After years of emotional, legal, and community upheaval, seven men have been found guilty of sexually exploiting teenage girls in Rotherham. This is not enough.
Due to significant police neglect, the National Crime Agency took over from South Yorkshire Police in investigating these allegations, claiming that they were given “17 years-worth of work” to go through. This is their justification for only having prosecuted seven of a possible 150 suspects, and for only interviewing and offering support to 1/5 of a possible 1500 victims. The Crime Agency’s workload is incomparable to what is being suffered by the 1,200 girls who they just haven’t got round to yet.
Looking at this case and watching these women being dragged through hell and back, there is one thing that is very clear: the endemic lack of understanding of what these women went through and are still going through. These cases of sexual exploitation, paedophile rings, girls being raped by chains of men, are undeniably horrific. Not doing absolutely everything possible to see every victim, get immediate support for every survivor, ensure each and every suspect is thoroughly questioned, is a crime in itself. Multiple years of being ignored by police, while becoming a woman, carrying on with your life and then dealing with sudden upheaval of your case, is not healthy. Nobody should have to dredge up pain and anger that they have been forced to repress for years; it should have been dealt with, they should have been believed.
It is baffling that there are over 1500 girls in Rotherham alone who have been victims of systematic sexual abuse, and yet nothing was done. How many girls have to be ignored? How many girls have to hurt themselves, hate themselves, suffer life-sentences of trauma, before they are taken seriously? Youcan’t rewrite the past; nothing was done at the time; the abusers got away with it for years while the girls continued to live in fear. But something can, and must, be done to make up for this. Seven men prosecuted is incredible. That’s seven less abusers these girls have to see on the streets of their town every single day. But it just isn’t enough.
At the height of the abuse-rings, the population of Rotherham overall, was 115,000 people. This means that, of the overall population, around 1.3% of people were sexually abused – that’s without looking at discrepancies in age, or gender. That is a disgusting number of girls who, to this day, are still not being supported. Prosecuting 7/150 suspects is just the beginning, but the mental states of the survivors should have been given equal importance as sentencing in the investigations. It is important to find and prosecute the criminals, but it is also vital to reduce the suffering of the victims, some of whom are still on waiting lists for specialist therapy, and most of whom have not yet been offered any form of support.
We cannot let the abusers walk free, but we equally cannot erase the continued, everyday suffering undergone by victims of extreme child sexual exploitation. Abuse like this will never end if it is not taken seriously.