A report has lifted the lid on the sexual exploitation of at least 1,400 children in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, along with “blatant” collective failures to deal with the issue.
One victim, who had been groomed from the age of 12 and was raped for the first time when she was 13, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme her harrowing story.
She says she was raped “once a week, every week” until she was 15, that police “lost” clothing she had given them as evidence and that she had feared for her family’s safety.
“Emma” [not her real name], now aged 24, says she was 12 when she was first approached by a group of young men in an arcade in Rotherham. The boys, who she said were of “school age”, began talking to her and struck up a friendship with her.
What she did not realise at the time was that she was being groomed for sexual abuse, she says.
Emma told the Today programme how the grooming went on for about a year, during which time she began going to Rotherham town centre where she was introduced to “grown men”.
“They started introducing alcohol and soft drugs to me and then, when I was 13, I was sexually exploited by them,” she said.
“Up until this point they had never tried to touch me, they had not made me ever feel uncomfortable or ever feel unsafe or that they could harm me.
“I trusted them, they were my friends as I saw it, until one night my main perpetrator raped me, quite brutally as well, in front of a number of people.
“From then on I would get raped once a week, every week.”
She described how her abusers began to force Emma to have sex with “whoever wanted to come and have sex with me”.
She says she reported her abuse to the police “three months after my sexual exploitation started”.
Emma had saved the clothes she had been wearing during the attacks and handed the items to police as evidence.
“They lost the clothing, so there was no evidence,” she said.
After that, Emma said she was told it was “my word against his” and that the case “probably wouldn’t result in a conviction, or even get to court”.
At the same time, she said, her family were being threatened and intimidated.
“The men were parking outside my house, they were threatening my family, they were ringing my house phone – and they were quite dangerous men as well.
“The police said they couldn’t offer any protection, so because of that I decided to drop the charges,” she added.
“I was 13 at that point and my sexual exploitation went on until I was 15,” Emma said.
She said her mum was the first person she had told what was happening. But even her family were unable to stop the abuse.
“My parents went to the relevant services, they went to the people who should have been there to help and protect (me), because as a family we couldn’t stop these people,” she said.
Emma said her parents even locked her up – “as many other parents” of victims had done – but said threats from the men left her fearing for her family’s safety.
“I had no choice really, because they used to threaten to get my mum and rape my mum. So in my mind, as a 13 or 14-year-old, it was ‘well if I didn’t go out and see them they are going to get my mum and are going to rape her’.
‘They knew everything’
“They gang raped me, so what stops them from doing that to my mum?” Emma said.
She added: “They used to follow my mum because they used to know when she went shopping, what time she had been shopping, where she had gone.
“They made it quite clear to me that if they wanted to harm somebody I loved to get to me in any way they would do that, if that’s what it took.”
In the end she says her parents decided the only way to stop the abuse was to move her “out of the country”.
In the meanwhile, Emma says her perpetrators were able to “walk the streets and were left unpunished”.
“I look back at it now, I was a child, these were adult men who were very, very dangerous, very nasty, they knew everything about me because in the grooming process I had told them everything.
“So they knew all about my family, they knew where we lived, they knew everything.
“I knew nothing about them apart from their nicknames.”