The author of the bombshell report into child sex abuse in Rotherham said victims could have been spared if local agencies had focused on children’s welfare instead of “their agendas and prejudices”.
Professor Alexis Jay, a former senior social worker, yesterday set out the shocking scale of the child sexual exploitation (CSE) that took place over 16 years in the town, which saw at least 1,400 victims abused, the majority by groups of Asian men.
She said she found examples of “children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone”.
Professor Jay said: “They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.”
She said she found that girls as young as 11 had been raped by large numbers of men.
The report said failures of the leadership of Rotherham Council over the first 12 years she looked at were “blatant” as the seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers and was not seen as a priority by South Yorkshire Police.
According to the report, evidence of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham emerged in the mid-to-late 1990s and a council youth service called Risky Business made the evidence known to the police and social services.
But it added: “In most cases, especially in the early days, the evidence was disbelieved, suppressed or ignored. In the early/mid-2000s, sexual exploitation seemed to have little priority in either service. Child victims were often blamed for what had happened to them, while no action was taken on the perpetrators.
“It did not seem to occur to many of those involved that any kind of sexual activity with a child was a crime, meriting investigation and prosecution.”
The report said: “By far the majority of perpetrators were described as ‘Asian’ by victims.”
But, Professor Jay said, councillors seemed to think is was a one-off problem which they hoped would go away and “several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist”.
The report also criticised the council for “insufficient” attempts to engage with the Pakistani-heritage community, and a “macho”, “sexist” and “bullying” culture which stopped the authority from providing an effective response.
Professor Jay concluded: “If all of the authorities involved, officers and members, had been less concerned with their own agendas and prejudices and kept their focus on children’s welfare, some of these children might not have suffered the abuse and brutality we read and heard about.”
Chief Superintendent Jason Harwin, South Yorkshire Police’s District Commander for Rotherham, offered an “unreserved apology” to victims and said the force “fully acknowledge our previous failings”.
He added: “We have completely overhauled the way in which we deal with CSE and that’s been recognised in the report.”