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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30 reader comments

  1. Ethan says:

    Ignrored by the Guardian reading social worker classes to encourage ‘community cohesion’ no doubt. I read that one victim was offered language lessons presumably so she could understand what her abusers were saying whilst they were abusing her.

    It beggers belief Rochdale Council !

    I am hoping people will be named and shamed and fired without golden parachutes, bonusses etc then tried, convicted and jailed.

    Some hope, that simply doesn’t ever happen in Britain. instead the guilty public servants get transferred, promoted and rewarded.

    Thats is what is wrong with this country.

    1. Lyndi Johnson says:

      Hi i dont know who you are i have just read some of the abuse issues scandal and the comments on different web sites so what dose all this matter because most of the house of commons knew 50 yrs ago so did the police so did the cps so did the crown so did most central government in fact were they not using children in care as spy”s after the second world war as well as sex slaves have not all of the uk seen fit to look away while content with their own life styles being on track
      I witnessed most some things i should never have known about but the police ignored what i said since i was 5 and those who complained about it were shall we say shut up … your britain seems to be the martini island … any 1 any time any age Lyndi Johnson

    2. Lyndi Johnson says:

      Vote for whom ever the people that should/should have sorted this have been paid for their part/job the wrecked life”s of abused kid”s and victim”s now as adult”s lean”s on the system our judgemental way we view our/their life”s is as a collective is complicated slow to act & deliver”s nothing in the promise that ” thing”s will change ” yep but for who & how the wealth of harm to abused has to be acknowledged they have to be united recognised & given a free pass to some life style that elevates them from the harm done why should the people in power stay why vote for one or the other ! guardianship come”s to those who know better not the same old rubbish who have failed those that they said they could protect ……. in short those that can ” do just what it say”s on the can ” Lyndi Johnson

  2. Phil says:

    I’m curious, who in the Police and social services have lost their jobs over this? If not, why not? Have the abusers been charged, tried and convicted? If not why not?

  3. rotherham dad says:

    As the father of a rotherham teenage girl this story is very familiar. In my instance there was no racial element, my daughter and her abusers were all white. The response from the South yorkshire police and Rotherham Social services was exactly the same. The problem is not policies and procedures or training it is the deliberate refusal of staff and the refusal of management of these people to hold their staff to account. I’ve heard every there is for the failures to protect my daughter, untill individual staff can be identified and dealt with this situation will not change. The standard operating procedure is: ignore, deny and if that fails lie.

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    2. Herbert says:

      Galilei? Was sollte der mit der Scheiben-Erde zu tun haben? Dass die Erde angene4hert eine Kugel ist, war den alten Griechen beiters bekannt, 2500 Jahre ist daher einigermadfen korrekt. Vermutlich ist die Erkenntnis aber noch e4lter, jedes seefahrende Volk konnte schliedflich beobachten, wie Schiffe hinter dem Horizont verschwinden. Nur ein Binnenvolk kann eigentlich auf die Idee kommen, dass die Erde eine Scheibe ist.Galilei, einer der Begrfcnder der modernen Naturwissenschaften, geriet mit der Kirche in Konflikt, als er behauptete, die Erde bewege sich auf einer Kreisbahn um die Sonne. Das ist wissenschaftlich falsch, was auch damals relativ leicht zu beweisen war (richtig we4re Ellipsenbahn, die komplizierten Epizyklen des ptoleme4ischen Weltbildes sind physikalisch immer noch besser als Galileis Kreis). Unsinnigerweise beharrte er dann darauf, dass jeder ein Dummkopf sei, der anderes behaupte. Dass die Kirche, die damals noch als Lehrmeinung vertrat, dass die Sonne um die Erde kreist, was immerhin dem Anschein entspricht, ihn daffcr nur zu Hausarrest verurteilte, ist im Verhe4ltnis zu dem, was im 17. Jahrhundert Leuten drohte, die sich mit der Obrigkeit anlegten, eher liberal.Die Rehabilitierung Galileis, die insofern gar nicht notwendig gewesen we4re, war damit eher eine Ablenkung der von Ihnen erwe4hnten Verfehlungen der katholischen Kirche in jfcngerer Zeit.Brennendes Kerosin bringt Stahl zwar nicht zum Schmelzen, genug brennendes Kerosin fcber einen le4ngeren Zeitraum kann Stahl aber durchaus erweichen lassen. Aber wenn Sie lieber an abstruse Verschwf6rungstheorien glauben, sei Ihnen das unbenommen.

