooming and indeed blackmail that she suffered is really appalling,” he said.
“This woman who was then a 16-year-old girl, shortly out of care, very vulnerable, was seriously, seriously let down by the two organisations who were there to protect her.”
In a statement Barnado’s told us it was shocked at the contents of the letter.
The statement said: “This woman has been very brave in bringing this issue to light. It must have been a very difficult and distressing step to have taken after so many years.
“Barnardo’s takes this very seriously and we will fully investigate.”
Nigel Richardson, director of children’s services at Leeds City Council, said: “We are very sorry to hear about what this young woman was subjected to.”
He said the council was very keen to investigate the case, and added: “We are confident that an incident like this would be managed very differently today.”
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