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.”