Sammy’s getting closer to goal of justice for abuse victims

Sammy Woodhouse
Sammy Woodhouse
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A single mother from Rotherham, she became the face of Yorkshire’s battle against child sexual exploitation.

Abused from the age of 14 by a man she believed to be her boyfriend. Embroiled in a criminal underworld she knew little about. And then escaping to ensure he was jailed.

Sammy Woodhouse waived her right to anonymity earlier this year to launch a campaign calling for grooming victims to be pardoned of their crimes.

This week, having met with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, the now 32-year-old is getting ever close to her goal.

“I want something in place to say children can’t be charged for acts committed whilst being groomed, and also, for the people that have already been charged, to have their record cleared,” she said. “Chief constables, crime commissioners, charities - people all over the country are supporting this.

“I now need to get someone in Government to pass it. I want a meeting with Amber Rudd, and for it to be with the Law Commission by Christmas. That can be my Christmas present.

“It will be put in place, I will make sure of it.”

As a teenager, Ms Woodhouse had racked up a criminal record which she carries with her to this day, despite having committing these crimes while under the coercion of her abuser.

She was 14 when she met Arshid Hussain, 10 years her senior, leader of a notorious South Yorkshire grooming gang.

Her offences, all committed in 2001 when she was 15, included common assault, possessing an offensive weapon and actual bodily harm.

When she spoke to police to expose her abuser, police threatened her with prison.

“We were children,” she said. “On top of that, we were being abused, in every way, shape or form, and yet we’re expected to be responsible for that. It’s ridiculous.

“A child should never be charged. To me, that’s just common sense. A victim should never be charged for what they did while they were being abused.

“It’s just another form of victim blaming. It encourages perpetrators to keep going, because the victim is the one blamed. It’s important that we are always on the victim’s side.”

Having spoken at a CSE conference hosted by Makin Dixon Solicitors in Bradford this week, she said then this ‘victim blaming’ was still a recurrent theme.

“As victims we are constantly blamed,” she said. “Things are changing, but there is a lot of work to do.

“It’s everybody’s responsibility to protect children. How can we stop CSE? In my opinion we never can, it’s about reducing it, tackling it, and trying to do everything we can.

“The victim blaming has to stop. Let’s remember here who is to blame. The people that need to apologise are the people that committed this.”

Last night she stressed the campaign shouldn’t be about a blanket pardon - that it should be dependent on the circumstances of each individual case. But it should be an option which is available, she said.

“At the moment it’s a lengthy and time consuming process to clear people’s names, we just need to deal with this in an easy way,” she said. “It’s not to clear everybody’s record. Some people don’t get out of crime - it becomes their way of life.

“If I’m going around committing crime, I can’t expect a free pass for life. Yes, it stems from abuse, but we have to draw a line somewhere, we can’t keep excusing things.”

But holding children to account for acts they committed while they were being exploited stands in the way of justice, she adds.

“It stops people from coming forward - they are scared they are going to go to prison,” she said.

“If you want to go for a job, you have to give them all of it. We can’t have people constantly reliving this and going over it, just to get back into work.”

Ms Woodhouse, who had a child with Hussain at the age of 15, had started to fight back in 2013 after contacting Times reporter Andrew Norfolk, a former journalist for The Yorkshire Post who was investigating child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

She was among 15 victims who gave evidence against Hussain and four others, including his younger brothers Basharat Hussain and Bannaras Hussain, during a trial after which the gang members were jailed for a total of 102 years.

Ringleader Arshid Hussain, of East Cowick, Goole, was jailed for 35 years for grooming, raping and abusing teenage girls in Rotherham. Basharat and Bannaras were handed sentences of 25 years and 19 years respectively.

Ms Woodhouse met with the Home Office and the MoJ on Wednesday, joined by a representative from Rape Crisis, a meeting she describes as the start of a “working relationship”.

In coming days, she is to hear if she has secured a meeting with Amber Rudd, which she has fought for since March.

“This is the last hurdle now,” she said. “It would be nice to go into the New Year with a clean slate and a better start.

“It will send out a message to all survivors out there that they are being listened to. I want Sammy’s Law done for Christmas.”