She was one of the first to flag up the Rotherham abuse scandal. In her first interview Hilary Willmer, from the child protection group Pace, talks about why their report was suppressed.
It was the most devastating of child grooming scandals. Around 1,400 children in Rotherham sexually abused and exploited over 16 years. And the author’s conclusions were that too little or nothing at all was done to save or protect these children. Much is being said now of what will be done next.
But why was nothing done at the time? Was the problem that those in power were simply not listening?
There are claims that a 2002 report by a Home Office researcher into the abuse in Rotherham was never published.
In her first interview, Channel 4 News spoke to Hilary Willmer, from the organisation Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace), who describe themselves as “a network of affected parents who campaign for recognition of their role in protecting their child from this kind of sexual abuse”.
Pace was working with families in Rotherham in the late 1990s and was a close colleague of the author of the suppressed Home Office report. She explained what happened to their report.
“What happened to that report in Rotherham is that there was great dislike in what was being covered up.”
“It actually was drawing attention to all the failings of the local council, social care, police and everyone, who were failing to deal with information that was passed to them.
“We were able to identify houses to where the young girls were taken as well as all sorts of other places.”
Willmer was also keen to express that the problem was not a one-off case restricted to just Rotherham.
“It’s a vastly wider issue,” she said. “At the same time as we were working there, we had referrals from parents all around the country.”
“There was places like Oxford, Lancashire – but everywhere, and it was completely not acknowledged.”
But she explained that when the group first started to highlight these cases they “were virtually laughed at”, and authorities told them that the “girls had chosen this lifestyle to feed their drug habit.”
“We were told this is nonsense. These girls all come from dysfunctional families or they are in care and they’ve chosen to do this, why should we bother to help them?
Although things have much improved since they first looked at these cases Willmer warns there is still a tendency to be critical of the parents, and stressed how important it is to involve and listen to them.
“They’re the ones who know their child, they’re the ones who know they weren’t like this before,” she said.
“The value of working with parents who really know their child has resulted in far more prosecutions, which is what we need.”