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Rotherham child abuse – blame cops and the cuts, not ‘political correctness’

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Issue 2419
Rotherham council building being demolished last year
Rotherham council building being demolished last year (Pic: chrisfp on flickr)

‘Rotherham abuse scandal is about class and poverty’

Police and council bosses let down hundreds of children who suffered abuse in Rotherham— and a culture of cuts and bullying made things worse.

Gordon Jelley worked as a training officer for social workers in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, between 2005 and 2009. 

He told Socialist Worker, “The council was under the cosh from New Labour targets after it failed an inspection.

“This produced an awful response from managers.

“Everyone tried to leave and there were big problems with a high staff turnover, vacancies and a reliance on agency staff.”

This had a big impact on workers’ ability to form trusting relationships with young people that could enable them to give support.

“Social workers had high caseloads,” said Gordon. “They can be less likely to want to take on abuse cases because they know that comes with a heap of work they don’t have time for.

“Workers were so busy that they weren’t taking on board what young people were saying—and young people were less likely to listen to them.”

Gordon Jelley

Gordon Jelley

Gordon said a “bullying management culture” added to the problems. 

“I know of one social worker who resigned on the spot because they couldn’t take it any more. That’s almost unheard of.” 

Much of the press—and many politicians—have claimed that “political correctness” stopped the authorities taking action over the abuse.

The report found no evidence of workers changing their behaviour due to considerations about the ethnicity of suspected abusers. 

Gordon said the idea of police worrying about offending Asian people was “like turning the world upside down”.

He pointed out that there are no demands on white “community leaders” to condemn abuse when Jimmy Savile or other white abusers are discussed.

And he added that it’s wrong to see abuse as a racial issue. 

“This is a class issue and a poverty issue, it’s not about race,” he said. “It’s about how the police treat young, working class people.

“If you meet police when drunk, travelling in a stolen car, or in possession of drugs they will treat you as a criminal.

“Their view is that you’re a ‘bad un’, so you will make up allegations to try and distract from that.”

For Gordon the wider context is important in understanding child abuse. 

“Rotherham is a place that the good times never returned to after the 1980s,” he said. “It’s a really, really poor place.

“There used to be lots of jobs in steel and engineering—that’s all gone now. It’s surrounded by pit villages that no longer have any pits. There’s an element of despair.”

And cuts will continue to leave young working class people vulnerable to abuse. 

“There’s massive under-resourcing of services in Rotherham,” said Gordon.

“Yet since this report came out there’s been no suggestion that treatment services or other support will be extended for victims of abuse. So the question is, what is this report for?” 

Cops saw victims as worthless 

Police contempt, class prejudice and cuts combined to allow child abuse to continue

More than a thousand children suffered horrific sexual exploitation in Rotherham while police blocked investigations into the crimes and the council denied them.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the South Yorkshire town said at least 1,400 children suffered abuse between 1997 and 2013.

It added that this estimate is “conservative”.

All the mainstream newspapers focused on race because most of the abusers were described as “Asian”. But the real problem is that the authorities treated working class women and girls as worthless.

“The collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant,” the report said.

“The police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime.”

Girls as young as 11 were repeatedly raped by large numbers of men. Children were threatened with guns, abducted and trafficked to different cities to be attacked.

Professor Alexis Jay

Professor Alexis Jay (Pic: Royal Voluntary Service)

Sometimes children didn’t recognise their treatment as abuse because they had been “groomed” by abusers posing as friends or boyfriends.

One victim, Emma, described how some boys befriended her when she was 12. Over the course of a year they began to take her to meet adult men.

“They started introducing alcohol and soft drugs to me,” she said. “I trusted them, they were my friends as I saw it, until one night my main perpetrator raped me, quite brutally as well, in front of a number of people.

“From then on I would get raped once a week, every week.”

Emma reported the abuse to police and gave them clothes she had worn during attacks. But police “lost” them—then told her the case “probably wouldn’t result in a conviction, or even get to court”.

Council leaders and police knew about the abuse for years. Teachers had reported children being picked up outside schools by cars and taxis.

Some victims and their parents had complained to police and other authorities. Social workers had raised concerns.

Jay’s report details three investigations in 2002, 2003 and 2006 into the abuse. The first “was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained” (see box).


The second and third reports linking the abuse to other crimes were “ignored”.

The mainstream media said the authorities didn’t tackle the abusers because they feared being branded racist.

Allison Pearson writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper declared, “Rotherham may be the final nail in the coffin of multiculturalism”.