  4. sandra says:

    just to say that many girls and women (brown faces) probably have been abused too but no one will hear them. i am one of them. when i opened my mouth i was so badly punished and my perpetrated was honoured.

  5. Bob Johnston says:

    It’s understandable that families of victims of these horrible crimes should wish to sue but, as usual, it’s not the police, social workers and their bosses who will personally accept responsibility for their appalling neglect and incompetence – compensation will be charged to the local council through the social services budget. In other words the poor taxpayer will yet again have to bear the cost and suffer any consequential cuts in services.

    1. Exsugarbabe says:

      I think with the cuts one child’s life will be worth more than another even more! It’s hard not to get emotional over this story: I have a 13 year old daughter who I have a great relationship with, the thought of me not hearing about something like this going on in her life is just too horrible. Social workers will be underpaid and over stretched, police will be the same. Mr Cameron needs to start listening but I think he will keep looking after his own.

  6. Anon says:

    This is so so sad. Cannot believe this is happening in England as I come from a third world I would of expected better. The grown ups who should of stopped this happening because of their position of authority must be help responsible so that this never ever happens again and that healing can begin for the children and families involved.

  7. e says:

    Officialdoms propensity to blame individuals’ failings for whatever the circumstances and to buffer its blind eye with notions of inconsequential complexity generally goes unchallenged. What’s at play is the power of middle class mores, which is why this case is “so shocking and so deeply disturbing” It’s clear for all that the children were being judged by a group that didn’t include them among their number. So who need to change?

  8. Barbara Cairns says:

    I hope that someone will help this family – and the others involved – to take out prosecutions against the police and social services. It’s only if those who should have been concerned for the safety and well-being of these children are brought to answer for their actions in court that we will see any long- term change of attitudes and actions.

    1. James says:




      1. Sayaka says:

        Hey Joel I didn’t know it was bring your kids to the pool day! (I know we are dorks) but how funny that was sort of a picture of thigns to come! And yes you and your sister make some pretty cute little kiddos!

      2. Etty says:

        Wow! Great tnhiikng! JK

  9. Alison says:

    I really hope people can get together to take legal action on this. this sounds like deliberate ignoring of the evidence and callous disregard for the most vulnerable in our society rather than simple incompetence. Young teenagers should never be held responsible for their own abuse. You don’t need a degree in social work to know that. My heart breaks for the victims and their families.

  10. rotherham dad says:

    It is impossible to hold social workers to account. You ring – they ignore you. You send a letter – they destroy it and refuse to add it to the case files. You send reports by email even via a solicitor they delete it and refuse to add it to the case files – response to complaints – prove that they received the email, prove that they got the message, prove that they received the letter that was signed for at their reception desk. You go to a meeting and record the manager stating that he knows a 5, 8 & 9 year old child are being abused but he is not writing it in the report so that it cannot be used in court proceedings – you can’t use the recording and therefore you can’t prove it. Social workers are untouchable & accountable to no-one – and they know it. Complaints teams believe it is their job to protect the staff and the organisation.

  11. Rhona says:

    It seems that child protection has got worse instead of better over the last 30 years…

    I agree that someone has to help this child, and the other children, to sue the police and social services who allowed this to continue. She needs complete justice for every wrongdoing so that she can try to recover and have a life and they need to be made to learn to listen.

    That the girl was made to feel she was to blame by the people who were supposed to protect her is horrific.

  12. Gary says:

    These are young children for goodness sake, let me say this again this these are young children looking for help and they were totally ignored by the system. Why? Because of fear in this messed up country about race. Police are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The council, race! You are joking. If they were white men who did these awful crimes to Asian children there would be absolute uproar by all institutions.

  13. Dominic says:

    This is a sad reflection on the type and quality of people working in local government and the police. These scum have a job for life and are unaccountable.

  14. Exsugarbabe says:

    There is no need for ANY child to be written off, I thought that’s why social services were there! There are so many people not doing really important jobs properly, there are no excuses for this. These men are clever, if these girls were protected it would be a lot harder for these men to get to them. If these girls had a core of self esteem they would have had the strength to protect themselves and understand boundaries and right and wrong. I hope these incompetent social workers have real trouble sleeping at night. I hope these girls parents make their lives hell.

