‘Dearne youngsters at risk from grooming gangs’

Abuse victims
Abuse victims

A child grooming victim fears scores of vulnerable Dearne youngsters could be at risk of being sexually exploited by predatory gangs.

The brave woman, who only wanted to be identified as ‘Jessica’, spoke out after a bombshell report revealed at least 1,400 children had been targeted by groups of mostly Asian men across Rotherham.

She told how her attacker lured her in as a teenager and subjected her to numerous beatings over a two-year period in Rotherham - but hit out at police and council officials for their failure to handle her case and many others.

Jessica said more boys and girls could now be at risk from grooming gangs if those responsible for protecting vulnerable children fail to get their act together.

She also called on South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright - who was in charge of Rotherham’s children’s services for five years - to resign and donate part of his £85, 000 a year salary to charities which help victims of sexual abuse.

She said: “I came from a normal background and was sucked in. It could happen to anyone. There are loads of kids across the area who might be at risk. Action needs taking now.”

Jessica, now aged in her late 20s, told how her torrid ordeal started when an Asian man pulled up in his car to speak to her and a friend while they stood outside shops in 1999.

They were taken for a spin and she struck up a two year relationship with the driver. She had just turned 14 at the time while he was in his mid 20s.

She said: “He was nice at the start and that is how he got my trust. He first had sex with me when I was 14. As things developed it became unbearable and he started hitting me and saying he was ‘going to kill me’.”

She added: “When I tried to break it off we were in the car and he drove us into a wall saying ‘If I can’t have you, no-one can’. Another time he drove us to a cliff, got out and dragged me to the edge.

“It was terrifying and has left me with mental scars.”

She added that they used to go out to nightclubs and “go missing for weeks at a time” staying in hotels and on people’s sofas.

Jessica said: “The police were aware of the situation but didn’t take any action against him.

“It is only in the last couple of years, after reading about other cases, that I thought I might have been groomed.”

She eventually managed to break things off and was taken into foster care. Jessica said police have opened an investigation but no arrests have yet been made.

She added she was happy to see former Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone, who lives in Kilnhurst, resign last week, but added Mr Wright, a former Rawmarsh councillor, should follow suit.

Said Jessica: “Shaun Wright should go and donate some of his annual salary to charity. Likewise those who did nothing should face action. Paedophiles and rapists should get life sentences. Victims have to live with it for life, why shouldn’t they?

“I would urge victims to speak out and push for prosecutions. This has all happened in other areas too, like Rochdale and Oxford. There should be a national inquiry.”

An independent inquiry, led by Professor Alexis Jay OBE, revealed last week that at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited by criminal gangs in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

Prof Jay accused council and police leaders of “blatant” failures of leadership during a time when girls as young as 11 were raped and even doused with petrol and threatened with being set alight. She said evidence presented to police and social services was “suppressed and disbelieved.”

The report concluded almost all the perpetrators were identified by victims as being of Pakistani heritage, but that there was a widespread perception “that some senior people in the council and the police wanted to ‘downplay’ the ethnic dimension.”

Prof Jay gave 15 recommendations for areas to improve children’s services, ranging from improving risk assessment procedures to giving victims more support. Martin Kimber,chief executive of Rotherham Council, said: “We owe the survivors of child sexual exploitation of the past nothing less than our pledge that we will continue to do everything we can to improve in the future.”