The former social worker whose bombshell report exposed the scale of child sex abuse in Rotherham says she hopes her work has led to a national change in attitude towards the victims of grooming.
Speaking a year to the day since her report revealed that 1,400 young victims had been abused in the South Yorkshire borough over 16 years as local authorities ignored the issue, Professor Alexis Jay said her shocking revelations “did seem to change public awareness” about the issue.
She told The Yorkshire Post: “I recognise that there are many people who have been working hard on these issues for years trying to get recognition for the hugely damaging nature of these crimes.
“My report did seem to change public awareness and I hope it contributed to public and professional understanding of child sexual exploitation (CSE).
“I hope it will have contributed to changing the attitude of people about these young girls and young people who have been subjected to these crimes.
“At national level there has been more money available for victims and services, which can only be a good thing. I won’t claim responsibility for that but I think my report has contributed to that as well.”
Professor Jay shocked the UK with her report, published on August 26 last year. It was already well-known that girls in Rotherham had been subjected to sexual exploitation by gangs of largely Asian men.
The outrage provoked by the Jay Report stemmed from the sheer scale of offending that it outlined and the horrific details included of what had been going on in the town between 1997 and 2013.
Professor Jay said at the time she had found “utterly appalling” 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”.
She said: “They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.”
In March, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that child sexual exploitation was to be made a national priority on a par with organised crime.
An investigation has also been launched into historic grooming in Rotherham by the National Crime Agency, whose Operation Stovewood probe is expected to cost millions of pounds.
Professor Jay said she welcomed the Government’s commitment, adding: “We saw for years in Rotherham in the past that CSE was not considered a priority compared to burglary and car crime.
“Not that these are not serious crimes that cause people distress, but CSE was simply not considered as being important in the early 2000s.”
Professor Jay, a former president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, has now joined the panel of what has been described as Britain’s most complicated and wide-reaching statutory inquiry ever.
The independent inquiry into child sex abuse is expected to take five years investigating claims of abuse in faith and religious organisations, the criminal justice system, local authorities and national institutions such as the BBC, NHS and Ministry of Defence.
She said the scope of the probe was “extremely substantial”, but added: “Clearly not every single experience or information about it is going to be looked at in detail, that would be entirely unrealistic.
“There will be the Truth Project, where victims and survivors can simply come forward and tell a member of the panel what happened to them, completely confidentially.
“It would unrealistic to say we will look at every single instance of abuse but I do hope we will be able to offer something for a wide range of victims and survivors about what happened to them in the past.”
In the last year she says she has been regularly contacted by victims wanting to tell her their stories, at times at a rate of one or two a week.
She said the scale of offending uncovered in Rotherham was “startling”, but that she never considered the town to be unique and said it should not be assumed grooming was not taking place on a similar scale elsewhere.
She said: “If you take the number, the sheer scale of it is startling. It is around 85 a year in Rotherham. The important aspect of that is that young people in Rotherham were groomed at 12 or 13 and by the time they were 15 they were discarded. Therefore the number of young people being groomed and exploited is constantly regenerating, there are fresh numbers every year.
“It is very possible that if anyone was looking at other places in this way you would find comparable figures. That is speculation. We simply don’t know. It certainly wouldn’t be my view that there should be an assumption that it didn’t happen on that scale.”