She went on to use the awful abuse to justify clamping down on any Muslims who travel to Syria.

It’s true that some council workers said fear of being seen as racist stopped CSE being dealt with. It’s also true that this belief “was not supported by specific examples”. 

The report said, “Frontline staff did not report personal experience of attempts to influence their practice or decision making because of ethnic issues”.

It found “no evidence of children’s social care staff being influenced by concerns about the ethnic origins of suspected perpetrators”.

But it found plenty of evidence that police and council bosses discouraged investigations into the abuse and dismissed the victims as “troublemakers”.

Police didn’t always treat adults having sex with children as a crime. One victim, child A, revealed that she had had sex with five men.

A CID representative argued against defining the crimes as sexual abuse “because he thought that Child A had been ‘100 percent consensual in every incident’.”

Two men who admitted having sex with the child received police cautions.

A 12 year old girl was found drunk in the back of a car with a suspected abuser who had indecent images of her on his phone.  After an assessment, her case was closed.

She was later found in a derelict house with another child and a number of men. Police arrested her for being drunk and disorderly and took no action against the men.

Jay’s report said police seemed to “blame the child”.

One witness said police refused to intervene when young girls were being beaten up and abused. 


He said “the attitude of the police seemed to be that they were all ‘undesirables’ and the young women were not worthy of police protection.”

Council managers insisted that the problem was exaggerated. As one worker put it, “You were made to feel you were making a fuss about these girls”.

Time after time victims were deleted from the statistics.

In 2005 council managers removed all children who were looked after by the state or on the child protection register from a monitoring list of 90 children.

The same year, police audited 87 files and proposed that a large number of girls be removed from a council monitoring process.

“The police reason for removing several girls from monitoring was they were pregnant or had given birth,” the report said. “All looked after children were removed from the list.”

Jay’s report said, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the police, supported by children’s social care, were intent on reducing the number of names on Forum monitoring for CSE.”

A year later Ofsted could claim that “vulnerable children and young people are kept safe from abuse and exploitation”—a statement Jay’s report describes as “astonishing”.

Another report two years later said there were no children in the area on the child protection register due to issues of sexual exploitation.

Those at the top will cry crocodile tears over the abuse in Rotherham. But they are responsible for the devastation of swathes of working class areas in towns such as Rotherham.

They are responsible for destroying entire industries and leaving areas gripped by poverty, depression and addiction—all things that are linked to abuse.

And still they are making things worse.

“By 2016, Rotherham will have lost 33 percent of its spending power in real terms compared with 2010/11,” said Jay’s report. “The comparison for the whole of England is a reduction of 20 percent, and for a council like Buckinghamshire, only 4.5 percent.”

Abuse starts at home, whatever the racists say

Shaista Gohir

Shaista Gohir (Pic: Muslim Women’s Network UK)

Racists seized on Jay’s report to claim that the Asian men are the main abusers. But many victims had “troubled family backgrounds, with a history of domestic violence, parental addiction, and in some cases mental health problems.

“A significant number had a history of child neglect and/or sexual abuse when they were younger.”

Nearly 82 percent of male sex offenders in prison in England and Wales in 2007 were white, just under 10 percent were black and 5.6 percent were Asian.

A former South Yorkshire social worker told Socialist Worker, “There are two main groups of abusers involved in CSE.

“One is isolated individuals. This group makes up the majority of CSE cases and are overwhelmingly white males.

“The second is abusers in settings such as small businesses where young Asian men are likely to work. This is a much smaller group.

“The danger is that when a youngster says they’ve been exploited by a white man, they won’t be a priority.”

The focus on white girls as victims means black, Asian and male victims are ignored.

Shaista Gohir is chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, which last year carried out research into Muslim girls who suffered abuse.

She told Socialist Worker, “It’s said that Asian abusers target white girls. But we found that the offenders considered Asian girls better as they thought these victims would be less likely to report anything.

“It’s worrying that there’s been so much racism over Rotherham but it’s not surprising. It’s also why they’re not highlighting Asian victims. It doesn’t fit the narrative.”

Shaista said cuts make children less safe. “They don’t want girls to come forward,” she said. “The last thing they want is to be inundated with abuse cases when their budgets are being cut.”

Shaista’s research uncovered many of the same problems that the report into Rotherham victims exposed.

“At least a third had been sexually abused in the family home,” she said. 

“The few times girls came forward, the police didn’t believe them. As with white girls, they saw girls’ behaviour as a lifestyle choice, not abuse.”

