If political outrage were currency, Rotherham would be overflowing with cash, action and initiatives to help the survivors. But as I found when I went to make a BBC film about the role of “political correctness” in the child sex-abuse scandal there, it’s not.
As I write, the police have yet to arrest any of the alleged abusers of the women I met. All have reported them. There is no organised support for any of the survivors or their families. The Rotherham Women’s Counselling Service, which offers specialised support to sexual abuse survivors, has a six-month waiting list.
There is no organised campaign for compensation. It is pure chance whether these young women have a decent lawyer to fight their case or not. Many don’t. Some are being threatened anew by their former abusers for speaking out. They compare stories on the phone about who received protection measures from the police after seeking help – and who has been denied them.
Many are still struggling with the council. Holly Archer is 17 now. She was abused from the age of 13 by five men, after the council placed her in foster care – the abusers were all white, incidentally – and the council never tried to stop it. She is trying to get her baby back from the council, which wants to have him adopted. Her mother, Joanne Turner, only found out that Holly’s foster carer had given her the morning-after pill during our interview. Joanne is full of the strength, protective anger and regret of a mother betrayed; she had only sought council help to stop her daughter going off the rails. She struggled to challenge the council when she realised that no one was stopping these men taking her daughter off for sex. “It’s not a topic they choose to discuss,” she told me. “‘That’s Holly’s decision to make’. They’ve said that since she were 11 or 12 … They condoned it.”
Meeting women like Holly and Joanne, it feels as if they’ve come through a war. In some cases, they’re still in it. Survivors, only in their late teens or 20s now, were numbed by alcohol and drugs through it all.
“Widespread sexual abuse in Rotherham has caused outrage – but little action”