27 Sep 2012

Rochdale grooming review: one child’s story

The phrase “missed opportunities” sounds almost benign, as if nothing too awful has happened, just that things could have been done a little bit better.

It is a popular choice of words in official reports and reviews where agencies – the police or social services – concede that they have failed in some way.

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But let’s look at what “missed opportunities” meant in reality for one of the young girls involved in the Rochdale grooming case.

For Sarah it meant that being raped and horrifically sexually assaulted on a daily basis happened not just for a string of dark days but stretched out into years.

Between the ages of 12 and 18 she was passed round strangers like a “piece of meat”, ferried from town to town for sex in cars or cheap hotels, beaten and violently threatened. That was her life. That was how Sarah spent her childhood.

Now of course sexual exploitation is – excuse the cliche – a “hidden” crime. It’s not inconceivable that police or social services aren’t aware of individual instances.

But in Sarah’s case what was happening couldn’t have been made clearer if it had been written on a banner and held up outside social services… Actually, it was written on a banner and held up outside social services by Sarah’s mum, Marie, driven to such desperate measures because “no one was listening”.

Marie says she realised pretty early on that Sarah was being repeatedly abused by a whole host of different men. But as the months turned into years all her pleas for help were ignored.

She says she gave police and child-protection agencies the names and phone numbers of the men, car registration details, information about the flats and hotels where she knew they were taking Sarah.

“We were ignored.”

Unable to keep Sarah safe at home she agreed her daughter should go into a children’s home. “It got worse there, not better.  The men would be sitting waiting outside for Sarah and other girls.”

Marie doesn’t need today’s review to know how badly her daughter was let down by police, social services and child protection agencies.

It’s findings that care professionals treated the girls as if they were somehow complicit in what was happening to them and that police failed to investigate their stories properly, come as no surprise to her.

Is she confident that its recommendations will bring change? “I’m taking it all with a pinch of salt.”

As for Sarah, she didn’t want to talk to us on camera – who can blame her? But she agreed to answer one question. I asked her why did she think nothing was done when the police, child-protection teams and social services had all been told what was going on?

She shrugged her shoulders and seemed genuinely at a loss, then said quietly: “Cos no-one gave a toss about us. No-one. Not the men. Not anyone else.”

(Some of the names in this article have been changed).

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