Home Office inquiry called off – thanks to cops

 An inquiry into child sexual abuse in Rotherham in 2002, on behalf of the Home Office, was terminated after police intervention. 

The report criticised police and council officials. And its data on victims and perpetrators “was not well received by the police”. Jay’s report added, “No charges were brought against alleged perpetrators, nor was any investigation undertaken.”

The earlier inquiry’s researcher gave evidence to Jay. She described taking a young girl who had been repeatedly raped to a police station in advance of an interview.

While there the girl received a text from her abuser saying that he had her 11 year old sister and what happened next was “your choice”. The girl withdrew her complaint. 

As Jay’s report pointed out, “This incident raised questions about how the perpetrator knew where the young woman was and what she was doing.”

Following this, the researcher put various concerns in a letter to police, which was approved by her manager. “This resulted in a meeting with the District Commander and senior council officials at which she was instructed never to do such a thing again”.

The researcher was sacked for an alleged misdemeanour that she was later shown to be innocent of. Jay’s report notes of her findings, “The content which senior officers objected to has been shown with hindsight to be largely accurate.”

Cuts and a sexist culture at Rotherham council

Spending on youth services in Rotherham dropped from £2.4 million in 2010/11 to £1.85 million in 2012/13. 

One former social worker told Socialist Worker that cuts meant “ridiculous decisions were made regarding what would be followed up and what wouldn’t.

“This isn’t a problem particular to Rotherham.”

Time and time again the report refers to “overstretched” services, high levels of vacancies and reliance on agency staff.

“Preventative work with children after incidents of exploitation is being squeezed,” it said. “Even today, there is little, if any, post-abuse counselling and support for victims.”

Mark Edgell, leader of the council between 2000 and 2003, admitted its culture had been “macho” and sexist. 

A number of senior council officers gave evidence to Jay’s inquiry. One reported, “A senior member said, ‘I know what I’d like to do to you if I was ten years’ younger”.

Another said, “A senior member asked me if I wore a mask while having sex”.

Police ignore assaults, and report rapes as ‘no crimes’

It’s not just in Rotherham that the police are ignoring abuse. A new report says police across England and Wales are wrongly recording reported rapes and assaults as “no crimes”.

 And the many allegations that officers classified as “incidents” don’t even appear in the “no crimes” figures.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that 17 out of 21 forces have wrongly recorded reports of sexual offences.

Its audits took place between February and August this year.

One found that South Yorkshire officers spent “a great deal of time trying to disprove the word of the victim from the outset, rather than record the crime”.

London’s Metropolitan Police recorded just 61 percent of sexual offence incidents as crimes.

At least a fifth of rapes that were reclassified as “no crimes” were done so incorrectly in West Yorkshire, North Wales and Greater Manchester Police.

The HMIC reviewed 31 rape “no crimes” recorded by Greater Manchester Police and found only 22 to be correct. 

“Victims suffering with mental health problems, those young of age or intoxicated” were “more likely to receive a poor service,” it added.

‘These EDL thugs don’t care about the victims’

The racist English Defence League (EDL) has seized on the abuse revelations to try and whip up racism against Muslims.

It has called a protest in Rotherham on 13 September. 

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has called a counter-demonstration and another against an EDL demonstration in London on 20 September.

Weyman Bennett, joint national secretary of UAF, told Socialist Worker, “The EDL is trying to benefit from the horror of child abuse. 

“The EDL doesn’t care about the young women. It wants to racialise the issue.

“This isn’t the first time that fascists and racists have tried to divide people. 

“In the 1930s, the Nazis tried to racialise the smuggling of children by blaming Jewish people.”

Weyman said that racism and hypocrisy from the press and politicians are feeding the EDL.

“Whenever the abuse meted out by Rolf Harris is brought up, race is not raised,” he said.

“It’s a disgrace that the mainstream newspapers are using the report into abuse to attack multiculturalism.

“We should thoroughly reject these attempts to divide us.”

Trade unionists in Rotherham are organising in the wake of Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual exploitation. 

Workers plan to release a statement through the trades council supporting the victims and opposing racism. 

They will encourage people to oppose a planned English Defence League demonstration.

Phil Turner is an NUJ union member working in the town. He spoke to Socialist Worker.

He said, “We had a good response campaigning in the town centre for justice for the victims and opposing any racist backlash.”

“Racists have tried to capitalise on the report. We need to make sure there is a united response.”

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