About eight miles from Sheffield in central England, the Metropolitan Borough of Rotherham is home to just over 258,000 residents — for comparison, about as many as reside in its transatlantic “twin town,” Buffalo, N.Y.
It’s also home to a local government, child-social-services agency, and police department that effectively countenanced at least 1,400 instances of “child sexual exploitation” (CSE) between 1997 and 2013 — and that is a “conservative” estimate, according to the “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham,” just released by Rotherham’s Metropolitan Borough Council. How could police and local leaders ignore the victimization of so many children? In part, thank political correctness.
Authored by Professor Alexis Jay, an expert and government adviser on social work, the inquiry was based on 988 children known to have been victims of sexual exploitation, defined by the United Kingdom as involving young people under the age of 18 in “exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities.”
Jay and her fellow researchers read 66 case files, some of which remain under investigation. What they discovered were not just instances of all-too-common sexual abuse, but sex trafficking networks, gang rape, and terror:
It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.
Reports of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham were known to social workers by the early 1990s, but many of those reports were incorrectly identified as “child prostitution.” Not until 1997, when the Council’s Youth Services launched the Risky Business youth project, did child sexual exploitation become a separate concern. Risky Business aimed to identify persons ages 11 to 25 who might be at risk, often recommending them to children’s social-care agencies, but those agencies were regularly derelict in their duties.
In 2000 a twelve-year-old girl was plied with drugs and raped by five men. The Criminal Investigation Department representative handling her case argued that every incident had been “100% consensual.” Two men who admitted to intercourse with the girl received “police cautions.”
In 2001 a serial predator threatened his victim, a 15-year-old girl, with forced prostitution — then threatened her family, vandalized her home, and used his other victims to assault the girl. She was hospitalized, and members of her family went into hiding. The girl and her mother refused to cooperate with police, convinced that law enforcement was helpless to protect them.
A twelve-year-old girl found in 2008 drunk in the backseat of a vehicle with a suspected predator — who had obscene pictures of the girl on his cell phone — was assessed by local authorities as being at no risk of child sexual exploitation, and her case was closed. “Less than a month later,” the inquiry reports, “she was found in a derelict house with another child, and a number of adult males. She was arrested for being drunk and disorderly (her conviction was later set aside) and none of the males were arrested.”
The consequences of government mismanagement perpetuated the cycle of violence: “One of the children who failed to meet the threshold for social care went on to become a serious sex offender, convicted of the abduction and rape of young girls.”
Many of the victims were not unknown to the system: “In just over a third of cases, children affected by sexual exploitation were previously known to services because of child protection and child neglect. There was a history of domestic violence in 46% of cases. Truancy and school refusal were recorded in 63% of cases and 63% of children had been reported missing more than once.”
So why did Rotherham fail to protect its children? Consider the background of the perpetrators.
“By far the majority of perpetrators were described as ‘Asian’ by victims,” the inquiry reports — by which they mean members of Great Britain’s “Pakistani-heritage community,” with which Rotherham officials reportedly never engaged “to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue” of child sexual exploitation.
In her 2006 report on child sex exploitation in Rotherham, Dr. Angie Heal, a strategic drugs analyst, wrote, “It is believed by a number of workers that one of the difficulties that prevent this issue [CSE] being dealt with effectively is the ethnicity of the main perpetrators.” She also noted, in Jay’s words, that “the Police dared not act against Asian youths for fear of allegations of racism. This perception was echoed at the present time by some young people we met during the Inquiry.”
The current inquiry reports, in agreement with Heal:
Several people interviewed expressed the general view that ethnic considerations had influenced the policy response of the Council and the Police. . . . One example was given by the Risky Business project Manager (1997- 2012) who reported that she was told not to refer to the ethnic origins of perpetrators when carrying out training. Other staff in children’s social care said that when writing reports on CSE cases, they were advised by their managers to be cautious about referring to the ethnicity of the perpetrators.
Of course, the issue is not only race, but religion. According to 2011 census figures, 91 percent of Pakistanis in England and Wales are Muslim. According to Dr. Heal’s 2006 report, child-sexual-exploitation suspects also commonly hail from Iraq and Kosovo — both nations where Muslims constitute upward of 90 percent of the population.
Additionally, although the majority of victims have been “white British” children, child sex exploitation is also dishearteningly common within the Pakistani-heritage community. In September 2013 the U.K. Muslim Women’s Network released a report on child sex exploitation, primarily among Muslim victims. The Inquiry quotes it at length:
“Offending behaviour mostly involved men operating in groups. . . . The victim was being passed around and prostituted amongst many other men. Our research also showed that complex grooming ‘hierarchies’ were at play. The physical abuse included oral, anal and vaginal rape; role play; insertion of objects into the vagina; severe beatings; burning with cigarettes; tying down; enacting rape that included ripping clothes off and sexual activity over the webcam.” This description mirrors the abuse committed by Pakistani-heritage perpetrators on white girls in Rotherham.
Recent trials would seem to corroborate the Inquiry’s findings — and suggest that the problem is not contained to Rotherham. In November 2010 — the same month that five Rotherham men were jailed for sexual offenses against girls ages 12 to 16 — nine men from Derby were convicted for their part in “systematically abus[ing] and rap[ing]” girls as young as 12. Twenty-seven girls claimed to be victims of the gang. In May 2012, nine Rochdale men were sentenced for similar crimes against girls as young as 13. In June 2013, seven men who together groomed, raped, and trafficked girls as young as 11, were convicted and sentenced in Oxford. The defendants in each case were almost exclusively Muslim.
Professor Jay and her researchers performed interviews with a small number of Rotherham-area victims. “One young person told us,” they wrote, “that ‘gang rape’ was a usual part of growing up in the area of Rotherham in which she lived.”
That is life under the tyranny of senseless taboos: The most vulnerable end up the victims.
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.