  15. Prince Charles says:

    Several heads should roll for this,police and social works.It is illegal for a child under 16 to have sex and if this is an example of how sex abuse claims are treated,Rochdale has gone back to living in the stone age.

  16. Edith says:

    The shocking details that emerged, must be the tip of the iceberg. There must be lots of Rochdales up and down the country and corresponding number of Social Services who ignore, deny and lie. They manipulate the court proceedings with staggering cynicism, their mendacious statements go unchallenged unless an individual has even deeper pockets than the statutory bodies. They subvert the judicial system running up legal bills and cause great suffering when they needlessly intervene and even graver tragedy where they just turn a blind eye. My heart goes out to Sarah and to all whose lives have been affected by the depravity of of the perpatrators, meaning victims of Social Service abuse and Police neglect.

  17. phil says:

    I hope that, following this case, government will instruct and allow the police and social services to take a proactive stance in disrupting the behaviour of paedophile men who hide within closed communities. This particular example was a muslim/ pakistani closed community, as is the case in Oxford. But there are many others, childrens homes, the catholic priesthood, evangelical sects, etc. We should keep such communities under close scrutiny and start from the premise that they may house men who are paedophiles. To date, we have started from the opposite end of the spectrum, assuming them to be benign. We need to have a long hard look at this aspect.

  18. Lucy says:

    I find it hard to understand that the same police force that completely disregarded / ignored the long term abuse of these young girls, has just been chasing around to find 1 young girl who had run off with her teacher, who would no doubt have looked after her just fine. This couldn’t be due to all the media publicity that this one case received, could it????

    Society – can you tell me, do we have a responsibility to protect out young people from violent damaging abuse or is it more important to penalise them for falling in love.

  19. Greg Cook says:

    Nobody in authority ever accepts responsibility for their actions (or inactions in this case). They are quite happy to take an inflated salary and a nice pension out of the public purse, but it’s always somebody else’s fault or if an enquiry happens, it drags on until all of the guilty people are safely retired. Every single person involved in this sordid affair, with the exception of the victims, needs to be in prison for a very long time.
    If it can be proven that a report passed across anybody’s desk and was not acted on, then get them nicked.
    We also need to ditch this whole political correctness idea. Multiculturalism clearly doesn’t work, but we are saddled with it (thank you, New Labour) and we have to make the best of a bad situation, starting with the police and the CPS sweeping out all of their ‘common purpose’ leadership and having people in place who will apply the law fairly and equally, across the board. If investigating a horrible crime is likely to offend a sector of the population, fine, let them riot and be subjected to the same treatment as any other rioters.

  20. anon says:

    I wonder if legalised prostitution would reduce the number of cases. Or is child abuse a completely different subject?

    If there were places where legalised sex was available would these men stop abusing children?
    it is a horrendous situation and far more widespread than many realise.

    Many young girls are lured by the excesses of the media. and difficult domestic situations. Provocative behaviour and dress do not help.

  21. ann says:

    First of all where were these girls parents? Why were the girls not asked where they were going at night or who they were hanging around with, did they not have any rules or curfews installed for them like any decent parent would do- what about morals and values??

  22. anon says:

    Sadly these girls view the attention of these men as flattering. Anxious too often to escape the dreadful home conditions and failed school experience they give to the demands of gangs etc. In a strange perverted way they get a distorted sense of self esteem before they realise that they are caught in a virtual net with no way out. Nothing at home, failure and ridicule at school and sadly too often trapped into a drug culture with an expensive habit to maintain and as is often the case the initial attention turned to violence.

    Social services and police have an extremely difficult task in dealing with these girls. Often the girls will use their learnt wiles and provocative behaviour to circumvent the usual processes.They do not want to go home, sometimes there are those in positions of authority who will take advantage of these girls. It is often only when they are finally aware of their sad and impossible predicament that they are able to be helped if they have any trust or self respect left. They can be abusive and often reject efforts to rehabilitate, it is an incredibly sad and difficult problem. Sometimes the violence can be almost gratifying because it is attention [although damaging and degrading] in a situation where they are supposed to be loved. Domestic violence is similar it can go on for years.

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