ROTHERHAM was identified today as a centre for the widespread abuse of teenage girls by some Asian men.
Rotherham Council said it was “fully committed to tackling sexual exploitation” after The Times newspaper said it had evidence of widespread abuse of girls in the town.
The report claimed details from 200 restricted-access documents showed how police and child protection agencies in the town had had extensive knowledge of these activities for a decade, yet a string of offences had gone unprosecuted.
The spotlight fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men, described by a judge as “sexual predators”, were given lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex.
The murder of 17-year-old Laura Wilson, from Rotherham, in 2010 also raised questions about the sexual exploitation of teenagers in the town.
A judge who jailed her boyfriend Ashtiaq Asghar for the murder said he treated white girls as “sexual targets” and not like human beings.
A serious case review into Laura’s case published earlier this year said there were “numerous missed opportunities” to protect the teenage mother as social services managers said her murder could not have been prevented by agencies involved with her.
Today, The Times said the documents it obtained showed agencies were aware of extensive and co-ordinated abuse of white girls by some Asian men in Rotherham and detailed a range of offences for which no one has been prosecuted.
It said a confidential 2010 police report warned that thousands of such crimes were committed in South Yorkshire each year.
The paper said another report, for Rotherham Safeguarding Children Board, said these crimes had “cultural characteristics ... which are locally sensitive in terms of diversity” but added that “it is imperative that suggestions of a wider cultural phenomenon are avoided”.
Today, Joyce Thacker, strategic director of Children and Young People’s Services, said: “Rotherham council, working with local partner agencies and the community, is fully committed to tackling sexual exploitation - a commitment which has led to the conviction of men involved in this despicable crime as well as support for victims and potential victims and the education of hundreds of young people about the dangers of sexual exploitation.”
Ms Thacker said Rotherham has a dedicated team to work with victims, or potential victims, of sexual exploitation, which she said was one of the first in the UK.
She said the watchdog Ofsted had reviewed of child protection in Rotherham and highlighted the “good collaborative working between the council and the police to tackle sexual exploitation”.
Ms Thacker said: “In many respects Rotherham’s services are well ahead of other areas in having secured convictions and having a dedicated team which focuses on the issue of sexual exploitation, carrying out preventative work, education and assisting with criminal investigations.
“Colleagues from other areas of the country are coming to Rotherham to look at the work we do and how they can use our knowledge to help tackle their issues.”
Paul Lakin, cabinet member for Services for Children, Young People and Families in Rotherham, said: “The council has already acknowledged publicly that there have been lessons learnt from previous work, cases and investigations and that the support offered to a small number of vulnerable young people has not always reached the high standards we always look to provide.
“From that learning, improvements have been made and new services introduced and those developments will continue.”
Mr Lakin added: “Sexual predators do come from different sections of the community and are criminals who need to be brought to justice regardless of their background. We have worked closely with communities and community leaders across Rotherham in recent years to enlist their support in helping to tackle some of these issues and to educate people about sexual exploitation.”
Ash Chand, minority ethnic lead for the NSPCC, said: “We are deeply concerned by the allegations in The Times today.
“If correct, these show a systemic failure to act in the interests of young and vulnerable victims of sex crimes.
“These failures left hundreds of vulnerable young girls at risk and allowed many of their abusers to continue to act with impunity for years.
“It seems that cultural sensitivities, and a view that some of these girls were simply rebellious teenagers, created a total failure to act.
“But child sexual exploitation is part of a wider problem of child sexual abuse and many of the children who were targeted, groomed and abused will have been more vulnerable because of previous histories of sexual abuse in their family.
“The authorities should have known this and protected them from men who deliberately sought them out and took advantage. And the police should not have put fear of community tensions before the safety of these girls.
“The NSPCC backs calls by the Children’s Commissioner to make one body responsible for all the local intelligence on the victims and perpetrators of grooming to ensure that these cases are viewed as part of a bigger picture and not as isolated incidents.”