Today’s Times reveals that South Yorkshire Police had detailed knowledge of how young girls were being groomed, pimped and sexually abused for more than a decade – yet had not acted on this information.
In the past two years the Times has broken a string of child sexual abuse stories, highlighting how networks of men, usually of south Asian origin, were exploiting underage girls for sex in South Yorkshire and the Midlands. Hundreds of children are believed to have been exploited.
Young teenagers, many from troubled backgrounds or in care, were singled out for attention by local men, who would often act as a boyfriend. Over time, using drugs, alcohol, violence and the threat of abandonment, the girls would be coerced into having sex with their friends. In some cases girls were driven all over the country to be used for sex.
Now a cache of over 200 classified documents has been passed to the paper, revealing just how much police and child protection services knew about the abuse. They also reveal shocking incidents in which potential child exploitation was ignored by officers – and in many cases the victims were treated as the criminals.
In one such case, a 13-year-old was found by police with clothing in disarray, at 3am in a house with several men. She had been fed vodka by them. None of the men were questioned; she was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
The files reveal multiple further cases where whole networks of abusers were identified by name, yet nobody was prosecuted.
The documents, which include research papers, case files, intelligence reports and correspondence between the police and social services, reveal that social services were concerned girls in care were being targeted for sexual abuse in Rotherham as long ago as 1996.
A report written a decade ago revealed there was ‘a great deal of data concerning the activities of these men’, including where girls were targeted and how they were ferried around to be used for sex. Yet, a later report noted, the feeling among the police was that if the girls would ‘help themselves’ by coming forward to give evidence against their abusers there was little the police could do.
No successful investigation into groups of sexual offenders in Rotherham was launched until 2009 – and several investigations since have failed.
An inquiry being carried out by the children’s commissioner indicates that the Rotherham findings may be the tip of the iceberg: in July, the commissioner released a preliminary report of its two-year study into sexual exploitation by gangs and groups. This revealed that such gangs are not limited to the north-west and Midlands: instead, ‘abuse is taking place across England in urban, rural and metropolitan areas’. The report and cautiously estimates that ‘several thousand children nationally’ may be showing the signs of sexual exploitation.
All in all the Times’ work – led by their chief investigative reporter – is a fine example of dogged and unflinching journalism. It’s a disturbing tale that touches on a difficult issue – the treatment of young, vulnerable white girls by ethnic minority men. In less delicate hands it could have been prurient or inflammatory. As it stands, the Times has, unlike the police or social services, done the story justice.
And there are signs that the issue is finally reaching the government’s attention: the children’s commissioner is currently carrying out a two-year study into sexual exploitation by gangs and groups –