The findings in a recent report regarding an abuse scandal in Rotherham found that the South Yorkshire Police ‘let victims down’ through missed opportunities in protecting children and young people from child sexual exploitation. The report demonstrated the Police’s lack of understanding of the scale of sexual abuse cases. The South Yorkshire Police has been criticised for the force’s approach in investigating abuse claims from more than 1,400 young girls in the town of Rotherham.
The investigation has been nicknamed ‘Operation Linden’ and is said to be the “largest and most complex” investigation that the Independent Office for Police Complaints (IOPC) have ever undertaken, second to the Hillsborough Disaster.
The IOPC was assigned to scrutinize the police force’s response to sexual abuse between 1997 and 2013. The IOPC found ‘systemic problems’ within the force alongside other agencies in Rotherham were not fully equipped to deal with the mass scale of young girls that came forward. The Investigation has been criticised for victim-blaming victims of abuse as multiple parents of missing victims had gone to the police first-hand, and were told by the officers that “it was a ‘fashion accessory’ for girls in Rotherham to have an ‘older Asian boyfriend’”. This response failed to recognise that children can be victims too and the vulnerabilities of young girls who may not have identified themselves as a victim, or that they had consented to their exploitation.
Michael Lockwood (IOPC Director General) highlighted that children do not have the capacity and understanding to consent to their own sexual exploitation due to their vulnerability. Other findings included inadequate resources for the scale of victims contained within a smaller police department, the police prioritised other crimes (such as burglary and vehicle offences) over child sexual exploitation, a “lack of professional curiosity” and accepting at face value what they were told by perpetrators and victims and an insufficient empathy towards abuse victim-survivors. There was also evidence of crimes not being recorded which included reports of sexual assault and cases involving activity with a child.
Sammy Woodhouse who was one of the abused victims from age 14 onwards, claimed that nobody out of 47 officers had been held accountable or had been discharged from the police force, despite multiple reports about the Rotherham abuse scandal. Instead, the officer’s retired which has been viewed by many victims as rewarding those that did not act or protect them.
Sammy Woodhouse stated that she had made multiple witness statements, aged 16 about her abuse which could have helped save many others’ lives, if the police would have acted and investigated the abuse claims efficiently. There are accounts from the voices of victims who have stated they had contacted police officer’s approximately 3 to 4 times a week, which gave the police plenty of opportunities to question her but decided against it. Instead, a victim was told that they were responsible for her own actions for allowing themselves to become a victim, which is insensitive and portrayed it as a choice rather than exploitation serving them no justice. The ignorance of the police enabled Sammy’s abuser and others to continue taking advantage of young girls without any consequences.
The Home Affair’s Correspondent has stated that she is committed to listening to victims’ accounts of their abuse and gathering evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with no time limit, no matter how challenging the investigation may be.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) are conducting ‘Operation Stovewood’ probing crimes which date back to approximately 25 years ago, to gain the trust of survivors and those that may still be active in Rotherham. In total 20 sex offender’s have been convicted with 4 awaiting trial for raping and sexually assaulting girls aged 13 to 15 between the years of 2006 and 2009.
Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion described the report’s findings as appalling and available for all to see which will ensure that no other children’s lives will be ruined through being subjected to sexual abuse.
South Yorkshire Police have apologised to the victims and accepted responsibility for the findings by saying “victims deserved better from us”. Champion highlighted the South Yorkshire Police force has improved but is a long-time off regaining trust from the people of South Yorkshire because the damage has already been done.
Here at Farleys we have a specialist abuse team with extensive experience of acting on behalf of survivors of abuse in making claims for damages. While we recognise that nothing can take away the trauma you have experienced, we often find that in making a claim, survivors gain a sense of closure on their experiences and they are able to fund any further treatment or counselling needed. To discuss your experiences in confidence with a member of our team, please call our dedicated abuse line on 0330 134 6430, or contact us by email or through the online chat below if you prefer.