An independent inquiry covering the period of 1997 through 2013 has uncovered a heart-breaking story of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, a mainly rural borough situated in South Yorkshire, UK. About 1,400 children were abused, trafficked, or gang raped, by conservative estimate in the inquiry report written by Professor Alexis Jay and issued Tuesday. "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," Jay wrote. The issue here? The majority of known perpetrators were of Pakistani heritage.
Rotherham has a total population of 258,400. Following a two-decade period of decline beginning in the 1980s, the local economy has grown steadily and benefits from investments in technology and light engineering. Nevertheless, unemployment is well above the UK average. Census data from 2011 indicated nearly 8,000 people or 3.1 percent of the total population are of Pakistani or Kashmiri descent, an increase from 2.0 percent in the previous census.
The earliest report of sexual exploitation of children occurred in the early 1990s. Over one-third of the sexually exploited children were already known to social services, as they suffered from neglect or a need for protective services. The exploited children “were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated,” Jay wrote. Children were threatened with guns, doused with gasoline and threatened with fire, and forced to witness brutally violent rapes. Girls as young as 11 were gang-raped. The BBC reported victims included a small number of boys as well as girls.
How could this horror occur? Why did it continue for so long? Systemic failure, according to Jay who unhesitatingly placed the blame on the blatant and collective failures of political and officer leadership. According to the BBC, Jay said there was evidence that senior administrators and police wanted to "play down" the "ethnic dimensions" of the child exploitation for fear of being regarded as racist. Reports were ignored, child exploitation was “given no priority,” and victims were regarded with contempt, according to Jay.
The scale and seriousness of the growing problem, identified by staff members working in residential care and youth workers who knew the children, was “underplayed by senior managers,” she wrote. Worst of all, “this abuse is not confined to the past but continues to this day,” noted Jay, with the May 2014 caseload of the child sexual exploitation team numbering 51 and more cases sprchildead among other social care teams.
As news of child abuse in the wake of systemic failure spreads, anger abounds in England as evidenced by the following comments and tweets: