Sammy Woodhouse was key to exposing a child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham—and the failures of the police and other authorities to act on abuse. Her campaigning and speaking out lies behind independent reports into the scandal, police investigations and ultimately convictions of abusers.
Sammy previously used the pseudonym Jessica and has spoken to Socialist Worker since February 2015. Because of this, we have been able to reveal the extent of police corruption in the case.
Now she’s written a book, Just a Child, about her experiences. Sammy suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of Arshid Hussain when she was just 14 years old. The book makes clear that police in the south Yorkshire town were aware of the abuse—but did nothing.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” Sammy told Socialist Worker. “It’s hard to find the words for it really. They had all this evidence. So many people could have been saved. If they had acted when they first knew about it, I would never have met him.”
One report in 2001 showed that the scale of the evidence that existed against Hussain, who Sammy knew as Ash. “They knew Ash had a criminal record with convictions for various violent crimes, including wounding, stabbings, assault, affray, robbery, arson, burglary, kidnapping and false imprisonment,” wrote Sammy.
Her GP in February 2000 “informed Social Services that I was 14 and the father of my child was a 24-year-old called ‘Mad Ash’ who was ‘apparently on a probation order’.”
But instead of intervening to protect a vulnerable child from a violent adult, social services files recorded that Sammy was “happy with the relationship”.
She added that the authorities had a list of places where Hussain had been seen dealing drugs or “handing over exploited children”.
She experienced this herself in March 2000, when she had been missing and was with Hussain. Police did a deal with Hussain, promising that he wouldn’t face charges if he handed her over at an agreed place. At the police station, one officer told her she should be “ashamed” of herself.
“Ash pretty much ran Rotherham,” explained Sammy. “He had a lot of professionals in his back pocket. Professionals were passing information on and even raping some of the children.”
The book makes clear how often police were in contact with Hussain and often saw him with underage girls. “He must have got pulled over by the police about three times a week and nothing ever seemed to happen to him,” wrote Sammy.
“It was like he was invisible to certain officers.
“There were loads of occasions when I was seen by police officers in Ash’s car but nobody stopped us, or the officers would chat to Ash and leave us alone. I understood that he had friends in the police, and that some of them must have been looking out for us.”
Police once found her in bed with Hussain when she was 15—and arrested her for possession of an offensive weapon.
“If this was the only charge they were throwing at us after he had been caught having sex with me, a 15 year old girl who was reported missing, it was a great result for him,” she wrote.
One cop at the police station referred to her as “Ash’s girl”.
“I remembered where I’d seen him,” wrote Sammy. “A police car had pulled up with two officers in, and Ash gave a little silver package to one of them. It was this man. Ash told me the package contained steroids, and I can remember him laughing and saying, ‘They’re right dodgy bastards’.
“Thank God Ash has friends in the police, I thought.”
Sammy said that police inaction was also to do with attitudes. “Some viewed us as little slags,” she said. “We were making these lifestyle choices, we were lovesick teenagers who just kept going back.”
But she rejects these excuses for authorities’ failures to keep children safe.
“A lot of people have said they didn’t understand grooming back then,” she said. “But you don’t have to understand grooming to know that a child having sex with a 24 year old man is being abused.”
The other excuse regularly given by cops for their inaction was that Sammy refused to make a complaint. But Sammy was among hundreds of children who had been groomed to believe they were in a relationship.
And when she did eventually complain, the cops wouldn’t listen.
“From the ages of 14 to 16 their excuse was, ‘Sam won’t make a statement’,” she said. “But when I was 16 I did make a statement and I was ignored.”
An officer called PC Dawson came to her house after she complained that she had been attacked by Hussain while out with her baby son. She wrote, “He said, ‘What do you expect? He’s got every right. You’ve stopped him from seeing his son.’”
Sammy later reported Hussain’s threats to have her killed. “They said the dispute was a ‘domestic’ and that I should ignore it,” she wrote.
“I felt abandoned and betrayed by everyone in authority. The police were leaving me at Ash’s mercy yet again.”
When the abuse scandal became national news, and Sammy realised she had been a victim, she again contacted police. She was told that police were “understaffed”, that they didn’t know what Hussain could be charged with and that they had lost evidence relating to her case.
When she asked if officers who had been involved at the time would give statements she was told that some would not. DC Robinson said cops “knew full well they’re going to get in the shit” because they didn’t act at the time.
Sammy wrote, “I decided there and then that relying on the police to help me was the last thing I was going to do.”
It was only after she went to the media that police were forced to take the allegations seriously. And in February 2016 Hussain was sentenced to 35 years in jail for abusing Sammy and other children.
Sammy hopes her battle can give hope to other people who have suffered abuse and injustice. “I’ve had so many messages from people saying they’re coming forward,” she said. “The book has already done more than I wanted it to do.
“If I can achieve everything I’ve achieved, so can anyone. I don’t have special powers, I’m just a person like everybody else. People should believe in themselves and keep talking. Just don’t give up—keep fighting.”