In the UK, the story of the Rochdale grooming gangs is now a TV show

posted at 1:01 pm on May 17, 2017 by John Sexton

Ten years ago gangs of ruthless Pakistani men abused hundreds of young girls in towns in northern England. These girls, some barely teenagers at the time, were raped and then pimped out by the gangs while police and local authorities turned a blind eye to what was happening. The story of these young victims has now become a three-night BBC TV special titled Three Girls which premiered this week. Here’s a review of the show from the Guardian:

It doesn’t matter how well you remember and are familiar with the scandal, it is impossible not to splutter with rage at the extent to which these girls were let down – by the authorities for a start, and by the council, by social services, by the CPS, and a criminal justice system that doesn’t believe a particular kind of person. In other words, they were let down by everyone who should have been helping to protect them. Only sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham (played by Maxine Peake) comes out well in this first instalment. She sees what is going on, records it and reports it, despite the reluctance, ignorance, blindness and fear of everyone else.

Because the show is airing this week the media has published a number of articles looking back at the incident including at Sara Rowbotham, the woman who demanded police investigate the crimes she was uncovering. From the Telegraph:

From 2003-2014, Rowbotham worked as Rochdale’s crisis intervention team coordinator, in a specialist service aiming to prevent the sexual exploitation of young people…

During her tenure, she began to suspect that girls in the area were facing systematic sexual abuse from a group of older Asian men. From 2004 onwards, Rowbotham made more than 100 referrals to the police and social services, but the girls too often found themselves dismissed as unreliable witnesses.

Eventually, thanks to her persistence, nine members of a gang were convicted in 2012. But the process took a toll on Rowbotham. She drank too much, couldn’t sleep and “has since been diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Why was it so difficult to get authorities to take these crimes seriously? The answer to that question comes from a piece in the Independent titled “I wrote the first ever piece about the grooming gang scandal in northern English towns in 2006 – but the media didn’t want to know.”

Reading the publicity on the three-part TV drama, Three Girls, based on the true story of the teenage victims of organised child abusers in Rochdale, I am reminded not just of the bravery and tenacity of those involved in exposing the levels of organised child abuse in the UK, but also of the cowards and the deniers who for so long refused to accept the harm being done to children by violent exploiters…

Despite the quality of material I had amassed, it took me until 2007 to get my first piece published because some editors feared an accusation of racism. In this particular geographical area, many of the members of grooming gangs were of Pakistani origin…

The police and social services appeared to be scared of intervening in these particular grooming gangs, because a large number of the men involved were of Pakistani Muslim origin. The professionals who were turning a blind eye did not want to be labelled as racist…

The situation in Rochdale was not unique. There was a similar gang problem in the nearby northern town of Rotherham. In 2014, an independent inquiry determined as many as 1,400 girls had been abused by gangs of Pakistani men over a span of 16 years. The report noted that authorities failed to address the problem for a number of reasons including the fear of being labeled racist.

Of course, it wasn’t racist to recognize that these criminal gangs in this area of London were almost exclusively Pakistani, it was just a fact. But the fear of being labeled a racist, what we might call political correctness, had serious consequences for hundreds of abused girls.


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