Brave Rotherham grooming survivors and their families have spoken of the ‘hell’ they lived through at a pioneering conference.
A father arrested as he tried to get his daughter out of a property where she was being abused, a mother told she could be charged with kidnap after locking her daughter in the house to keep her away from offenders and now-adult victims whose childhoods were destroyed all spoke at an often-emotional event yesterday.
The event at the Rotherham Holiday Inn was organised by Working Against Grooming group and was attended by more than 100 people, including South Yorkshire Police chief constable David Crompton, police commissioner Alan Billings and Rotherham councillors and officers.
Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee said the force’s failings ‘have been laid bare’ since the Jay report - but insisted improvements are being made.
One survivor spoke of how she was taken from her ‘normal, everyday family’ and groomed by a white woman who had converted to Islam into being a victim of abuse.
She said the police and social services were well aware of her abuse, but failed to act. She said she will never get justice as the woman involved has now died.
Her father also spoke of his struggle to cope with his daughter’s abuse and the lack of response from the police at the time.
He said: “They made sure I couldn’t help my child going through hell. On a couple of occasions, I was placed under arrest for trying to get my daughter out of a flat and trying to keep her safe.
“All I felt was guilt which I still carry to this day. What was the point of having a family when I couldn’t help them or protect them?”
The woman’s mother said her daughter repeatedly went missing, but the police didn’t act, even when she was found with a 39-year-old man.
She said: “Everything was a nightmare from hell.
“At one point I locked her in the house and locked all the windows. She opened a window lock with kitchen scissors and went. The police told me not to do it again or I could be arrested for kidnap.”
ACC Lee said many of the stories shared at the event ‘make me want to hang me head in shame’.
But she added that the force was making improvements, with 54 people charged with CSE offences since the Jay report was published.
““We got it badly wrong and let people down,” she said.
“Our failings have been laid bare and there has been no hiding place. In a painful and public way, South Yorkshire Police have learned from victims and survivors.
“It is only when you understand, you can do something about it.
“I know from the victims and survivors, and the offenders being brought to justice, we are making a difference. But there is much more to do.
“Hearing the voice of witnesses and survivors has been central in changing what we do. I do believe we are making progress as a consequence.”
Gary Smith, co-founder of Working Against Grooming and a father of an abuse survivor, said it is hoped similar conferences can be held across the UK.
“This is not just a Rotherham problem, this is a national problem,” he said.
“It will take time and things are going in the right direction, both with South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council.
“It is going to be a long haul, but we will get there in the end.”