Europe
5:37 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Report Details 16 Years Of 'Horrific Abuse' Of Children In U.K. Town

Originally published on Tue August 26, 2014 8:07 pm

An investigation out on Tuesday documents the abuse of more than 1,400 children in Rotherham, England, and says local authorities were aware of the problem for years and did not respond.

Alexis Jay, who authored the report, used to be chief inspector of social work in Scotland.

She's seen a lot. But despite being deeply familiar with the details of this report, even she seemed shaken by the words coming out of her mouth at Tuesday's press conference about the victims, some as young as 11, abused from 1997 until last year.

"It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse the child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators. They were trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England. They were abducted, beaten and intimidated," Jay said.

Rotherham is a town of a quarter-million people in northern England. One question this raises is how such widespread abuse could have gone on for 16 years without local authorities knowing about it. Jay said authorities did know about it. Junior staff alerted their superiors again and again. She called it a "collective failure" by senior police and politicians.

"The evidence was disbelieved, suppressed or ignored. Child victims were often blamed for what had happened to them, while no action was taken against the perpetrators," she said.

She said some officials were in denial that something so awful could happen in Rotherham. Others were afraid that trying to tackle the problem would raise racial tensions. The accused perpetrators are of Pakistani descent.

"Senior people in the council and police wanted to play down the ethnic dimensions. Front-line staff in social care were confused about what they were supposed to say and how to describe the problem for fear of being thought racist," Jay said.

In fact, this is the third investigation into the crimes. The previous two reports were ignored or rejected because officials didn't believe their conclusions. The leader of the local council, Roger Stone, resigned Tuesday. His deputy, Paul Lakin, said the council failed in its duties.

"I am deeply sorry, and I offer my sincere apologies to the young people who have suffered such horrific abuse and also to their families," Lakin says.

He committed to never letting this happen again.

David Niven, former chairman of the British Association of Social Workers, says it's not realistic to believe this will never happen again. The U.K. has always had a problem recognizing and addressing child sexual abuse, he says.

"And I suspect many or most Western industrialized countries have got something of a similar problem in terms of huge denial among law enforcement and social services as to the scale of things," Niven says.

The U.K. has been wrestling with a string of recent revelations of child sexual abuse. But most of those crimes were committed decades ago. These offenses took place right up to the present day — which means there are also many child victims right now, and Niven says society has an obligation to care for them.

"Whatever the child's and the young person's circumstances are, I would hope that they're given a menu of things depending on what particular needs that individual has that suits them best," Niven says.

Five men are in jail in connection with the crimes. It's not clear whether other arrests are expected.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now to a disturbing story out of England. It's about the sexual abuse of more than 1,400 children in the community of Rotherham. An investigation out to day documents the abuse and it highlights the inaction of local authorities who were aware of the problem for years but did not respond. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The woman who authored this report, Professor Alexis Jay, used to be chief Inspector of Social work in Scotland. So, she's seen a lot and despite being deeply familiar with the details of this report, even she seemed shaken by the words coming out of her mouth at today's press conference. 1,400 victims, some as young as 11, abused from 1997 until last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXIS JAY: It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse the child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, they were trafficked to towns and cities in the North of England. They were abducted, beaten and intimidated.

SHAPIRO: This took place in Rotherham, a town of a quarter million people in Northern England. One question this raises is how such widespread abuse could've gone on for 16 years without local authorities knowing about it. Jay said authorities did know about it. Junior staff alerted their superiors again and again. She called it a collective failure by senior police and politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAY: The evidence was disbelieved, suppressed or ignored. Child victims were often blamed for what happened to them, while no action was taken against the perpetrators.

SHAPIRO: She said some officials were in denial that something so awful could happen in Rotherham. Others were afraid that trying to tackle the problem would raise racial tensions, the accused perpetrators are of Pakistani descent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAY: Senior people and the council and the police wanted to play down the ethnic dimensions. Front-line staff in social care were confused about what they were supposed to say and how to describe the problem. For fear of being thought racist.

SHAPIRO: In fact this is the third investigation into the crimes. The previous two reports were ignored or rejected because officials didn't believe their conclusions. The leader of the local council, Roger Stone, resigned today. His deputy, Paul Lakin said the council failed in its duties.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL LAKIN: I am deeply sorry and I offer my sincere apologies to the young people who have suffered such horrific abuse and also to their families.

SHAPIRO: He committed to never let this happen again. David Niven is former chair of the British Association of Social Workers, he says it's not realistic to believe this will never happen again. The U.K. has always had a problem recognizing and addressing child sexual abuse he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID NIVEN: And I suspect many or most Western industrialized countries have a got something of a similar problem in terms of a huge denial among law enforcement and social services as to the scale of things.

SHAPIRO: The U.K. has been wrestling with a string of recent revelations of child sexual abuse. But most of those crimes were committed decades ago. These offenses took place right up to the present day, which means there are also many child victims right now and Niven says society has an obligation to care for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIVEN: Whatever the child's and young person circumstances are I would hope that they are given a menu of things depending on what particular needs that individual has that suits them best.

SHAPIRO: Five men are in jail in connection with the crimes. It's not clear whether other arrests are expected. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.