By Sadie Robinson
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Three Girls – A harrowing view of how system treats survivors of abuse

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Issue 2554
Ruby (Liv Hill), Holly (Molly Windsor), Amber (Ria Zmitrowicz)
Ruby (Liv Hill), Holly (Molly Windsor), Amber (Ria Zmitrowicz) (Pic: BBC/Ewen Spencer)

Socialist Worker readers should watch BBC drama Three Girls, which airs this week.

It’s based on the true story of three teenagers at the heart of a child sexual exploitation scandal in Rochdale, north west England.

At first it seems to denigrate ordinary people. Holly (Molly Windsor), is interviewed by police after smashing a kebab shop counter.

Her dad asks her to talk so the cops can “stop wasting their time on teenage idiots”.

The mother of Amber and Ruby, two other victims, also first appears as a working class stereotype—coarse, angry, hard.

But over the series these impressions are shown to be completely wrong. It is probably a comment on why it’s important to look below the surface, something the authorities failed to do.

The drama gets into the abuse very quickly. This can make it harder to understand and to get across the terror the girls would have endured.


But it’s a strength that the drama focuses more on the deep damage abuse leaves behind and how the authorities treat victims.

The second episode shows a depressed Holly relying on drink. She suffers flashbacks, has a strained relationship with her parents and finds it hard to connect with her baby.

Amber acts tough, but is clearly traumatised and fears her former abusers. Ruby, the youngest, doesn’t think she was abused.

For her, getting free food and alcohol in a dingy room above a takeaway was the “best time” of her life. It says a lot about how meaningless life feels for so many young working class people.

The abuse isn’t explained. We see Asian men abusing white girls, which reflects this particular court case.

Nazir Afzal of the Crown Prosecution Service tells Asian people at a community meeting that most sex offenders are white.

But he adds that most offenders of “on-street grooming” are “British Pakistani men acting together”—a claim that is disputed.

Asian people rightly asking why they should be held responsible for the actions of a minority get their say too. But the drama is mixed on how it treats race.

Holly first reported that she’d been raped in 2008. But lawyers decided no one would believe her in a courtroom.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) returned to the case 15 months later after coming under investigation. The bitter reaction of the women and their parents is powerful.

There’s a worry that the show will rehabilitate the cops, showing them securing the successful convictions of nine men in 2012.


In fact the drama shows that girls are still being failed. It points to the reams of evidence of abuse still not followed up by GMP.

It highlights that Sara (Maxine Peake), the sexual health worker who flagged up abuse, was made redundant soon after the court case. And Amber never had her day in court.

Instead the cops named her as a defendant, treating her as a perpetrator, so they could still refer to her evidence.

It’s a hard-hitting, bleak picture of how the system treats people who suffer abuse, despite a few high-profile convictions.

But it’s not hopeless. It shows that people who have suffered abuse are not simply victims.

It treats the survivors with dignity and hears their story—something many cops and social workers never did.

Three Girls is a three-part BBC drama. It begins on BBC1 on Tuesday 16 May, 9pm and available to watch online at

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