Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2427

Anger in Rotherham over council’s abuse priorities

This article is over 7 years, 2 months old
Two months after a report into horrific child sexual abuse was published, Sadie Robinson spoke to residents about the lack of support for young people
Issue 2427
Rotherham town centre is like a ghost town

Rotherham town centre is ‘like a ghost town’ (Pic: Socialist Worker)

It’s been two months since a report was published detailing horrendous sexual abuse of children in Rotherham. 

Professor Alexis Jay’s report criticised the lack of resources available to help victims and showed that police and council bosses treated young victims as worthless. 

Politicians and commentators expressed their horror and said that young people need more support. But people in Rotherham say very little has changed.

Nineteen year old Cara said living in Rotherham was “hard”. 

“I’ve been on the streets since I was 14 years old,” she told Socialist Worker. 

“Nobody wants to help. I sleep under a bridge. When I asked for help, I was told that I’ve got a roof over my head.”

Cara said the council could do “a lot more” to help vulnerable young people in Rotherham. “But all they’re worried about is money.”

Clare, in her 20s, works in Rotherham town centre. She said living in Rotherham was “crap”.

“There’s nothing to do,” she told Socialist Worker. “If you go to Sheffield there are places to go, but this is like a ghost town. 

“It’s just not a place people want to be. It’s dead.”

Clare said she wasn’t surprised by Professor Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation—and that cuts and unemployment made things worse.


“My mum was a youth worker,” she explained. “So she’s worked with vulnerable kids all her life.

“Things that used to help a bit, such as a youth cafe in town, have closed down now. 

“And young people who can’t find a job don’t get enough support. They don’t treat people right in the job centres.”

Karen Eyre, who was “born and bred” in Rotherham, said it is “like any small town”.

 “Young people have no money so they just hang around,” she said. “It’s sad really.”

The horror at how young people have been treated doesn’t seem to have led to an influx of resources and services to help make their lives better.

One 29 year old abuse victim was raped for two years from the age of 14 and tried to kill herself as a result. She says she is still on a waiting list for counselling.People in Rotherham say the council’s priorities are wrong. 

Many rail against the building of a new shopping complex, including a Tesco, on the edge of the town centre.

The council has also thrown more than £1 million in loans and grants to one businessman in the name of “regeneration” of six shops.

A youth worker from Rotherham told Socialist Worker that it was “disgusting” that so much money has been spent on policing racist English Defence League protests.

“That is money and resources that could be used to help young people or to combat child sexual exploitation,” she said. “On top of that, youth spending is being cut.”

The myth that abusers would only target white girls

Racists seized on the Rotherham scandal to claim that Asian men specifically target white girls who they see as “trash”.

But evidence from those actually working with victims shows this isn’t true. The abusers also targeted Muslim girls.

Zlakha Ahmed is from Apna Haq, a local charity that supports Asian women and children suffering domestic violence. 

She spoke at a trades council meeting on the abuse scandal last week (see below).

“We had to challenge the idea that men respect Muslim women and girls so much that they target white girls,” she said.

Zlakha described attending a council meeting to discuss how to respond to child abuse in Rotherham.

She said one white, male council director told the meeting, “In Rotherham we have a disproportionately high level of Pakistani men who abuse and they abuse white girls”.

“I put up my hand, and said, ‘OK, what makes you say that?’

“His response was that up until now, every single young girl who has been abused is white. And the abusers have always been Pakistani men.”

She said other council bosses later said the director was “out of line”.

Professor Jay’s report showed that abuse did not solely involve Asian abusers and white victims.

It said, “In a large number of the historic cases in particular, most of the victims in the cases we sampled were white British children, and the majority of the perpetrators were from minority ethnic communities”.

Its sample was 66 case files of children known to children’s social care or the police between 1997 and 2013.

Zlakha met one of the main workers with Risky Business, a youth service that worked with abused girls since 1997.

“They supported the majority of the 1,400 girls” referred to in Professor Jay’s report, she said. 

“The worker was quite clearly saying that she supported a number of Pakistani girls.”

Trade union meeting calls for justice – and an end to racism

Trade unionists and campaigners met in Rotherham on Thursday of last week to discuss the fallout from the abuse scandal.

People called for justice for the victims and an end to the racism that has followed Professor Jay’s report. Many argued that abuse isn’t a race issue but is about class and how the authorities treat working class children.

Zlakha Ahmed from the Apna Haq charity said, “Young women’s voices were ignored. Why are we still in an environment where girls are blamed for abuse?”

Unison union rep Robin described how council workers had faced abuse in the wake of the report. “I’ve had members phoning me in tears because they were being abused by the English Defence League,” he said.

“But when Unison leafleted the council claimed we were aggressive.”

Michael Lavalette from the Social Work Action Network pointed out how society fails working class children and leaves them vulnerable. “There’s a sexualisation of girls and young women,” he said.

“General attitudes towards girls treat them as objects. Children in care have a better chance of going to prison than university. And cuts to youth centres leave young people on the streets.”

Local people in the meeting discussed setting up a campaign to demand justice for the victims and organise against racism.

Council slashed cash for young people’s services

Rotherham council unveiled plans to slash funding for children and young people’s services in February—six months before the Jay report. 

Councillor Roger Stone said children’s services had been defended for “as long as realistically possible”.

He claimed, “We no longer have a choice.”

Rotherham has above average youth cuts

Cuts to council youth services in Rotherham are “particularly high and well beyond the national average” according to the Youth Association.

Rotherham’s budget was slashed by 26 percent between 2011/12 and 2012/13. 

The only place in Yorkshire with a higher cut was Sheffield with 28 percent.

No support for victims

The NSPCC charity estimates that 55,000 children who suffer sexual abuse in Britain receive no therapeutic support every year due to a lack of resources.

A report in 2011 said, “There is only one therapeutic support programme for every 25,000 children living in the UK and many areas provide no therapeutic provision for sexually abused children at all.”

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