When Sageer Hussain and seven other men from Rotherham were sentenced to prison, the woman they had raped and sexually abused as a teenager was determined to be in the public gallery.
Emma Jackson (not her real name) had given evidence behind a screen over three painful days in the witness box at Sheffield crown court. But on Friday she was ready to face her abusers when the judge jailed them.
“I want to see their eyes when they get their sentences,” said Jackson, who was branded a “white slag” by her abusers, seven of whom are of British Pakistani origin. “I’ve been living with what they did to me for the last 13 years. Now they will know what it’s like to suffer.”
Jackson is now 27 and the mother of a young son. She was 13 and 14 when Hussain used drugs and alcohol to groom her for sex. He raped her behind a branch of Boots in Rotherham and at other locations around the South Yorkshire town, before passing her on to one of his brothers, Basharat, two of his cousins and various friends.
She reported her abusers at the time, having saved all the clothes she was raped in as evidence. The police lost them. Social workers closed her file because she came from a supportive family in a middle-class area. She once claimed a detective told her: “We just think it is little white slappers running around with Asians.” At school other pupils branded her a “Paki shagger”.
Jackson thinks the ethnicity of her abusers is relevant. “I know that there are Asian girls who have been exploited,” she said, “but I never saw my abusers with any Pakistani girls. It was always white girls. There is a pattern there that you can’t ignore and it is something we need to tackle.”
Jackson’s parents begged for help from their local MP, Kevin Barron; the then home secretary, David Blunkett; and the children’s commissioner, the court was told. But her abusers continued to swagger around Rotherham, threatening her family with violence, to the point that the Jacksons briefly moved abroad to try to start a new life.
The unanimous guilty verdicts delivered last month came as a tremendous relief, but also brought frustration. “I just couldn’t quite believe it. I felt vindicated. Yet when the verdicts came in, it proved to me that justice could have been done 13 years ago. That could have saved me a lot of heartache.”
Now a campaigner against child sexual exploitation, Jackson wants an official apology from South Yorkshire police. Though she praises the officers who brought her case to court, she would like a letter acknowledging that the force failed her as a teenager. “It would mean a lot to me to receive an official apology,” she said.
Six years before the court case, Jackson wrote a book, Exploited, about her experiences, and had given evidence to the home affairs select committee. When the prominent social worker Alexis Jay published her report on sexual exploitation in Rotherham, saying at least 1,400 children had been abused in the town over a 16-year period, Jackson went public to say she was one of them.
But nothing could quite prepare her for the ordeal of giving evidence. Walking into court on the first day, she couldn’t see Hussain but immediately caught a whiff of his aftershave from behind the screen. Now 30, he was wearing the same brand as he had in his teenage years. “His smell was a big thing for me. It made me feel a bit sick,” she said.
Jackson was infuriated at her cross-examination in the witness box. “The barristers just dragged everything up. It was a load of old crap. I was warned in advance that it wasn’t personal and the barristers were just doing their jobs, but it felt personal. It was quite maddening.
“It’s not a nice experience because they literally rip you to pieces. They try to trip you up; it’s as though they try and manipulate your words. To me it seems that it’s the victim who is the one who is put through the mill. That makes me quite angry.”
With her abusers now in jail for the foreseeable future, Jackson plans to move on with her life. She is catching up on the education she missed out on as a teenager and plans to go to university next year to study social work. But she will never be able to forget what happened to her.
“They took my education – that has set me back. It’s affected my relationships because I can’t fully trust people. I have mental health issues and suffer a lot from depression. But it’s not just my mental health that has been affected: my immune system is weak too. I pick up bugs really easily and have had glandular fever and shingles. It’s affected my life massively.”
Eight members of a Rotherham grooming ring have been jailed for between five and 19 years for sexually exploiting and causing “immeasurable and far-reaching harm” to a teenage girl.
The eight men had been found guilty of 19 charges, including rape, indecent assault and false imprisonment of girls as young as 13 between 1999 and 2003.
A Sheffield crown court trial, which ended in October, heard how the men “sexually degraded” their victims, subjecting them “to acts of a degrading and violent nature”.
The men jailed on Friday were Sageer Hussain, 30; Mohammed Whied, 32; Ishtiaq Khaliq, 33; Waleed Ali, 34; Asif Ali, 30; Masoued Malik, 32; Basharat Hussain, 40; and Naeem Rafiq, 33.
The judge, Sarah Wright, said they had caused “severe psychological harm” to their three victims.
The main complainant, now 27 and a campaigner against child sexual exploitation, told the Guardian she felt vindicated after the men were convicted.
“I just couldn’t quite believe it. I felt vindicated. Yet when the verdicts came in, it proved to me that justice could have been done 13 years ago. That could have saved me a lot of heartache,” she said.
The woman, who uses the pseudonym Emma Jackson, said her abusers threatened to “gang rape” her mother if she did not submit to their sexual abuse, which took place largely in an alley behind a branch of Boots in Rotherham town centre, in a park and in bushes near a museum.
Her family were so afraid they moved to Spain after complaining to the police, social services, their MP and the then home secretary, David Blunkett, the court was told.
The woman told jurors that Sageer Hussain – who is of British-Pakistani origin, along with all but one of the other men in the dock – first raped her behind Boots when she was 13 and later called her a “white slag” when she tried and failed to stop him.
She told police that the first and second time he raped her, between 1 January and 4 April 2003, he told her to scream so that his friends, waiting nearby, would know to come and watch. He was found guilty of four counts of rape and one of indecent assault.
After the convictions, the National Crime Agency said it was separately investigating more than 11,100 lines of inquiry relating to non-familial child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2003.
Thirty-eight people had been designated “suspects” with many more under investigation, according to the NCA, which is carrying out the independent investigation at the request of South Yorkshire police.
NCA staff have been talking to 133 alleged victims and survivors and have recorded 163 crimes. They have identified 17 distinct investigations under the overall inquiry.
Nine people have been arrested as part of the operation, codenamed Stovewood, with all suspects bailed until November and December, and one organised crime group has been mapped, identifying the nature and scale of its offending. Money laundering, other financial crime and drug-related offences have also been identified.
The operation began after the publication in August 2014 of the Jay report, which said at least 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period from 1997.
Jackson and the two other victims were in court as Wright jailed their abusers. They sobbed and wiped away tears as their victim impact statements were read to the court.
Their abusers showed no emotion as they were jailed. Sageer Hussain appeared to smirk as he was led away.
Wright said each of their victims were “groomed, coerced and intimidated”. Their abuse was “carefully planned”, she said, adding: “An abuser would build up their trust and it is a common feature of this case that abusers are often described as initially caring and loving but then turning to becoming controlling and domineering.
“Some victims were given alcohol and/or drugs and each of them was given attention. The power that you, the abusers, were then able to have over them meant that the girls distanced themselves from their parents or carers.”
Wright praised the dignity and bravery of the victims and their families.
In a statement read by police outside court, one of the victims urged others to report grooming: “I know grooming still goes on but I feel that the help is available now if you speak out. Groomers thrive in the silence of others. Speak out and someone will listen.”
She added: “If you see a child in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable please report it, [child sexual abuse] is everyone’s issue and we all play a part in stamping it out.”
DCI Martin Tate, senior investigating officer, said: “The rape and sexual abuse of children is completely abhorrent and this group have shown no remorse for their crimes, forcing the young women who came forward to report this awful abuse to relive traumatic experiences before the court.
“We are indebted to the victims, who have supported our investigation and have shown remarkable strength in attending court to give evidence.”